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The curious case of Indian silence over damning UN human rights report on China

Not surprisingly, India has not come out with any condemnation of China for its atrocities in Xinjiang, a classic example of India in recent times trying to steer clear of global contestations

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Michelle Bachelet has been urged by human rights campaigners to challenge China over their treatment of Uyghur minorities(Photo: UN)

Down the ages, the phenomenon of imperial overreach has been prevalent across the world.  The evils for which it gets perpetrated would, by and large, be known to those who succumbed to it for supposedly national aspirations, religious fervour or even self-glory by some megalomaniacs!

That the country relentlessly aspiring with rapidity to be the next global superpower, China, can be unquestionably placed in the category of an imperialist power brooks no emphasis. China thus, without remorse or any humanitarian considerations pursues its ambitions of forcible, bordering on evil, integration of people of all faiths and regions in its vast nation. Its threat of military intervention in tiny Taiwan in recent months bespeaks China’s hegemonistic ambitions.

Though rather late, the UN has rightly condemned China’s woeful human-rights record in its restive Xinjiang province where for the last many years, China has been committing genocide on its Muslim minorities, the Uyghur and Turkic communities. That the world, at large, and the Islamic nations, in particular, have cast a blind eye on this monumental human tragedy conveys, unmistakably, how the sheer pursuit of mere national interests dwarf humanitarian considerations elsewhere. The significance of the UN Report on Human Rights just released, accordingly, cannot be understated.

The outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, just hours before her retirement released the UN report. She had visited Beijing in May and was earlier considered as being “soft” on China. That China does wield considerable influence in the corridors of the UN is well known. Maybe Mrs Bachelet made suitable amends before relinquishing charge!

The report, a severe indictment of China’s human rights record, claims that China’s  “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of the members of its Uyghur population and other Muslim groups in the north-western Xinjiang region “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” The report further states that “ allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.”

UN human rights investigators have stated that Islamic detainees were being beaten with batons, including electric batons while strapped down and immobilized in what’s referred to as a “tiger chair”. These detainees were subjected to many forms of cruel interrogation including water being splashed on their faces and being made to sit motionless on small stools for long periods of time apart from prolonged solitary confinement for some. Some of those being interrogated were shackled during their confinement, lights being kept switched on to prevent these prisoners from falling asleep and subjected to a host of diverse forms of cruelty showered on them. In addition, these detainees were forced to recite “red songs” and parrot “political teachings”.  

The UN report after a severe damning of the Chinese government’s handling of its ethnic minorities has also come out with a variety of recommendations. This report urges the Chinese authorities to review its legal framework, consistent with international laws, governing national security, counter-terrorism measures and minority rights. Importantly, it exhorts China to immediately release all individuals ‘‘arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang” whether they are in prisons, “vocational centres” or any other detention centres and share their whereabouts with the suffering families of these detainees. Additionally, no personal prayers were allowed inside these centres. Many mosques too have been demolished in Xinjiang.

Western nations, Japan and many NGOs have welcomed the UN report and its findings. Amnesty International has appealed to the international community to act against China. It has stated that “ there must be accountability for the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity.” It has recommended the “identification and eventual prosecution of those individuals suspected of responsibility.” 

The United States, in particular, welcomed the UN report with its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, coming out openly to condemn China’s actions against its ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The US State Department stated that they “will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained” and further stated that China must “allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet and across the PRC.” Meanwhile, many members of the Uyghur community settled abroad have been protesting against Chinese atrocities in their homeland.

As condemnation of China for its actions in Xinjiang province gathers momentum, China, expectedly, has condemned the UN report as “ purely a farce plotted by some Western countries and anti-China forces” to “smear and slander China and interfere” in the country’s internal affairs. Mounting a counter-narrative, China retorted by exclaiming that the UN report “maliciously distorts China’s laws and policies, denigrates the fight against terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang”------ facts that only China will believe.  

As China endeavours to rebut, rather unconvincingly, global censure on its inhuman actions in Xinjiang, strategic analysts would be anxious to see India’s reaction to the UN report. Not surprisingly, India has not come out with any condemnation of China for its atrocities in Xinjiang, a classic example of India in recent times trying to steer clear of global contestations. But it will be worth remembering for India that China, by no means is a friend of hers,  and the morality of  India’s foreign policy must not be sacrificed at the altar of diplomatic expediency.

(The writer is a veteran Indian Army officer and security expert who served as the first Director-General of the Defence Intelligence Agency.  Views are personal.)

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