There is an urgent need to stop the atrocities perpetrated by the regime in BeijingVatican must seize the moment on China – UCA News
At midnight on the last day of August, in the final seconds before her term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ended, Michele Bachelet and the UN finally released the long overdue, much-delayed and long-awaited report on Xinjiang.
Many of us feared it would never see the light of day or, if it did, that it would be a whitewash of the kind Bachelet herself disgracefully provided in her press conference at the end of her visit to China in May.
In fact, while far from perfect, it was much better than we had feared. And it now provides a mandate from the UN for urgent action to be taken.
The report did not go as far as it could or should. It failed to acknowledge the genocide of the Uyghurs which others, including both the Trump and Biden administrations, several parliaments around the world and an independent tribunal chaired by the lawyer who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, did. But it does conclude that “serious human rights violations” have been committed in the Xinjiang region, that they may constitute “international crimes” and in particular, “crimes against humanity.”
These are serious conclusions, and very welcome after the years of waffle that have emanated from Geneva. At long last, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations has recognized what an increasing number of people around the world have observed — that atrocity crimes are being committed by the Chinese Communist Party regime against the Uyghur people.
For all my past criticisms of Bachelet, I welcome this report. It should have come sooner, it should have been even stronger, but it came and it is clear and it provides a foundation for action.
“The time has come to work together to stand up to the brutal regime in Beijing which the UN says may be committing crimes against humanity”
There are three audiences, among others, who need to read the report and then act. The international community and individual governments; Bachelet’s successor as high commissioner for human rights; and Pope Francis and the Vatican.
For the international community, the time has come to work together to stand up to the brutal regime in Beijing which the UN says may be committing crimes against humanity and a growing number of experts say is perpetrating genocide.
It is time to unite to stop Uyghur slave labor in our supply chains. It is time to stop the incarceration of hundreds of thousands in concentration camps. It is time to hold Xi Jinping and his dictatorship accountable.
That means increased, carefully targeted sanctions. Not just individual Magnitsky sanctions against key officials in the Chinese regime’s apparatus who are responsible for these atrocities, though we need more action on that front.
Former Party Secretary in Xinjiang Chen Quanguo, who also presided over atrocities in Tibet, has still not been sanctioned by the United Kingdom and other countries, for example. I hope one of the first acts Britain’s new prime minister might take today or this week might be to sanction Chen.
But it also means finding creative, perhaps new ways to prosecute the perpetrators. If it cannot be done through the traditional international mechanisms of accountability, due to China’s veto power, then let’s establish new ways to hold those responsible for atrocity crimes to account.
“Bachelet’s biggest mistake was that she kowtowed too long and too eagerly, creating the impression she had sold out”
For Bachelet’s successor, whoever takes over, I hope they will do two things: build on the report but take a new tack with China. Drop the Bachelet kowtowing custom, and stand up and speak out sooner, clearer and louder.
Bachelet’s biggest mistake was that she kowtowed too long and too eagerly, creating the impression she had sold out.
In the end, Beijing did not get its money’s worth, thankfully, but her reputation was tarred nonetheless. I hope her successor learns the lesson.
Their role is to defend and promote human rights around the world without compromise, to act as the moral conscience of the UN system, and to be the whistleblower or the trumpeter on the city gate, sounding the alarm, not to be a diplomat negotiating fudge.
The new high commissioner must continue to monitor the human rights crisis in China, not only for the Uyghurs but also in Tibet, Hong Kong, and throughout mainland China with the crackdown on religion, civil society, and dissent, and should come up with recommendations for how to hold the butchers of Beijing to account.
And then for Pope Francis and the Vatican: it is time for a reckoning. It is time for the Holy Father and those around him to study the UN’s report, alongside the Uyghur Tribunal’s report, together with the body of evidence of the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, atrocities in Tibet, forced organ harvesting, human rights violations throughout China and the increasing threats to Taiwan, and reflect on this picture as they consider renewing their deal with Beijing again.
In front of the Holy Father and senior officials in the Vatican, I would suggest, are three plausible options in the coming weeks.
No Catholic clergy in jail have been released because of the deal, and more have been arrested, forced to resign, or disappeared
They could simply, quietly, with no fuss, renew and roll over the agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops. They could do so in the knowledge that nothing has been achieved and that, in fact, religious freedom has been set back by the deal.
Repression, restrictions and persecution of Christians — Protestant and Catholic — have intensified since the deal, no Catholic clergy in jail have been released because of the deal, and more have been arrested, forced to resign, or disappeared. But, they could just quietly renew the deal. That would be the approach of the coward and the appeaser.
They could take a middle road — to renew the deal, but with some conditionality, some negotiation, some voice of conscience. They could demand the release of prisoners of conscience, the release of jailed Catholic bishops as a start, and an end to the brutal persecution of Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims.
The pope himself could start to be more vocal, at the Sunday Angelus each week for example, about the tragedies in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and across China. They could still extend the agreement, but ensure that it is at a reduced price. That would perhaps be the wisest option, an attempt to safeguard as far as possible the well-being of Catholics in China while trying to recover the pope’s lost moral authority.
Or they could take the radical approach: to declare that this deal is a dreadful mistake, has achieved nothing, has resulted only in further intense persecution and repression, and genocide and crimes against humanity on this pope’s watch. That is the approach I would like to see, though I can understand why it might not happen. It is risky because it involves admitting that the pope and the Vatican were wrong, it might put Catholics in China in even greater danger than they already are, and it could involve other repercussions from a vengeful dictatorship in Beijing. But it would be the brave and right and true thing to do.
None of the options for the Vatican are attractive. But — especially in light of the UN report — I plead with all my heart to the Holy Father and the Holy See not to contemplate the first option. Although I would in principle like to see the deal with Beijing binned, I know that may not be realistic, and so I hope that the middle way might be considered. At the very least, the moral silence from Rome on the atrocities committed in China which even the UN is now speaking out on is surely unacceptable. Pope Francis should at least pray for the Uyghurs, pray for Tibet, pray for persecuted Christians and others across China, publicly, in his Sunday Angelus. After all, isn’t that what a pope does?
All of us have a responsibility to act, in our respective spheres of influence, to stop the atrocities perpetrated by the regime in Beijing across China, its complicity with crimes against humanity perpetrated by other brutal regimes, and its threats to our own freedoms.
It’s carpe diem time.
*Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, including three books about Myanmar, especially his latest, “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”. His faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). His new book, “The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny”, will be published in October 2022 by Optimum Publishing International. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.