We need only look at the world around us to see the evidence of our immense capacity for inflicting suffering
It seems like only the other day that we ushered in the year 2000 with much fanfare and a little trepidation (the Y2K bug -- or lack thereof -- was a little anti-climactic). We were entering a new millennium riding a wave of optimism and saw a future filled with endless possibilities. Yet here we are, only 20 years later, teetering on the brink of what feels like an apocalypse.
What the last two decades have confirmed is that we are a violent, war-mongering, destructive, greed-fuelled, self-serving species. A harsh description perhaps, but based on the facts, richly deserved. We need only look at the world around us to see the evidence of our immense capacity for inflicting suffering and cruelty on fellow human beings.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the number of people displaced by war, persecution, and conflict worldwide in 2019 was an unprecedented 70.8 million, of whom 25.9 million are now classified as refugees. This is double the level recorded 20 years ago. To put 70.8 million souls into perspective, the entire population of the UK is approximately 68 million.
Of that, two-thirds of refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia -- and are mostly Muslim.
Bangladesh is all too aware of the plight of the Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar, having opened its borders and accepted 750,000 refugees. Despite reports and first-hand accounts of villages being razed to the ground, women raped, children burned alive, men tortured and murdered, the countries of the world seemed to collectively drag their feet before finally deeming the Myanmar government’s actions against the Rohingya people as genocide.
And while other nations looked away or paid lip service by condemning the atrocities committed, it was Gambia that initiated proceedings against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November last year. Vice President Isatou Touray stated that Gambia was “a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond.”
Other leaders should take a leaf out of Gambia’s book. Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in the ICJ’s emergency hearing in The Hague but she still denounced the genocide charges against her country citing it as an “incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation.”
Apparently all one needs to do these days is label something as fake news.
If we want further proof of our inhumanity, all we need to do is turn our gaze towards China, where one of the worst human rights crises is taking place with a million (and most likely nearer to three million) Uighur Muslims from its north-western Xinjiang province being held in internment camps, both indefinitely and arbitrarily.
The Uighur are predominantly Turkic Muslims and are culturally and ethnically similar to Central Asian nations, with a population of about 11 million.
The Chinese government has refuted accusations of human rights abuses by stating the camps are vocational training centres and for re-education purposes.
The Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming, went on to say the centres were there for the prevention of terrorists.
But accounts from former prisoners and recently leaked government documents by the Communist Party to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) dubbed “The China Cables,” have confirmed that these camps are in fact brainwashing centres where Uighur Muslims are forced to renounce their religion, culture, and heritage and embrace communism, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party. Learning Mandarin is also compulsory for those incarcerated.
The stories from internment camps in Xinjiang by those who have managed to flee the country are chilling. Detainees are said to be tortured, starved, and beaten, including forced sterilizations and organs being harvested from living prisoners.
For those residing within the province, the amount of surveillance is almost Orwellian. According to Human Rights Watch, government officials come and live with Uighur families to monitor them, with many of the households being those where the man of the house has been sent to the centres.
The Han Chinese officials quite frequently sleep in the same bed as the women. The government has called this the “Pair Up and Become Family” program. There have also been reports of women being raped by these so called “relatives,” a term given to the men.
What is galling is that there is yet again verbal condemnation for these atrocities but not much else coming from the rest of the world. Saudi Arabia has gone one step further and on his visit to Beijing the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said that it was China’s “right” to detain Muslims for anti-terrorism purposes.
Sadly, money makes the world go round and most countries are reluctant to go up against China given the economic consequences of a fallout.
However, it does not take much for a “cultural genocide” to become a physical genocide due to the fact that containing the vast number of prisoners in these camps is a financial burden to China and not one that is indefinitely sustainable.
I can only hope that we do not take action when it is too late for the Uighurs.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.