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RIGHTS-CHINA: Children Among “Missing” Xinjiang Detainees

Chryso D'Angelo

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 21 2009 (IPS) - “It was late in the evening, and we were just getting ready for bed. Three men in black police uniforms and another four in military camouflage came to our house. They said my sons have been involved in attacks against Chinese… they twisted their arms and led them away,” said Kamalutdin K.

“They kicked the door open and burst in,” said Azamat N. “My wife started screaming. They threw my son face down into their truck.”

“They told everybody to get out of the houses. Women and elderly were told to stand aside, and all men, 12 to 45 years old, were lined up against the wall. Some were pushed on their knees, with hands tied around wooden sticks behind their backs,” said Aysanam A. “The soldiers pulled the men’s shirts over their heads so that they couldn’t see.”

And so the stories go. According to Human Rights Watch, between Jul. 6 and 7, 43 men and children in Xinjiang were rounded up – and never seen again.

The sweeps were carried out by Chinese police, the People’s Armed Police, and the military after a Jul. 5 protest in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, erupted into a deadly riot between two ethnic groups, the Muslim Uyghur and the Buddhist Han. According to Chinese government figures, 197 people, 134 of them Han, died; 1,600 were injured.

The protest was organised after two Uyghur men died in a brawl between Uyghur and Han in a toy factory on Jun. 26, 2009. Marchers demanded a government investigation into the deaths. As the day wore on, the 1,000-strong demonstration turned violent. Uyghur men attacked Han residents and set dozens of buildings and cars on fire, according to Human Rights Watch.


In the hours that followed, authorities sealed off Uyghur neighbourhoods, searching for men who participated in the violence. Those who had wounds or bruises on their bodies, or had not been at their homes during the protests, were taken away, never to be heard from again, according to witnesses.

“The Chinese government says it respects the rule of law, but nothing could undermine this claim more than taking people from their homes or off the street and ‘disappearing’ them – leaving their families unsure whether they are dead or alive,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The organisation has documented the disappearances in a 44-page report, “‘We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them’: Enforced Disappearances in the Wake of Xinjiang’s Protests”, released on Tuesday.

An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, according to Amnesty International. It is considered a cruel treatment, not only for those detained, but for family members awaiting news of their loved ones.

“I went to the Dawan police station to inquire about my sons, but the police told me to go away,” said Kamalutdin K. “Then I asked the soldiers at the military post in the entrance to our neighbourhood. The soldiers said my sons were fine and were in Kashgar. But when we contacted our relatives in Kashgar, they said nobody has seen my sons there.”

Human Rights Watch has called on the Chinese government to stop the practice of enforced disappearances, release those against whom no charges have been brought, and account for every person held in detention.

The group has asked the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take the lead in an investigation into the Urumqi unrest.

Human Rights Watch has also appealed to UNICEF since victims are as young as 12 years old. UNICEF told IPS it is investigating the report of unlawful arrests of children in Xinjiang.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out stringent conditions that must be met in all cases where a child comes into contact with the justice system in any country,” Susan Bissell, chief of child protection at UNICEF, told IPS.

“The arrest, detention or imprisonment of the child should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” she added.

More than one million children around the world are held in police stations, pretrial facilities, and prisons, according to Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.

“[Children] are prone to fall victim to corporal punishment or abuse by fellow detainees,” Nowak stated in October during a General Assembly discussion in which he focused his address on the dangers of detention facilities. He said detentions are “overcrowded, filthy and rife with disease”.

For family members awaiting the return of loved ones, word of dangerous living conditions weighs heavily on their minds.

“I went to the local police station more than 10 times,” said Nazira N., whose son was taken away. “They said if he is innocent, they would bring him back. They say the same thing every time, but so far he hasn’t come back, and I have no idea where he is.”

On Oct. 12, Xinjiang judicial authorities began trying people accused of involvement in the protests, according to Human Rights Watch. Twelve men have been sentenced to death, three others to death with a two-year reprieve, and one to life imprisonment.

 
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