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Human Rights Day: Address China’s Uyghur rights crisis, or risk normalising atrocities elsewhere

As the world grapples with the aftermath of the pandemic, the Uyghur human rights crisis must be addressed in order to ensure that these types of atrocity crimes do not become the new normal

On December 10th the world will observe the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 72 years ago,  in 1948, the principles of the Declaration were laid out as the world sought to recover from the atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War. Its adoption marked the recognition that upholding the dignity and worth of every person was a fundamental part of a lasting recovery and creation of a better world.

The theme of this year’s observation of Human Rights Day is “Recover Better.” In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN states that ensuring human rights are central to recovery efforts is only possible “if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by Covid-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.”

Amid the ongoing brutal repression in East Turkistan, the UN’s assertions about the need to end discrimination, address inequality, promote civic participation and sustainable development ring hollow as China’s violations of Uyghur human right have gone largely unaddressed at the international organization.

The COVID crisis has consumed the world’s attention, adding an additional challenge to organizing an international pushback against atrocity crimes in the Uyghur region. It has not brought any relief to the suffering of the Uyghur people. As information became even more difficult to obtain from the region, Uyghurs feared for the safety of their families and the possibility that the disease might spread unchecked through the camps. As China profited from the crisis by surging its exports of medical supplies, the transfer of Uyghur laborers surged along with it. These coercive labor transfers created the possibility of forced labor tainting the PPE supply chain.

All this took place against a backdrop of mass detentions, cultural destruction, and the institution of a totalitarian police state implementing policies which meet the definition of genocide. Can the state  carrying out these actions be a partner in ensuring human rights are at the center of recovery efforts? The PRC is unlikely to use its influence at the UN to center human rights in recovery efforts; it cannot be a trusted partner as it fails to comply with UN procedures, ignoring requests from UN working group experts and undermining UN Special Rapporteurs.

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