Human rights

This article has been written by Partha Pratim Sen, pursuing Diploma in Legal English Communication – oratory, writing, listening and accuracy and has been edited by Oishika Banerji (Team Lawsikho). 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


International law on human right violation refers to a body of law that is meant to govern, protect and promote human rights at the international level. The source of law is “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This Declaration sets out a broad range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that are intrinsic or natural to all human beings regardless of their caste, creed, race, gender, nationality, or any other status. These rights includes right to life and liberty, security, freedom from torture, slavery, illogical and random detention, right to justice, freedom of expression, assembly and association, right to education, healthcare, right to work and right to participate in cultural life. Further to this declaration there are innumerable international treaties, rules and standards that aims to protect specific human rights categorised as under:

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  1. International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.
  2. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  3. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  4. International rules and standards on the rights of minors

Countries across the globe that have ratified these treaties, standards or rules are obligated to act in accordance to these standards and in the event they fail to fulfil their obligation under international human right law, then the affected individuals or groups who are the victims of this non compliance can register their complaints with the relevant international bodies such as UN Human Rights Council or International Criminal Court. This article aims to highlight human rights with respect to China thereby throwing light on violation of human rights in the case of the Uyghur community.

Background of human right violation in China and continuation of the trend

China has a long history of human right violation and it can be traced back to the early years of the People’s Republic of China, when the Communist Party with a view of consolidating its power, launched a series of political campaigns with an aim of suppressing dissension and dissenter / rebels.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Chinese government carried out a series of political cleansing campaign, which included Anti-Rightist Campaign and the cultural revolution, resulting in imprisonment, torture, and execution of millions of people. Ever since China has been facing criticisms for its human right record, political repression, censorship, suppression and curb on freedom of expression and assembly. The focus of this political tyranny has shifted to the treatment of minority groups, particularly the Uyghur community in Xinjiang.

The intense crackdown by the Chinese government on Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities began in 2014, when the government launched its “strike hard” campaign against terrorism and extremism. This campaign has seen mass detention of Uyghurs in re-education camps, and various other forms of subjugation, repression such as forced labour, forced sterilisation, and mass surveillance, have been inflicted on the community.

Although the Chinese government has been defending its action on the pretext of preventing terrorism, human rights organisations and governments around the world have been forthright in condemning this treatment of Uyghurs as a gross violation of human rights.

Apart from the treatment meted out to the Uyghurs, China faces criticism about its action towards Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, and other minority groups in China. The Chinese government has been consistently denying these allegations but lack of transparency and accountability continues.

Conflict between China and Uyghur community

There is a major disagreement between Chinese policy makers and Uyghurs with the main disagreement being which group has greater historical claims to the Xinjiang region. Uyghurs believe that their ancestry originated from this area whereas Chinese government policy considers that province of Xinjiang belonged to China since around 200 BC during Han dynasty.

Uyghur Community – Who are they

Principally Uyghurs are a minority group of ethnic Muslims based out of  Xinjiang province, which is a Uyghur Autonomous Region located in northwest China. This community is culturally and linguistically distinct from the ethnic Han majority in China and have their own language, Uyghur.

Their lineage can be traced to the sixth century. C.E. when they migrated to Mongolian steppes. They are Turkic people, who spoke a language close to Uzbek. Predominantly Islam was their religion and their religious leaders founded several Islamic states and these states were referred to as East Turkestan. In the year of 1884 this entire area of East Turkestan was annexed into mainland China and renamed as Xinjiang which means “New Frontier”. 

With the collapse of Qing dynasty in 1911, some of the Uyghur leaders successfully attempted to create several Muslim Republics in Western China, but with the Communist Party rising to prominence in 1949, China officially claimed Xinjiang one more time. As a matter of government policy members of ethnic majority, particularly the Han community were encouraged to settle in this newly acquired province. When this all started Han, the community made up just 6.7% of the region’s population and by 1978 that figure shot up to 41.6%. The province has turned out to be not only largest in China but has turned out to be the largest economy as well, with the Han community becoming an integral part of this development and inundating the cities. Currently the Uyghur population stands at 12 million and represents a slight majority but mainly residing in the rural areas and remains excluded from this development.

