China ‘trying to erase Muslim culture and religion’, warns US

Beijing ‘in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations’, says Mike Pompeo

Chris Baynes
Thursday 14 March 2019 14:22 GMT
Security guards stand at the gates of an Uighur detainment camp in Xinjiang
Security guards stand at the gates of an Uighur detainment camp in Xinjiang (Reuters)

China is “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations” and is trying to “erase” Islamic culture and religion, the US government has said.

The treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province is worse than anything seen “since the 1930s,” said a Trump administration official at the launch of a State Department report on global abuses.

The report also highlighted violations by Iran, South Sudan and Nicaragua, but Washington singled out Beijing over its detainment of millions of Uighur and Kazakh Muslims in so-called re-education camps.

“For me, you haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s,” said Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

“Rounding up, in some estimations ... Millions of people, putting them into camps, and torturing them, abusing them, and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion and so on from their DNA. It’s just remarkably awful.”

Speaking during the same briefing on Wednesday, secretary of state Mike Pompeo told reporters that China was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations”.

China hit back with an unusually strongly worded response, accusing the US of groundless accusations fuelled by racism and “ideological prejudice”.

“We also advise that the United States take a hard look at its own domestic human rights record, and first take care of its own affairs,” added foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang on Thursday.

Beijing has long rejected international criticism of its Muslim internment camps, depicting them as vocational training facilities aimed at de-radicalising Islamic extremists. On Tuesday, the governor of Xinjiang said the camps were the same as “boarding schools”.

But Amnesty International has compared the detainment centres to “wartime concentration camps”, and former internees have said they were tortured, forced to renounce their religion, and made to swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.

”At least we’re starting to make them realise there is a lot of international scrutiny on this,” Mr Kozak said. ”It is one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today.”

Donald Trump has been accused of failing to take “meaningful action” over China’s repressive policies, with a cross-party group of politicians writing to Mr Pompeo earlier this month urging the government to “stand up for the oppressed”.

Mr Trump’s administration has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, including the region’s Communist Party leader, but Beijing has warned of retaliation.

In a riposte to the US human rights report, China’s State Council said America was a self-styled “human rights defender” with a “flawed and lacklustre” record.

It pointed to the high rate of gun deaths and racial discrimination in the US. The council also cited a lack of media freedom in America, despite China being ranked 176 last year on the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index – ahead of only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

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The State Department report also criticised the Iranian government, which Mr Pompeo noted had killed more than 20 people and arrested thousands for protesting, “continuing a pattern of cruelty the regime has inflicted on the Iranian people for the last four decades”.

In South Sudan, the report said military forces inflicted sexual violence against civilians based on their political allegiances and ethnicity, while in Nicaragua, peaceful protesters had faced sniper fire and government critics “faced a policy of exile, jail or death”.

The report also dropped a description of Golan Heights as “Israeli-occupied”, favouring instead “Israel-controlled”, in the latest sign the US is backing Israel’s disputed claim to the land it captured from Syria.

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