Do not forget the Uighur

In the wake of a global pandemic, it is easy for human rights abuses happening on the other side of the world to slip our minds. But for those affected, the abuse, the torture, the detention and killings, have not subsided. For one of the most persecuted groups, the Uighur Muslims, arbitrary detention and cultural erasure continues with the Xinjiang region’s campaign of genocide.

Detention

Since 2017, the Xinjiang region has seen the expansion or creation of 380 separate detention facilities, and most estimates suggest that at least 10% of all Uighur and other muslim populations in Xinjiang have been arbitrarily detained here. Experts who have been studying satellite images of the region in an exploration of human rights abuses believe the total number of detention centres may be much higher. In December 2019 the governor in Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir, claimed that all “students” from the camps had “completed their studies” and “returned to society”. In January 2020 a newly built 60-acre detention camp opened near the city of Kashgar. The camp is entirely surrounded by a 14-metre-high wall accompanied by 10-metre watchtowers. It is estimated that this camp could detain 10,000 people. So, I ask you, does it sound like the detention of innocent “students” has ended? Or does it sound like the Xinjiang governor is continuing to tell lies? Contrary to Zakir’s statement, satellite evidence and victim testimony suggest a very different picture, one in which tens of thousands of detainees are being forcibly relocated to higher security centres.

Silence

This mass incarceration of Chinese citizens based solely on ethnicity and religion has created an atmosphere of terror and silence Xinjiang. The prospect of detention has created a culture in which it is impossible for the ethnic minority to dissent in any way, to resist any request made by someone seen as loyal to the party, or to give any reasonable consent. 

Birth prevention

Alongside the culture of fear, the arbitrary detention and forced disappearances are reports of forced sterilization and birth control. An investigation by the AP News Agency combined government statistics, state documents and interviews to find that women were regularly subjected to pregnancy checks, forced intrauterine devices, sterilization and abortion. In the Xinjiang region birth rates plummeted by nearly 24% in the last year alone, compared to the 4.2% national average. This undoubtedly meets the definition of genocide as outlined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; article II sections (d) states that “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” constitutes genocide when committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part an ethnic or religious group, such as the Uighur and other ethnic Muslims.

Cultural Erasure

Furthermore, the Chinese government has embarked on a deliberate and strategic mission to erase and rewrite the cultural heritage of the ethnic minorities of Xinjiang. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that around 16000 mosques in the Xinjiang region have been destroyed or damaged in line with government policy. A further 30% of sacred Islamic sites in the region have been demolished, with another 28% damaged or altered since 2017. This intentional attempt at cultural erasure adds to the hostile environment Uighur and other ethnic Muslims are faced with in Xinjiang today.

In the last two months the international community has finally increased calls on the UN and the ICC to probe and prosecute the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide. A task complicated by international diplomacy and structural inefficiencies, declaring the Chinese government’s actions as genocide would legally demand international action as per the Genocide Convention. However, the relative media silence over this ongoing atrocity is unacceptable. We must continue to expose the atrocities in China and pressure multinational organisations to take action. We must not forget the Uighurs.

School Attack in Cameroon

On the Verge of Civil War

At around midday on Saturday 24 October, gunmen opened fire on children at a local school in Kumba city in South West Cameroon. According to the BBC at least six children were killed, whilst Al Jazeera puts the fatalities at eight, all aged between twelve and fourteen years old. Alongside those killed, it is believed that around twelve more were seriously injured. 

African Union Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat said:

“there are no words of grief nor condemnation strong enough to articulate my full horror at the brutal attack.”

There has been no immediate claim for the violence, and it is currently unclear as to whether the attack was related to the ongoing tensions between Anglophone and Francophone regions within the country. 

Cameroon has been no stranger to violence over the last four years, as pressure between the Anglophone South West and North West regions, and the Francophone majority have escalated. Like many modern political conflicts, these troubles can be traced back to Cameroon’s colonial past. Originally invaded by Germany in the 1880s, Cameroon was divided into a French colony and a British colony following World War 1. Following 77 years of colonial rule, Cameroon won its independence as a united republic in 1960, but these colonial divisions continue to devise the country today. 

