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CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In light of the various elements highlighted in this report, any unilateral action such as that of the United States so far, as well as the immediate recourse to international law, are ineffective to put pressure on China. The declaratory diplomacy of the European Union is also faltering and seems to have used all its available resources, in vain. Yet, the fate of the Uyghurs and other minorities suffering from the genocidal policies of the Chinese authorities requires the international community to formulate an urgent solution. Considering the difficulties in getting China to end its coercive policies in Xinjiang, today, the multilateral approach through economic sanctions seems to be the only available solution that can achieve results. The “cultural genocide” against the Uyghurs is the responsibility of everyone, leaders, multinationals, media and consumers. In order to maximise the success of such a diplomatic settlement, we make the following recommendations to each of these actors.

Recommendations to international institutions

The international community should be at the forefront in urging China to put in place measures to ensure that fundamental freedoms and universal human rights are respected in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and special procedures mandate holders are encouraged to continually reiterate the demand for the immediate and unconditional release of detainees held against their will;
  • The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect should keep a close eye on the development of the situation in Xinjiang and alert the Secretary General to the commission of crimes against humanity;
  • The Human Rights Council, in which China has a seat, should urge the latter to ensure respect for the human rights of everyone on its territory and to allow the entry of independent UN observers into Xinjiang to report on the extent of human rights violations;
  • It is important that the UN member states, in line with the international law they have committed to promote, as well as international civil society organizations, continue to raise awareness about the mistreatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, while urging China to end all violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Finally, impartiality and neutrality must be the watchwords within international institutions, which must absolutely guarantee a complete transparency of their procedures and protect themselves from interference from any country.

General recommendations to governments

  • Governments should adopt a more multilateral approach. Countries who oppose the actions of the Chinese authorities should form alliances to put the issue of Xinjiang on the agenda of the competent UN bodies, and use the procedures of these institutions to address China’s violations of international obligations in a consistent and factual manner;
  • Proceed to a standardisation of the measures taken against China, within the national legislation of each country opposing its activities concerning the Uyghurs’ fate. In this perspective, it is up to the States to identify the strategic economic sectors in which to implement restrictive economic sanctions. These sectors can be specific depending on the sectors of Chinese imports of each of these countries/geographical areas;
  • It is necessary that the Duty of Care Directive adopted by the European Parliament encourages other countries to adopt similar measures against social dumping and forced labour, and urges companies to ensure transparency in their supply chains. Governments could also devise sanctions of varying severity for companies complicit in the detention and surveillance of Muslim populations in Xinjiang;
  • The countries that remained neutral must take a position by at least supporting the request to send experts to Xinjiang;
  • The 27 countries that signed the statement issued by the UK ambassador in Geneva on behalf of these countries in June 2020 calling on China to cooperate, should coordinate in order to put the subject of Xinjiang at the top of the agenda of the relevant UN bodies, and use these bodies and their mechanisms to address China’s violations of international obligations in a consistent and factual manner. As such, these countries must reiterate a request for investigations in the Xinjiang region to gather evidence that may lead to the conclusion that a genocide is occurring. The principle of the responsibility to protect could then possibly be invoked;
  • Contribute to putting the Uyghur issue on the agenda of the G7 and other relevant international forums with like-minded countries and make the equal treatment of ethnic minorities and religious populations a point of discussion in bilateral meetings. This should especially apply when the topic of China’s New Silk Road is discussed, by insisting on the fact that economic and trade cooperation depends on the fulfillment of specific standards;
  • Given their diplomatic influence, Muslim-majority countries should express their opposition to the violation of the rights of any Muslim to freedom of cultural expression and religious observance and urge China to put an end to the “transformation through education” and mass detention programs in the same way as other states;
  • Governments should establish and intensify, where available, the sharing of information on the situation in Xinjiang and increase cooperation of diplomatic intelligence networks with other liberal democracies;
  • Foreign ministries or departments should urge Chinese embassies and consulates to tackle the issue of the denial of identity documents and to follow up on the requests for proof of life of Uyghur individuals;
  • In order to guarantee access to Xinjiang for journalists from countries opposed to China’s coercive policy, the ministries or departments in charge of foreign affairs might consider requesting reciprocal visas for national journalists in China in exchange for the access already granted to Chinese journalists on national territory;
  • Foreign ministries or departments should warn citizens and residents of Uyghur origin about the risks of traveling to China;
  • Offer political asylum to Uyghur refugees unconditionally and set up a monitoring system to curb the actions of Chinese embassies abroad and thus avoid the repatriation of Uyghurs;
  • At the national level, the relevant migration authorities should proactively undertake the assessment of the need for funds to support the access to legal and psychological assistance;
  • Finally, in order for these measures to act as compelling levers on China, it is necessary that these countries act as legitimate authorities. To do so, the various allied countries must set an example for China by condemning the human rights violations that occur on their own territory.

