The World Uyghur Congress has released a new report, Forced Labour in East Turkestan: State-Sanctioned Hashar System, detailing the continued use of forced labour among with Uyghur population in East Turkestan. China has been imposing forced labour on the Uyghur community primarily in the region’s southern prefectures, despite China officially abolishing the similar practice of “re-education through labour” back in November 2013.
The purpose of the report is to reveal the details of its use among the Uyghur population, which has to this point been largely shrouded in secrecy.
Although forced labour through the Laogai (reform/re-education through labour) system is better known, the use of a comparable system in repressing the Uyghur population has remained relatively obscure. This is partly due to restrictions imposed on communication channels connecting Uyghurs to the outside world, but also because of China’s extensive efforts in controlling foreign journalists’ access to East Turkestan itself. International media outlets have, however, voiced concerns about the enforcement of hashar, or forced labour in East Turkestan in recent years – Radio Free Asia (RFA) in particular.
Moreover, in 2009, Amnesty International highlighted forced labour in East Turkestan and identified it as contributing to the “fuel for discontent” among Uyghurs. The issue of forced labour was also highlighted on multiple occasions by the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China. In recent years, Uyghurs inside East Turkestan have informed RFA of their continued subjection to forced labour. The majority of these Uyghurs are farmers and villagers from the southern parts of East Turkestan.
Among other things, the report attempts to explore the following issues:
- How the forced labour system developed in East Turkestan and how it has been sustained beyond China’s official abolition of its Re-Education Through Labour system in 2013.
- The demographic makeup of county-level areas in which the hashar system has been implemented.
- Details regarding conditions of those subjected to forced labour throughout the year.
- The relationship between China’s stated policies on forced labour and its actions on the ground in East Turkestan.
- The relationship between China’s use of forced labour in East Turkestan and domestic and international law prohibiting its use.
The purpose of this report then, is to inform the international community of the use of forced labour in East Turkestan by the CPC as a mechanism to monitor and control the daily lives of Uyghurs. Uyghurs living in the southern prefectures of East Turkestan, including Aksu, Bayingolin, Hotan and Kashgar have been forced into unpaid labour for the ostensible purpose of “stability maintenance”.
In a state with a well-documented lack of transparency and a legal tradition that nurtures the CPC’s political ambitions, the enforcement of unpaid labour by Chinese authorities in East Turkestan has remained both an uncovered and unnoticed issue. By documenting and the issue, the hope is that the international community will move to compel China to comply with internationally recognized legal norms.
In addition, key recommendations to the Chinese government and the international community derived from the report are as follows:
- Immediately abolish the hashar system in East Turkestan and promote measures to eliminate all existing government-sanctioned forced labour to prevent its future use.
- Provide reasonable payments to Uyghurs who have performed work under the hashar system in recent years, payments should reflect the number of hours worked and the opportunity cost of providing unpaid labor (i.e. loss of household farming income).
- Ratify International Conventions on Forced Labour, specifically the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 29 and 105.
- Work cooperatively with the United Nations and the International Labour Organization in eliminating all existing government forced labour systems in East Turkestan.
- Respect and protect the rights of Uyghurs to enjoy their own culture, to practice their religion, and to use their own language.
- Make a clear distinction between activities that involve the peaceful exercise of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and those that would be internationally recognized as criminal acts.
We hope that the report adds to the burgeoning, but still limited, volume of information about conditions on the ground in East Turkestan for the Uyghur community. It is still clear that a lack of transparency has greatly hindered the work of civil society on this issue, so our hope is that this report represents a step forward in pulling back the curtain on sustained human rights abuses against the Uyghur people that cannot continue.