Since its independence, Anglophone regions of Cameroon have made claims of neglect from the Francophone majority, including president Paul Biya, who has been in office since 1982. This neglect is particularly evident in the discrepancies in economic investment in Anglophone and Francophone regions, with the former suffering. 

In 2016 Anglophone teachers and lawyers went on strike, leading months of demonstrations as some began to call for independence of the Anglophone Cameroon in a newly formed state, Ambazonia. This was met with a three month internet ban as the government dispelled protestors with excessive force, including accusations of arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention and sexual abuse. 

The government action was met with violent campaigns of revenge by Anglophone militants, and as conflict increases between militants and the army, Cameroon is on the verge of civil war. So far the violence in the country has left an estimated 3000 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Making abortion illegal again…

Are Poland’s already restrictive abortion laws about to get stricter? 

Poland is already home to some of the strictest abortion legislation in Europe. 

According to Amnesty International, as it currently stands legal  abortion is conditional on one of three factors: the foetus was conceived through rape or incest, the mother’s life is in danger or there is severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Even in cases where abortion is legal, there are many societal barriers that women must overcome in order to access treatment. The “conscience clause” for example, permits medical professionals to refuse care based on their own personal or religious beliefs. Furthermore, the sex education provided in Polish schools is far from the international standard, perpetuating damaging gender norms and stereotypes, anti-lgbtq+ and anti-rights narratives. 

Plans under the “Stop Abortion” Bill first surfaced in March 2018 and then again in October 2019, and were both met with mass protests. The bill seeks to eliminate one of the existing provisions, making abortion illegal even in the case of severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Human Rights Watch have stated that the Bill was “drafted and backed by right-wing groups, including the conservative, anti-abortion, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture”. 

But the attempts to further restrict abortion rights in Poland didn’t begin with the 2018 Stop Aboriton Bill. In 2016 protests that became known as the Czarny Protests (Black Protests) and Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) successfully led to the rejection of a bill that proposed a complete ban on abortions throughout Poland. 

As a member of the European Union, one would hope that the women of Poland would have their human rights protected, but when it comes to abortion rights there are very few international protections. Poland is one of 6 European countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, alongside Andorra, Malta and San Marino where there is a complete ban on abortion, and Leichtenstien and Monaco, whose laws are similar to that of Poland. 

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, making abortion illegal does not stop abortions from happening, it simply endangers and criminalizes innocent women who wish to exercise freedom over their own bodies.

Violence against Women: Nigeria #JusticeForUwa

On 27th May 2020, a 22 year old student named Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was raped and murdered as she studied in a church in Edo state, Nigeria. A microbiology student at the University of Benin, Miss Uwalia Omozuwa’s story is unfortunately a familiar one. Estimates suggest that as many as 2 million Nigerian girls and women are subject to sexual assault or rape every year. 

There has been nationwide outcry for justice following the death of Miss Uwalia Omozuwa, with the hashtag #JusticeForUwa trending in Nigeria. The church in which the attack took place, have condemned the action and joined the call for urgent investigation by the police. 

In the past 5 year considerable action has been taken to try and improve the state of violence against women in the country, with the Violence Against Persons (Prohibitions) Act 2015 (VAP)  taking the first steps to radically update policy to protect women and girls. The act clearly prohibits ands sets out punitive action to be taken against rape with an offender liable to imprisonment for life. The act further criminalises other violent acts against women such as female genital mutilation (FGM), “harmful widowhood practices” and traditions as well as other “harmful traditional practices”. 

