Language Matters: What is terrorism?

Academic and terrorism researcher David Tucker once wrote: “Above the gates of hell is the warning that all that enter should abandon hope. Less dire but to the same effect is the warning given to those who try to define terrorism.”[1] Today, his words still aptly describe the continuing search by states and international bodies for a definition of terrorism.

A search for consensus

The United Nations (UN) has made several attempts to provide a general definition of terrorism, in contrast to describing specific acts of terrorism. It had a degree of success in the 1990s, with some progress made towards a general definition. In 1994 the non-binding ‘Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism,’ endorsed by the UN General Assembly, defined terrorism as  “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes.”

This was followed by a 1996 General Assembly Resolution 51/210, which established an ad hoc Committee to find a Draft Comprehensive Convention. However, when the Committee presented its report, the proposed definition was met with controversy and disquiet in the ad hoc Committee.

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“No one is immune from the roundups”: Life for Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region

China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is currently witnessing an unprecedented human rights crisis in which between one and three million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic minorities have been detained without charge or trial in so-called ‘re-education camps.’ The following blog post is written by an expert on Uyghur culture and sheds light on what life is like for those inside the region.

“Imagine a world where your every movement is watched. Where who you meet, who you visit, and even what you talk about is monitored. Where you can be hauled off a bus mid-journey or dragged out of your car at a checkpoint, where your belongings, your identity, your face, your fingerprints and your irises are scanned several times a day, and where the contents of your phone could send you to prison for the rest of your life.

This is the new reality for more than 10 million Uyghurs (pronounced Weega) in China’s north-west Xinjiang province, since the former governor of Tibet, Chen Quanguo was summoned to take over the helm of, in the eyes of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, China’s second most problematic province in 2017.

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‘Faithful disobedience’ in the face of a relentless crackdown: one year since China’s Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.

Over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on Christians and other religious groups across China.

The mass incarceration of over one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups in ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang since 2017 has alarmed the international community, with the detentions receiving UN condemnation. At the same time, Christians across China are also being relentlessly targeted by the Chinese state apparatus, with countless violations ranging from the arrest and torture of religious practitioners to the forced closure of places of worship remaining a daily reality for those peacefully exercising their universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

Since the revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018, reports have emerged of the removal of over 7,000 crosses in Henan province alone. Christians in Henan have also reported that unregistered churches across the province have been forcibly shuttered by authorities. Outside of Henan, in the wake of the revised regulations authorities across China continue to harass worshippers and restrict religious observance at state-approved churches by removing religious symbols from buildings, banning under-18s from religious activities, and forcing churches to install cameras and sing pro-Communist songs.

Continue reading “‘Faithful disobedience’ in the face of a relentless crackdown: one year since China’s Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.”

China’s Crackdown on Religion

“My family, relatives, friends and dozens of innocent people [I know] have been arrested since April 2017. I have no knowledge of how many more of our relatives have been arrested as we lost contact with them at the beginning of the year. They have not committed any crime… They are ordinary people… since then I have not heard from them and I am unsure about their safety.”

– Chinese Uyghur living overseas.

Faith groups in China are currently experiencing the most severe crackdown on religious freedom and human rights in decades. One of the worst sites of this crackdown is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where recent reports estimate that as many as three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in political re-education camps without charge.

Ethnicity appears to be the principle driver of these detentions, however there is also a significant religious element. The majority of detainees are Muslim, and reasons for detention – when a reason is given – have often been connected to the practice of peaceful religious activities such as participating in communal religious services or accessing religious materials online.

The religious element is further demonstrated by the treatment of Muslims inside the camps. Witnesses report that detainees have been forced to renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Prisoners have also been forced to eat pork or drink alcohol, which goes against their religious beliefs.

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UK General Election: an opportunity to reiterate a commitment to human rights

Coming less than a year after the EU referendum, the UK’s snap General Election on Thursday will provide a fresh opportunity to ensure human rights are at the heart of government policies.

Amid competing priorities, it remains important that the new government pledges to uphold the UK’s commitment to human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in all aspects of foreign policy, including diplomacy, international aid and trade.

Freedom of Religion or Belief matters

According to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the state of international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. Its new report states:

“the blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated.”

Against this backdrop, it’s increasingly important that the government shows its commitment to protecting this right. It must speak with boldness in challenging FoRB violations and allocate adequate resources, in addition to using its diplomatic and political capital, to address them.

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