- The House passed a bill condemning the Chinese treatment of Uighurs and recommending sanctions on top Chinese officials.
- The Senate passed a version of the bill in September. The two chambers must now come up with a unified version to pass on to President Trump.
- China responded by condemning the legislation, and saying it “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
- The move comes as the U.S. is already in hot water with China following Trump’s decision to sign an act last week authorizing the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.
House Passes Uighur Bill
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on top Chinese officials involved in perpetrating human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uighur minority, as well as formally condemn the country’s treatment of the Uighurs.
The bill, which was passed with an overwhelming vote of 407-1, also details the efforts of the Chinese government in recent years to ramp up control of the Xinjiang region where the Uighurs reside.
In addition to implementing advanced AI surveillance systems all over the region, the Chinese government has also detained upwards of one million Uighurs in internment camps.
Numerous reports, as well as both public and leaked Chinese government documents, show that the Uighurs are detained against their will in the camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith.
There have also been multiple reports of torture and other human rights abuses, prompting rights groups and countries all over the world to argue that the camps are systems of mass-incarceration for an ethnic minority and a violation of human rights.
China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, now claims that they are vocational boarding schools where they help the Uighurs by giving them job training and education skills. They also claim that it is a safe way to combat terrorism.
Contents of House Bill
The House bill comes a few months after the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation back in September.
According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the Act is to “direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs” and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The Act also accuses the Chinese government having policies that have “systematically discriminated” against the Uighurs, including:
- “Pervasive, high-tech surveillance across the region, including the arbitrary collection of biodata, such as DNA samples from children, without their knowledge or consent.”
- “The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray.”
- “Facial and voice recognition software and ‘predictive policing’ databases.”
- And “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the region.”
The bill also accuses China of using the threat of terrorism as a justification for “pervasive restrictions on, and gross human rights violations against, the ethnic minority communities.”
If implemented, the legislation would direct the president to “condemn abuses against” the Uighurs and call on President Xi to “recognize the profound abuse and likely lasting damage” of China’s policies, “immediately close” the camps, and “lift all restrictions on and ensure respect for internationally guaranteed human rights across the region.”
Perhaps most significantly, the bill would also “impose targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government and other officials who have been involved in these abuses.
This would include officials who have been “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”
Among other things, the Act would also direct the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. products and services to state agents in Xinjiang.
China condemned the House’s actions in a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” the statement said.
“It seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The statement went on to say that the situation is not about human rights, but “fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.” The ministry also claimed that “the international community speaks highly” of its policies in Xinjiang.
“We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this bill from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere China’s internal affairs,” the statement concluded. “China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”
Congress and U.S.-China Relations
Now, the House and Senate will have to work together to decide on a final version before passing it off to President Donald Trump, who has not said if he will sign the bill.
Despite the legislation’s bipartisan nature, whether or not Trump will sign it up in the air.
The president is already in hot water with China after signing an Act last week, which, among other things, authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.
Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the Act because he was worried it would complicate trade talks with China, but he ultimately went forward with it after pressure from Republican leaders.
China responded by imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations.
With the Uighur bill almost certain to further disrupt trade negotiations, it remains unclear if Trump will risk sacrificing a possible deal to approve the legislation.
Trump may find himself stuck in double-bind if Congressional leaders again pressure him to sign this bill, and especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority, as was the case with the Hong Kong legislation.
As divided as Congress is right now, they have recently worked together to push through a number of bills targeting China with huge bipartisan support in both chambers.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Qatar Apologizes for Strip-Searching and Forcibly Examining Female Airline Passengers After Finding Abandoned Newborn
- Qatari officials strip-searched and forcibly examined over a dozen women for signs of recent pregnancy after a newborn was found in the bathroom trash can at Doha airport.
- The decision is considered a violation of rights, as there were other ways of searching for the mother of the abandoned baby.
- Thirteen Australians were among those searched, prompting outrage from the Australian government and an apology from Qatar.
- Qatar explained that it wanted to ensure the perpetrator didn’t escape for attempting to kill a newborn but acknowledge its actions were too heavy-handed.
- Fortunately, the baby is alive and being taken care of by Qatari medical officials, although it’s unclear if the mother was ever found.