Chinese crackdown on Xinjiang

The Muslim population belonging to the Uyghur community has been facing all kinds of prohibition under the regime of the Chinese Communist Party ever since 1949. With oppression on the rise, the community has been seeking independence from China, which gained traction in the year 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and with the formation of Central Asian States like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The year 1990 also saw China for the first time categorising and branding, Muslims of the Uyghur community as terrorists. In 1996 Taliban came to power and by 1998, although Uyghur Muslims came in close proximity to Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Xinjiang did not face any extremism.

As a result of this ongoing discrimination by the Chinese government on the Uyghur community, for the first time ethnic riots broke out in the month of July 2009. Although both the Han and Uyghur communities suffered setbacks, losses and mortality, this period witnessed the change of attitude and approach of the Chinese Communist Party towards the Uyghur community. Atrocities committed under this hard line approach by the Chinese government on the Uyghur community became from bad to worse.

What is currently happening to Uyghur Community since 2013

In 2013 China adopted the Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project connecting East Asia and Europe. The government realised that Xinjiang had to be under tight control for the success of this project. Thus 2014 saw the government initiating a Strike Hard Campaign against violent terrorism. This led to an increase of arbitrary detention, surveillance, and freedom of movement in the Uyghur community. Further as a systematic step towards diluting the community, the government started advocating intercommunity marriages between Han and Uyghur communities. Between 2015 and 2018, there was an influx of two million new Han residents in Xinjiang province. While forced sterilisation, abortion, and other forms of population control measures were initiated against Uyghur women but same was not applicable on the Hans family. On the contrary, it was during this time the Chinese government was rolling back its most infamous One Child policy, increasing it by two and recently increasing it by three.

The year 2017, saw China building a huge detention centre, which they defined as re-education camps, individuals  from the Uyghur community were arrested on frivolous grounds and detained in these camps. They were forced to denounce their religious and cultural beliefs and go through various other indoctrination. The Chinese government has been denying these accusations of human rights abuses and on the contrary is claiming that these actions as a whole is a step towards curbing terrorism and combating extremism, on which the international community has expressed its strong reservation.

Can China be seeing as committing genocide

According to UN, only certain acts can be construed as genocide:

  • Killing members of a certain ethnicity;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm, to members of a particular group;
  • Imposing measures to prevent births, all cantering around one ethnicity;
  • Forcibly transferring children from one group to another;
  • Systematically destroying the group.

Some people are of the view that may be China is committing cultural genocide, practice in which language, religion and cultural practices of a group are outlawed. Cultural genocide is the apt word to describe China’s campaign against the Uyghur community.

Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), crimes against humanity are considered to be serious specified offences that are committed with knowledge in a manner that is systematically framed and planned so as to affect a major portion of the targeted population. “Widespread” can be used as a referred term in this regard to signify scale of the acts or number of victims who are aggrieved by the series of such activities. A “systematic” attack in this regard indicates a pattern or methodical plan of such crimes. 

It is ideal to note that crimes against humanity are considered to be the gravest human rights abuses under the international law regime. The specific crimes that can be carried out against humanity ranges from imprisonment or deprivation of liberty in violation of international rules and regulations to that of persecution of any religious group alongside torture, murder, outraging of modesty, forced labour , etc.  

Response from international community

In January 2021, US finally declared that Chinese government was committing genocide. This stand was later seconded by governments of various states such as Canada, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belgium, the U.K. and the Netherlands. All of these nations passed an unanimous motion that China was either committing genocide against the Uyghur community or a risk of genocide existed.  This was followed by sanctions and boycott, to which China responded by denying all allegations and issuing its own sanctions against members of E.U.


As we come to the end of this article, it is ideal to state that human right is a fundamental right versed on every individual living in this planet irrespective of the nation or origin he or she is coming from. One of the fundamental human rights is the right to a dignified living and personal liberty. The same can be seen to be shadowed for the Uyghur community with China and its authorities in the background. With the launch of the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism”, China enforced human rights violations on the minority community thereby making their days count in Chinese land. It is the State’s vested responsibility to ensure justice for violation of human rights within its defined jurisdiction or territory. It is the further responsibility of the domestic criminal justice mechanisms to impartially investigate the violations and identify and prosecute the individuals responsible in accordance with the fair trial standards and norms led down under international regime. The Chinese government has repeatedly continued to deny that officials have been committing abuses in Xinjiang and thereby have also showcased unwillingness to conduct or carry out investigations concerning the same. Thuis, all we can think of for a better tomorrow for this community and many such related communities across the world is a humanitarian recognition alongside guaranteed  human rights. 



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