Photo Credit: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times
Photo Credit: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times

Atrocity Alert No. 193: India, China and Syria

4 March 2020

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

Hate speech and deadly attacks against Muslims in India 

India’s worst sectarian violence in years left at least 45 people dead and more than 300 injured following four days of rioting in New Delhi from 23 to 27 February. The violence was triggered after Kapil Mishra, a politician from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), delivered a speech on 23 February calling on supporters to take to the streets and “give an answer” to protesters who had been demonstrating against new citizenship restrictions imposed by the government. Within hours, Hindu nationalist mobs began attacking the protesters.

India has a long history of deadly inter-communal violence with widespread attacks on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Witnesses allege that during the most recent violence, police officers stood by as Hindu nationalist mobs attacked Muslim shops, neighborhoods and individuals. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, said that, “I am concerned by reports of police inaction in the face of attacks against Muslims by other groups, as well as previous reports of excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters.”

Large protests have taken place across India since 12 December 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA outlines a path to citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims from these countries. Protesters have demanded the CAA’s repeal, saying it violates India’s secular constitution. Many also fear the CAA is the first step towards rendering millions of Muslims in India stateless following messages from the Home Minister indicating that a National Registration of Citizens (NRC) to identify illegal immigrants will also be implemented soon.

The announcement of the CAA and NRC came after the Indian government abrogated Article 370 of its Constitution during August, changing the legal status of the Jammu and Kashmir region. Following protests, the government shutdown the internet, detained local leaders and imposed a curfew in the Kashmir Valley. These policies have been perceived as a form of collective punishment directed against the region’s mainly Muslim population.

While anti-Muslim rhetoric has been prominent in speeches made by various BJP politicians in recent years, it has intensified since large protests against the CAA began. The virulence of these verbal attacks also increased in advance of the Delhi Assembly elections on 8 February.

India’s penal code prohibits hate speech that targets people on the basis of their race, religion or caste. In response to Public Interest Litigation filed by civil society organizations, on 26 February the Delhi High Court ruled that the police should investigate four BJP politicians – including Kapil Mishra – for inciting violence. Earlier today, 4 March, the Supreme Court of India also requested that the Delhi High Court hear all pleas regarding recent cases of potential hate speech by Friday.

India now appears to be at a political crossroads, and the threat of further violence remains high if hate speech is not brought under control. Prime Minister Modi should rigorously enforce India’s hate speech laws and take immediate punitive action against any BJP official responsible for inciting violence. An independent and impartial investigation should also be undertaken regarding potential police complicity in mob violence targeting Muslim civilians.

Evidence of Uighur forced labor in China

A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) alleges that some factories in China are “using forced Uighur labor under a state-sponsored labor transfer scheme.” According to the report, between 2017 and 2019 the Chinese government transferred at least 80,000 Uighurs out of Xinjiang province to work in factories as part of a government policy known as “Xinjiang Aid.” Many workers were sent directly from detention camps in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where approximately one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in “reeducation” or “de-extremification” facilities.

ASPI identified 27 factories in nine provinces that have been using these Uighur laborers. The factories are part of supply chains for 83 global brands, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Nike and Samsung. Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, responded to the report, saying that “the evidence of forced labor by Uighurs in factories across China demonstrates that abuses and violations of the human rights of Muslim minorities do not end once they are released from the internment camps. It is essential that all companies named in the report investigate their supply chains and cease working with factories implicated in what amounts to potential crimes against humanity.”

According to the report, Uighur workers involved in the labor scheme have little freedom of movement, live in guarded and segregated dormitories, and are prohibited from practicing their religion. The report comes two weeks after The Associated Press published leaked data revealing that the Chinese government focused on religious devotion as one of the primary reasons for the detention of Uighur individuals and their family members. This included ordinary acts such as fasting during Ramadan or wearing a veil.

The government of China should grant the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights immediate and unfettered access to XUAR and to the factories named in the report. All UN member states, but especially influential members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, should call for the Chinese authorities to end the systematic persecution, arbitrary detention and forced labor of ethnic Uighurs.

UN report accuses Russian Air Force of war crimes in Syria

For the first time the UN Human Rights Council-(HRC) mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria (CoI) has explicitly named the Russian Air Force responsible for war crimes committed in northwest Syria. As detailed in its latest report, published on 2 March, these crimes involved indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including bombing a compound for displaced civilians in Haas and a marketplace in Ma’aret al-Numan. The CoI also found that after the launch of a Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria in late 2019, the Syrian National Army perpetrated the war crimes of pillage and murder against the Kurdish population.

Much of the CoI report focuses on violence in northwest Syria, where Syrian government and Russia forces are conducting an offensive that has caused over 1,500 civilian deaths since last April and displaced over 948,000 Syrians in the past three months. The CoI has found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian government and its allies intended to terrorize and displace civilians in northwest Syria as they persistently shelled civilian areas and objects. The Chair of the CoI, Paulo Pinheiro, said “I urge all parties to the conflict to engage in good faith dialogue to bring an end to this tragic conflict and to allow unfettered humanitarian aid and assistance through to all people in need immediately.”

All parties to the conflict in Syria must uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. In keeping with the CoI’s recommendations, the international community should use all available diplomatic means to push for both a cessation of hostilities and emergency humanitarian relief in northwest Syria. The UN Secretary-General should also take decisive action in relation to last week’s demarche by nine members of the UN Security Council and should visit Idlib immediately.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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