Newborn Found in Trash
Officials in Qatar have apologized after multiple female passengers at Doha airport were subjected to invasive examinations earlier this month.
The incident happened on October 2 after a newborn baby was found in an airport bathroom trashcan, wrapped in a bag.
Fortunately, the baby was still alive, and authorities quickly made efforts to find the mother. Those efforts involved getting the ten closest planes on the tarmac and stopping them, assuming she must be nearby.
Staff on the planes asked multiple women to deboard to speak with authorities. The exact number of women involved is unknown, but based on statements from both Qatar and Australian officials, at least 18 were questioned. The exact details of what happened next aren’t completely clear yet, but it is known that the detained women were subject to what’s been described as a “strip search” right on the tarmac.
They were then put into a waiting ambulance where they were forcibly checked for any signs of recent pregnancy and childbirth. Such procedures are considered invasive and a gross violation of rights.
Passengers on the planes report that some of the women returned crying or clearly in shock from the event.
Qatar Airways flight 908 was particularly affected by the incident. The flight was headed to Sydney and only stopped in Doha for a quick layover. While it was in Doha, 13 Australian citizens were among those who were forced to comply, prompting outrage from the Australian government.
In a statement on the morning of October 28, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the incident as “appalling” and “unacceptable.“
“As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that,” he said, “It is important that wherever travelers are traveling, that they are able to do so free of those types of incidents.”
Initially, Qatar said it conducted the searches in an attempt to check on the well-being of the mother. However, on Wednesday, Qatar apologized for what happened, writing in a statement, “…the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action.”
Still, the government defended its initial actions, writing. “This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at [Doha Airport].”
“This egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found.”
Qatar didn’t want the perpetrators of this attempted murder to escape, but the country did concede that the situation could have been handled much better. It also said an investigation into the matter would be forthcoming, with its findings to be shared with Australia.
Why This Course of Action?
This entire situation has triggered questions over how to balance the rights of passengers with the need to urgently find someone who attempted to kill a newborn.
Still, there were likely other solutions available. For example, Doha airport is a modern facility presumably filled with cameras. Officials probably could have stopped flights from departing as they checked the footage to see who went in and out of the bathroom where the newborn was found.
It could have been possible to narrow down the list of suspects by checking with Qatar Airways, the airline that had the most flights checked by authorities.
Qatar Airways doesn’t allow expectant mothers to fly if they are 36 weeks along, while mothers 28 weeks into a pregnancy require a doctor’s note to fly. While it’s unclear how premature the baby was, it can be assumed that checking in with Qatari Airways for a list of expectant mothers with doctor’s notes on flights could have significantly narrowed down potential perpetrators.
Fortunately, the little girl is being cared for at a facility in Doha. As of now, it’s unclear if Qatari authorities ever managed to find the parents.
See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (New York Times)
U.S.-Negotiated Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh Ends in Bloodshed Just 4 Minutes After It Started
- A U.S.-backed ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia that took effect Monday was broken only four minutes after it started.
- It’s unclear which side broke it, although evidence points to Azerbaijan, which has made substantial gains in the ongoing conflict.
- This is the third failed ceasefire, although neither side seems to have expected it to last very long. The last two were brokered by Russia.
- The combatants are supposed to meet Thursday for negotiations to resolve the conflict, but based on how things are going, that’s unlikely to happen.
Back to Square One
A ceasefire between Armenian and Azeri forces that was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fell apart on Monday just four minutes after it started.
The ceasefire was agreed to by both parties and was first announced by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a ceasefire effective at midnight,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The two countries are fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, alongside a few neighboring regions with a heavy Armenian troop presence. The regions in question are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but features a majority ethnic Armenian population, who in ’92 formed a state called the Republic of Artsakh. Artsakh receives financial, commercial, developmental, and military ties with Armenia proper.
On September 27, tensions over the region broke out into open conflict after both sides accused the other of breaking a decades-long ceasefire. Major players in the region, like Turkey and Russia, each support different sides in the war. Turkey has provided material support to Azerbaijan, including drones and fighter jets. Russia provides Armenia with arms and anti-drone missile defense system; however, unlike Turkey Russia has consistently made efforts to negotiate a ceasefire.
