Updated: Aug 29, 2020


Since April 2017, approximately eight hundred thousand to two million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups like Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been arbitrarily detained by the Xinjiang Government in more than 85 identified internment camps.

Part I of the Article provided a detailed analysis of the atrocities committed against these communities with special reference to the human rights violations committed on them in the re-education camps. This article discusses the Treatment that the participants of these camps receive and the International response to the same. Furthermore, it discusses the impact of this pandemic on the Uyghurs and the ways in which it should be dealt with.

Treatment in Re-education Camps

The severity of treatment in the re-education centers is evident from the telegram (operation manual containing guidelines for managing the detention camps) procured under China Cables Documents which lays bare the extensive system of social control enforced within such camps as follows:

The Guidelines on Preventing escapes (point 2) and Prevent trouble (Point 3) commands strict monitoring and control of student activities as well as their social isolation from the outside world except for the activities allowed. Further, teaching Mandarin language and testing its knowledge is seen as one of the important bases of the education scheme.(Points 8 and 10). It also mentions methods of forceful indoctrination and introduces a “point-based evaluation system” which needs to be incorporated into the “integrated” platform (a massive database that forms part of the surveillance system) when students enter or leave the training center. Accordingly, the right to freedom and opinion (including religious opinion) which is an absolute right granted by Article 19(1) of ICCPR, seems to be outrightly violated through the norms of political indoctrination in such ‘re-education” centers.

Further, it has also been argued that such arbitrary and prolonged detention coupled with the refusal to provide information, denial of basic rights and severe conditions of treatment, resulting in serious psychological harm, may constitute torture [OL CHN 18/2019]. Interviews of ex-detainees are also a proof of the torture subjected in the camps which include systematically raping and assaulting women, conducting medical experiments on detainees which weaken them cognitively, sterilization of men or interfering with menstrual cycles of women, forcing them to wear metal clad ‘iron clothes’, etc.

Thus, the actions or omissions on part of the Chinese administration are violative of Article 2 (States responsibility to prevent torture) and Article 12 (State’s responsibility to investigate into acts of torture) of the Convention on Torture. Prevention of torture and specific guidelines have no-where been mentioned in the operating manuals thus such actions also are violative of Article 10 of the Convention which lays down that States need to educate personnel who handle detention of people, about the prohibition of torture.

International Response, COVID-19 and The Way Forward:

In 2019, 22 countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) had signed a joint Statement addressing the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging China to terminate its mass arbitrary detention and related violence against the Muslim Ethnic communities. However, amusingly, a day later 37 other countries, a majority of which were Islamic, backed China’s counter-terrorism policies and human rights record, dismissing the allegations embedded in the reports elucidating mass arbitrary detentions, state surveillance and gross human right violations, thus resulting in no firm action being taken. However, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019 that had been passed by the US house of representatives in December last year which had failed to get an approval from the US Senate due to amendments made to it has now been approved on May 14 this year. Under the Act, sanctions can be imposed over Chinese officials associated with human rights abuse against Uyghur and other ethnic minorities.

Covid-19 and Plight of The Uyghurs

Apart from the apparent torture in the internment camps, interviews of ex-detainees explain how detainees are cramped in small rooms, with the number of people in a room going upto even 45 and with people having to sleep in turns because of the lack of space. While the sanitary conditions in these camps are atrocious, it has also been found that plastic buckets are being used as toilets and are emptied only once a day. Thus, with such poor conditions prevailing inside the camps and the detainee’s being the most vulnerable to the infection, an outbreak in the camp may prove to be devastating and may also result in the virus becoming more virulent.

Further, reports also establish that detainees have been engaged in forced labor which may also constitute a violation of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 of the International Labour Organization to which China is a party. The labour transfer programme is being used by companies in the PPE supply chain that force Uyghur laborers to produce equipment which is then not only sold domestically but also exported globally. This also poses major concerns amidst such testing times.

According to the joint statement issued by International agencies including the WHO, not only Social distancing norms are to be followed but also compulsory detention without due process need to be ceased as human rights may be abused and the health of the detainees may be posed with increased risk of outbreaks if such detentions continue to exist. China has al