Whilst the VAP Act was a necessary and significant step in the right direction it applied only to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and 9 of the country’s 36 states which have signed and ratified the Act. Unlike many of the injustices in the world, the Nigerian media frequently reports on the regular occurrence and lack of prosecution for violence against women, and yet nothing seems to be changing. Human Rights Watch suggest that although vast numbers of women are assaulted every day, very few report their experiences due to “the stigma associated with being a rape survivor, fear of reprisals, and distrust of the authorities.” In 2017 the National Bureau for Statistics released figures stating that only 2,279 reports of rape and indecent assault had been recorded by police. This grossly inaccurate account is testament to the culture of silence that is preventing the women of Nigeria from seeking justice. 

Corruption within police authorities furthers the difficulties with reporting and prosecuting these violent crimes. Often when reporting a crime it is expected that the victim will provide the police force with a monetary contribution, rendering those living in poverty with virtually no human rights protected by the legal system. Furthermore, beliefs that see domestic and personal crimes as the private matters of a family result in some police suggesting that reports of domestic abuse and violence should be dealt with by the household, not the authorities. 

What is really needed for substantial change is a shift within societal thought and perceptions. An article published on the Institute of Current World Affairs stated that “in a country where 35 percent of women and 25 percent of men ‘agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses to have sex with him,’…society’s attitudes and behaviour must change”. 

Society doesn’t change overnight, but society does change. It is so important that we do everything in our power to ensure that society changes to the benefit of the oppressed. Sitting here writing as white woman living in a comfortable middle class home, I am not best placed to recommend the way these changes come about. But as a woman riddled with white privilege I have a duty to raise awareness of such injustice, and do my best to start a conversation. After all, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde. 

El Salvador’s Prison Lockdown

Not even a single ray of sunlight will enter any of these cells

Osiris Luna, Deputy Justice Minister

Last month shocking pictures emerged of the inhumane conditions inside the prisons of El Salvador. These distressing images saw thousands of inmates stripped to their underwear and lined up in such close proximity that they were pressed up against one another. The measures were introduced following a four day period at the end of April in which there were 77 murders in El Salvador. The photos show how the prisoners huddled together as their cells were searched for anything linking them to the outbreak of violence. President Nayib Bukele claimed to have inside information that suggested the murders had been orchestrated by gang members within the prisons, and the new measures should prevent these gang members from orchestrating further violence in society. 

According to Human Rights Watch, authorities enforced an “absolute lockdown” on gang members, locking them in cells for 24 hours and confining gang leaders to solitary confinement for unspecified time periods. The Deputy Justice Minister, Osiris Luna, added that “not even a single ray of sunlight will enter any of these cells” as they enforced the measures that saw windows and doors bordered up as members of multiple different gangs were locked up in the same cells. 

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment. The photos published by the Presidential Press Office are clear violations of this fundamental human right, regardless of the individual’s involvement in gang activities. 

As if not horrific enough on their own, these conditions have come amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic, in which public health guidance has tirelessly stated the importance of social distancing to prevent the spread. Whilst some wore face masks, most of the prisoners had little to no protection against the possible spread fo COVID-19. With prisons already presenting a higher risk of the infection spreading than the wider society, the government’s new prison lockdown measures have made El Salvador’s prisoners and prison staff extremely vulnerable. 

One of the most densely populated countries in South America, El Salvador has one of the highest rates of homicides in the world. This is largely down to the extensive gang activity that controls and terrorises vast amounts of the country. The gang culture erupted following a devastating civil war in the 1980s that was sparked by gross inequality that separated the majority from a small and wealthy minority, and left roughly 70,000 dead. The civil war exposed many young Salvadorian children to horrific violence. In an attempt to escape the brutality many fled to the United States and settled in Los Angeles. Here, they came together in ethnic solidarity to protect themselves against LA’s existing gangs. When the US introduced restrictive immigration laws in 1992, many of those who had fled El Salvador during the war were forced to return, bringing their gang culture to an already struggling state. 

It is difficult to see a way out of this gang culture, which is so ingrained within El Salvador’s society, but it is unlikely that government violations of human rights such as those experienced in prisons are the answer.