Unfortunately, every Russian brokered ceasefire has similarly ended just minutes after starting, with each side blaming the other for breaking the agreement.
The U.S. brokered ceasefire seemed to have a good start, with Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan tweeting, “As agreed in Washington DC, with US mediation, the Armenian side will fully maintain the ceasefire starting from 8 a.m.”
U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also spoke on behalf of local Armenian groups, writing “My colleagues in the Armenian Caucus have consistently called for the US to take decisive action holding Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable and bring an end to the bloodshed. I’m thankful @SecPompeo negotiated a ceasefire that hopefully holds and leads to an independent Artsakh.”
Many Armenians were correctly doubtful about how successful the ceasefire would be because of how all past ceasefires ended. Some online wrote things like, “Pres. Trump, since this humanitarian ceasefire like the previous two will likely not be observed by Azerbaijan, hope the US government has follow-up plans. Turkey is the main reason why this war is taking place, so sanctioning them would be the single most important act for peace.”
For their part, the Azeri perspective could be easily summed up with a tweet by a user that reflects the longheld grudge against Armenia for allegedly pushing ethnic Azeris out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Your proud team has not been able to save 1 million people for more than 30 years,” the user wrote. “The brutality of the Armenian government drove 1 million Azerbaijanis from the Azerbaijani lands in Karabakh. Now they are returning home. The only team you can be proud of is the Azerbaijani Army.”
It’s important to note that, it’s officially unclear who broke the ceasefire, with each side blaming the other for targeting and bombing civilian centers in Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring Ganja, respectively.
News of the failed ceasefire quickly gained traction after Azeri Foreign minister Hikmet Hajiyev said, “Since 08.04 armed forces of Armenia started shelling Tartar region and its villages in violation of humanitarian ceasefire. As reported by MOD Azerbaijan armed forces of Armenia with artillery and mine launchers attacking our forces since 08.05“
Armenia disputes this, claiming that they are trying to maintain the ceasefire even though Azerbaijan is the one shelling cities in Artsakh. This back and forth over who broke the ceasefires have continued the he-said-she-said narrative of the conflict. Virtually every event is disputed by either side, and restrictions on journalists make it hard to verify information.
Armenia does largely allow journalists to many spots in the warzone, although with some restrictions. Azerbaijan, however, heavily restricts journalists, and clear answers from their side of the front are hard to obtain.
Progress of the War
If a side stood to gain something from breaking a ceasefire, it’d probably be Azerbaijan. They have made huge gains towards gaining control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Even though both sides actively seek to play up their gains and diminish their losses, satellite images and alleged geolocation data show that Azeri forces are now in large parts of southern Nagorno-Karabakh.
Initial claims about geolocation date were disputed, however, on October 27, Armenian forces announced they were making strategic retreats from cities in southern Artsakh in an effort to consolidate forces and avoid unnecessary loses; however, they stressed these were minor setbacks.
This indeed may be a minor setback because other information indicates that while Azeri forces may have made some large gains, they also are having trouble holding the territory and may have suffered untenable losses for it.
Azeri losses are notoriously hard to confirm, but to date they have stated that 65 civillians have lost their lives in the conflict to date.
Armenia claims to have inflicted over 6,000 military casualties on Azeri forces since the conflict began. Officially, 900 soldiers and civilians have been killed on the Armenian side since the conflict began. Although doctors in Stepanakert, while speaking to The Daily Beast, say that over 1,000 soldiers have died, with an additional 300-400 civilian deaths.
Both sides are due to meet again on Thursday with members of the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia, in order to try and find a resolution to the conflict.
See What Others Are Saying: (The Hill) (ABC News) (The Daily Beast)
Thousands of Nigerians Continue to Protest for Widespread Police Reforms Following SARS Disbandment
- Nigerians are protesting against human rights abuses carried out by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit commonly known as SARS.
- The police unit has been caught on video multiple times shooting, torturing, extorting, beating, robbing, and kidnapping Nigerians.
- A video of a SARS officer shooting a young man while confiscating the man’s Lexus on October 3 sparked outrage across the West African nation, leading to protests since October 8.
