Central Asia Theater
Top Chinese technology firms have registered patents for tools apparently designed to detect, track and monitor Uighurs, according to research by the Pennsylvania-based video surveillance watchdog group IPVM. A 2018 patent filed by Shenzhen-based tech giant Huawei with the State Intellectual Property Office (since reorganized as the China National Intellectual Property Administration, CNIPA) lists attributes by which an individual may be targeted, including "race (Han, Uighur)." This comes a month after IPVM released details of a document issued by Huawei and its Beijing-based corporate partner Megvii, "Huawei Video Cloud Solution and Megvii Dynamic Face Recognition Interoperability Test Report," which boasted of a "Uighur alarm" among the "basic functions of Megvii's facial recognition system."
China announced Dec. 26 the ratification of an extradition treaty with Turkey that it intends to use, inter alia, to accelerate the return of refugees and Uighur Muslims suspected of "terrorism." Since the 1950s, Turkey has welcomed Uighurs fleeing persecution in China. Uighurs and Turks have linguistic, cultural and religious ties. Currently, more than 50,000 Uighurs call Turkey home. While the treaty does provide grounds for refusal of extradition on the basis of Turkish citizenship, it is feared by many Uighurs that Chinese persecution will follow them to Turkey. "This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, told AFP.
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors on Dec. 15 rejected a complaint filed by exiled Uighurs calling for an investigation of China on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The complaint was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds; the People's Republic of China, like the United States and Russia, does not recognize the ICC. The office of chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated in a year-end report on preliminary examinations: "This precondition for the exercise of the court's territorial jurisdiction did not appear to be met with respect to the majority of the crimes alleged."
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People's Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Nov. 6 that he is revoking the "terrorist organization" designation of the supposed "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" (ETIM)—an entity that may not actually exist in any organized sense but has been used to justify China's mass detention of the Uighurs in Xinjiang region. Reaction has been perfectly predictable. The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project called Pompeo's decision "long overdue" and a "definitive rejection of China's claims." It was likewise applauded by the DC-based self-declared East Turkistan Government in Exile. Beijing's Foreign Ministry, in turn, accused the US of "backpedaling on international counter-terrorism cooperation," and expressed China's "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the US decision."
Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president's office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of State Committee for National Security (GKNB), which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated. The Oct. 6 uprising followed a day of demonstrations that filled the city's central Ala-Too Square, finally escalating to clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. The demonstrations were called to demand that parliamentary elections held one day earlier be annulled. The victory for the ruling party was marred by claims of fraud and vote-buying.
A new report by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and the Jamestown Foundation, a DC-based policy think-tank, has found evidence of a system of forced displacement and labor in Tibet, mirroring that put in place over the past two years in Xiinjiang. The report, entitled "Xinjiang's Militarized Vocational Training System Comes to Tibet," finds that over half a million people received instruction at "military-style" training centers as part of the program in the first seven months of 2020—around 15% of the region's population. Of this total, almost 50,000 have been transferred to jobs away from their homes within Tibet, and several thousand have been sent to other parts of China. Many end up in low-paid labor, including textile manufacturing, construction and agriculture. Those targeted for the program are designated "rural surplus laborers," which according to the report usually refers to traditional pastoralists and nomads.
Several human rights organizations signed an open letter Sept. 15 declaring that China's treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province "strongly suggests that crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place." The letter cited a November 2019 UN report that raised concerns over "increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards...within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs."