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China Subjects More than 500,000 People to Forced Labor


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China has received multiple complaints and sanctions for the ongoing human rights violations of Muslim dissidents and minorities in some regions of the country. In addition to censorship, due process violations, and disappearances, China uses forced labor as a means of political control and economic exploitation.

Research published in the recent report by Xinjiang and Tibet expert Adrian Zenz, and later published in the press, reveals that “the scale of forced labor in China is much greater” than governments and human rights organizations have reported.

The Xinjiang region produces more than 20% of the world’s cotton and 84% of China’s. Zenz points out that the regions corresponding to the Xinjiang administrative region rely heavily on hand picking.

The report “estimated that 570,000 people belonging to a large number of minorities: Aksu, Hotan and Kashgar” were forced to work in cotton picking and adds that “labor programs in other ethnic minority regions, as well as prison labor, would probably add hundreds of thousands to the figure.

The revelations arrived when the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed to the media that it did not have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang, because China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.

This year, the U.S. imposed sanctions and restrictions on cotton imports on Xinjiang suppliers, but human rights organizations have suggested that the Trump Administration investigate and sanction cotton from other regions of China.

Forced Labor, China’s Campaign for Poverty Alleviation

The transfer of rural labor to industry is part of the Chinese government’s plan to boost the economy and reduce poverty.

Press reports cast doubt on this plan from the outset because, as Adrian Zenz’s report shows, it is about coercing Tibetan, Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang into government programs.

The labor plans are part of Beijing’s propaganda in the state media as “shining examples of how the government helps millions of poor people to work.” The researchers reported that local press articles contain clues to the coercive nature of the program. “Relocated workers are often sent far from their homes, forced to live in factories, and subjected to ideological training.

Propaganda also threatens illegal religious associations such as Falun Gong practitioners. It also sends political messages to those who engage in “thought- and behavior-changing activities.”

This is in response to the Communist Party’s fear of protests similar to those in Tibet, or that citizens will be influenced by those in the United States, Hong Kong, or Thailand.

Tibetan activist in exile burns a Chinese flag and an effigy of Chinese President Xi Jinping during an anti-Chinese protest. (EFE)

Human rights violations by the Chinese government against minority populations, including mass internment of people in re-education camps, forced sterilization of women, technological and human surveillance, have been called cultural genocide by the United States.

According to Rushan Abbas, founder of the human rights organization Campaign for Uyghurs, the Chinese regime will “normalize Uyghur slavery and also carry out large-scale monitoring and forced birth control.”

China denies the accusations and says the camps are vocational training centers needed to combat religious extremism. According to The Guardian, the government confirmed that about 1.29 million people pass through the centers each year.

ICC prevented from acting in China

In 2019 and 2020, exiled Ugurs have handed over evidence to the ICC and asked it to investigate crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang. The Court refused to investigate on the grounds that China is not worthy of the ICC.

However, according to the press, the ICC also found “no basis to proceed on separate charges of forced deportations,” which the Ugurian group had said occurred in Tajikistan and Cambodia, both signatories to the ICC.

CNN reported that the office of Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the ICC, has left the file open, meaning that the court could open the case provided more evidence is presented. Speaking to The Guardian, Rodney Dixon, senior counsel for the ICC against China, said his team “will provide very relevant evidence in the coming months.”

According to Freedom House, the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang is severe. The organization reports that approximately one million people “are subjected to extralegal detention in political re-education centers” and “tens of thousands are sentenced to prison terms by the courts without due process.”

Camilo Bello is a consultant focused on Asia Pacific studies and has experience in strategic management. He has studied law in Colombia and is currently pursuing studies in language and history at National Taiwan Normal University. He has collaborated with Students for Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan // Camilo es consultor enfocado en estudios de Asia Pacífico y experiencia en gestión estratégica. Cuenta con estudios en Derecho en Colombia y actualmente se encuentra realizando estudios en lenguaje e historia en National Taiwan Normal University. Colaborador de Estudiantes por la Libertad en Hong Kong y Taiwán

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