- Since then, the government has agreed to some demands and disbanded the unit for the fourth time, only to replace it with a SWAT unit.
- Still, Nigerians continue to protest, demanding wide-scale police reforms.
SARS Accused of Major Human Rights Abuses
Nigeria has been rocked by ongoing protests over police brutality stemming from the long time corruption and abuse by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
The squad, better known as SARS, has long been embroiled in controversy for engaging in torture, mock executions, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, harassment, and murder. For many Nigerians, the unit is just the worst example of many of the abuses that Nigerian police engage in and is part of a systemic problem.
The most recent anger was sparked by a video that went viral on October 3, which shows a SARS officer was seen shooting a young man in front of a hotel while taking away his Lexus SUV. Adding to the collective anger was news that the phone used to record the incident was quickly confiscated by SARS officers after the video went live.
Following days of simmering, the tensions boiled over on October 8, after activists and social media called for wide-scale protests to demand SARS be disbanded. Like many recent protests worldwide, the message was quickly spread and amplified with the help of social media, prompting tens of thousands of people across Nigeria to take to the streets and make #endSARS trend online.
Wide-Scale Protests Across Nigeria
Since October 8, the ongoing protests have been mainly peaceful, although there have been incidents of police interfering with heavy-handed tactics. Online, hundreds of videos can be found of police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds. Others show them wildly shooting into crowds of protesters.
However, these actions often have the opposite of their intended effect and draw out more protesters daily. Additionally, the videos of violent police tactics amplify the message worldwide, especially as members of the Nigerian diaspora push the topic online.
Nigerian actor John Boyega has actively supported the movement on Twitter, calling out Nigerian police corruption. Similarly, Nigerian rapper Burna Boy made serious efforts to spread information about the protests to his global audience.
On October 10, he made a statement, promising to help fund any protester who is harmed and/or arrested by police during demonstrations. He also asked for donations to that fund and promised to make sure people are educated about the situation. To that end, he has been funding billboards with #ENDSARS and relevant information across the United Kingdom.
In North America, multiple artists have come out in support of the cause. Rapper Kanye West tweeted out, “I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria”
Meanwhile, fellow artist Drake highlighted a post about the situation on his Instagram story.
SARS Out, SWAT In
As the protests continued, the message and movement evolved. On Sunday, a list of demands began to be circulated on social media.
Beyond wanting SARS disbanded, the demands called for anyone arrested during the protests to be released. It also called for compensation for those killed by police brutality in Nigeria.
It’s unknown exactly how many have died as a result of the protests, but Human Rights Watch estimates that upwards of 10 people have been killed by police while protesting.
Demonstrators are also calling for an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct, as well as psychological evaluations and retraining of SARS operatives before they were moved to other units.
Additionally, protesters want to ensure that Nigerian police are adequately paid, so they’re less willing to engage in corruption.
Protesters got a major victory on Sunday when the government announced that SARS would be disbanding and there would be investigations into the conduct of the officers. Until those investigations were complete, SARS officers would be placed into other units after a psychological evaluation, in line with protester demands.
However, for many protesters, this wasn’t enough. They want widespread police reforms, especially because disbanding SARS isn’t a new thing.
This will be the fourth time the unit has been disbanded, and each time it’s brought back, it faces the same accusations. It’s widely believed that the unit isn’t the problem and instead blame the mindset within Nigerian police that allows a unit like SARS to be so brutal and corrupt.
It wasn’t until Tuesday that police finally agreed to stop using force against protesters. At the same time, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a speech where he promised that widespread police reforms would come.
“I want to use this opportunity to address the recent genuine concerns and agitations by Nigerians about the excessive use of force, and in some cases extrajudicial killings and wrongful conduct, by men of the Nigerian police force,” he said.
“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure the primary of the police and other law enforcement agencies remain the protection of lives.” and added, “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.”
Many Nigerians were bitterly disappointed when it was announced that SARS would be replaced with a group known as Special Weapons Assault Team, or SWAT.
With that, protests continued into Wednesday, and demands have been expanded to call for more fundamental changes to the police system. The calls are similar to ones made against police in countries like the U.S. and U.K. following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.