Specific recommendations to the American government

The United States was the first to take concrete action against China and the politicians responsible for the genocide in an attempt to coerce China. As such, this country has taken a leading role in condemning Beijing’s actions. However, the strained relations between the two countries, and the unilateral game adopted by the Trump administration have rendered any effective attempts at coercion fruitless. The election of Joe Biden to the White House broadens the possibility of resolutions. 

  • The United States needs to regain the legitimacy and position it held on the international stage prior to Donald Trump’s protectionist and unilateralist presidency, so that it can claim to constrain China. To do so, the United States should maintain its commitment to a return to American multilateralism by adhering to multilateral treaties abandoned under the previous administration, such as the re-adherence to the Paris climate agreement on the first day of the Biden presidency;
  • The Biden administration should also sign The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in the House in September 2020;
  • In order to ensure that actions taken against China are not interpreted as part of an escalation of tension in the economic war between the two countries, the United States must re-establish consistent diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in areas where it has an interest in doing so. This will make condemnations and sanctions for human rights violations appear objective and disinterested. 

Specific recommendations to the European Union and member governments

The European Union’s diplomatic approach has so far remained mainly confined to declaratory diplomacy. The governments of the member countries are timidly beginning to speak out. However, if the European Union seems ready to implement sanctions mechanisms, it is important to remember that foreign policy is first and foremost a prerogative of the States. It is now necessary for all member countries to publicly condemn the events in Xinjiang. These States should individually implement the measures mentioned in the recommendations to the governments and collectively ensure that the European Union adopts concrete measures to crystallise the multiple declarations.

Specific recommendations to China

  • Put an immediate end to the widespread violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang, including the arbitrary deprivation of freedom of Muslim minorities. China must take primary responsibility to protect everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or ethnic identity;
  • Abolish the de-extremization regulation, as requested by numerous working groups and special rapporteurs, including those on the defense of fundamental freedoms, the promotion of human rights and the questions related to minorities;
  • Actively respond to repeated requests from UN special procedures mandate holders to conduct an official visit to China. Accept the technical assistance and suggestions to ensure that China’s national security, anti-corruption and terrorism laws and practices comply with its obligations under international law, including the defendant’s right to due process, the right to choose their lawyer, and the right to a fair and open trial by an independent tribunal;
  • Account for the fair and credible investigation of allegations of abuse, torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Xinjiang and take appropriate measures to ensure justice and compensation for the victims.

Recommendations to companies

It is essential that companies, regardless of their size and capital, guarantee full transparency to consumers and shareholders.

  • Any company that is aware of the involvement of any of its subcontractors in the repression of the Uyghur people should immediately cease trading with it; 
  • Countries with a duty of care law should apply it by checking the subcontracting chain of all companies or groups concerned;
  • Insofar as the company makes commitments regarding the cessation of activities in Xinjiang or the subcontracting of companies that use forced labour of Uyghurs, it should prove it factually, in order to publicly express its willingness to move towards a more ethical conduct of its business;
  • Companies should ensure that employees involved throughout their production chain are guaranteed rights in line with international labour standards, especially in terms of wages and working conditions;
  • Companies should put an end to price incentives for consumption outside of sales or destocking periods.

Recommendations to the media

The media have a primary role in relaying information. They should inform people and investigate human rights violations committed by the Chinese government.

  • It is necessary that both the national and local media go beyond “The Hierarchy of Death” phenomenon, and inform the general public about this genocide in order to raise awareness. In this regard, it would be appropriate to adapt the issue, nationalise it and then divulge it at a more local level, allowing a better consideration of the issue by these populations;
  • The media should remain vigilant about their sources of funding in order to respect the ethical neutrality of journalism and not to be influenced by its editorial line;
  • It is necessary for the media to follow the ethics of journalism, and respect its normative pillars, especially the one concerning the constant pursuit of the truth.

Recommendations to consumers

  • Consumers should check the origin of the products they buy in order to fight against the reproduction of the forced labour system. This verification can be made easier by the establishment of a policy of total transparency from multinationals concerning the origin of raw materials, the financing of production chains as well as the labour force employed;
  • Consumers should avoid over-consumption, whether by shopping online or in stores, especially during sales periods;
  • Consumers should rather buy second hand, using social and solidarity economy initiatives such as Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, Leboncoin, Depop, etc. (non-exhaustive list), or the productions of small local companies.

To quote the review:

DIOUF, F., DUFERMONT, T., GIRARD, I., LEFEBVRE, V., SCHMITZ, C. & SEEPERSAD, I. (2021). Uyghurs in the Contemporary International Society: From Awareness to Action. growthinktank.org. [online] Apr. 2021.

© Kashgar, prière de l’Eid devant la mosquée Id Kah / Sylvie Lasserre (2007)

Translated by Maryame Camara, Camille Cottais, Yaël Deswarte, Samantha Frary–Aubert, Clémentine Gallot, Jessie Lee & Iman Seepersad.

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