By Amy K. Mitchell - Opinion Contributor
November 8, 2022
(AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren, File)
FILE – In this image from video, Zumret Dawut, a Uighur from China’s western Xinjiang region who forcibly sterilized for having a third child after being released from a Xinjiang detention camp, looks at documents at her home in Woodbridge, Va., on Monday, June 15, 2020. For Dawut and other camp survivors who spoke out, the U.N.’s report on the mass detentions and other rights abuses against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang was the culmination of years of advocacy, and a much-welcome acknowledgement of the abuses they say they faced at the hands of the Chinese state. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren, File)
August’s much-anticipated, and highly critical, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the Chinese Communist Party’s horrific atrocities toward the Uyghur people demonstrated the fallacy of “never again.”
Beyond local protests and high-level platitudes, China has been allowed to continue its “crimes against humanity” with impunity, at the same time evading a damning and embarrassing, but much-deserved, Human Rights Council debate about the ongoing situation in Xinjiang.
This is in large part due to the report refraining from using the word “genocide” in regard to the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority who have lived in the western stretches of China for more than six centuries. Pressure from the People’s Republic of China, including against the U.N. representatives themselves, ensured the report remained ambiguous, despite its text pointing to evidence confirmed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and others who have been unafraid to use the “G” word to the Chinese Communist Party’s face.
China used its trademark wolf warrior diplomacy to terminate the conversation on the global stage with the Human Rights Council vote tally coming in with 19 against, 17 for, and 11 abstentions. If the U.N. itself is unable to stop, or at the very least agree on what constitutes atrocity crimes in the 21st century, then the question must be asked: Is the U.N. the right institution for today’s world, or has it outlasted its usefulness? After all, its formation was in response to this very issue 80 years ago, the Holocaust.
And so, here we are again. Back are the camps, the arbitrary detentions, and the horrors hidden behind massive watchtowers. We are also witnessing a nation-state’s insidious ability to infiltrate international organizations to paper over crimes and the misdirection of clearance operations via a growing surveillance state. Technology and medical advances (to use the term loosely) have enabled more nefarious and perverse ways to execute genocide, slowly exterminating those from the inside out by means of forced sterilizations to eradicate an entire race.
Without effective international organizations and expanded alliances, the world is powerless to stop the CCP’s actions in Xinjiang. But powerless only because the free world lacks willpower in favor of preventing a bipolar international dynamic, in which U.N. action would force nations to choose sides.
Today, resolutions are not enough. Condemnation is not enough. Determinations are no longer enough. As history has demonstrated in other contexts, including most recently in Burma, economic sanctions are not enough. There is always another spigot to tap. Twentieth-century genocide deterrence policies have failed miserably to stem the rising tide of abuses across the globe.
This is the debate that is now reverberating between New York, Geneva and Brussels. A related issue has reared its ugly head in Ukraine, where calls for accountability are being met with bureaucratic warfare. Nation states who commit such crimes typically hide behind a “border” defense, but their false tautology must not be allowed to obscure fundamental human rights that apply no matter the geography.
For justice to prevail in Xinjiang, Ukraine and elsewhere, a new genocide deterrent framework is needed and necessary.
If a nation-state or regime acts as a pariah, it must be treated as a pariah. If they commit crimes against humanity, as soon as credible evidence of atrocities is confirmed, nations must act. In such cases, action must equal uncompromising isolation of the regime in question — economic and military sanctions, removal from world bodies and alliances, and the withdrawal of diplomatic recognition.
Gone would be U.N. trips to New York, seats at the World Trade Organization or World Bank, bilateral and multilateral meetings — there would even be embassy and consulate closures in host nations. Individuals specifically responsible should be restricted from all movement, their bank accounts frozen, and any dual nationality — which could be used to hide — revoked in response to their heinous crimes.
As the saying goes, the punishment must fit the crime. And the punishment for these regimes must be so severe as to stop any such murderous tendencies before they begin, rather than well after.
Following the horrors of World War II, international leaders, academics, human rights advocates, and lawyers came together and worked for years on language to enshrine the lessons learned in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the promise, never again. Those guiding principles, along with the more recent establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002 and the U.N.’s Responsibility to Protect principle in 2005 were the international community’s answer to what happened 80 years ago. Yet, all have proven ineffective.
In just the past 40 years alone, the peoples of South Africa, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Burma, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Xinjiang have been the victims of this failure — the very people who were promised protection. The global community’s failure to address this will not only result in more lives lost but also destroy any remaining faith in the institutions that pledged justice and accountability.
Amy K. Mitchell is a visiting fellow at George Mason University’s National Security Institute and a former senior advisor at the U.S. Departments of State and Defense.