Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping heads to Argentina on Thursday, where he will be received as an honored guest at the G-20 – even as human rights activists urged Argentina to arrest another delegate: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has launched a pressure campaign to urge Argentina to arrest bin Salman, known commonly as MBS, for alleged war crimes in Yemen and his suspected involvement in the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Human Rights Watch contends that sufficient evidence exists for Argentina to exercise its powers, granted by the Geneva Convention, to arrest MBS. Yet in highlighting the Saudi leader, the NGO and the global community has allowed a much greater international criminal to escape demands to face justice, or even the mildest of criticism, for running the most efficient repressive regime on the planet.
Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party of China and “president” of the country (the former a much more powerful title than the latter), will land in Buenos Aires this weekend following warm welcomes in Portugal and Spain. He has scheduled friendly meetings with Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina, and U.S. President Donald Trump. All anyone covering Xi’s arrival appears to be interested in discussing is trade – not Xi’s harvesting of organs from political prisoners, use of “concentration camps” to torture Muslims, bulldozing of Christians who fail to preach “socialist values,” disappearing of inconvenient Chinese people (from the most obscure human rights lawyer to the president of Interpol), and widespread tolerance of slavery on the part of communist-friendly corporations.
In terms of the scope of crimes committed, scale of repression, and sheer number of victims, Xi Jinping is the world’s worst human rights violator. If Argentina arrests any world leader at the G-20 summit, there is no better candidate than Xi.
The Human Rights Watch argument for involving Argentina in the prosecution of Saudi crimes against humanity applies just as much to Beijing as it does to Riyadh.
“We presented this complaint because it cannot be investigated in Saudi Arabia or in Yemen,” HRW attorney Reed Brody said in a statement. “Argentina is a free, democratic country that adheres to the principles of human rights and international justice.” The NGO argued that Argentina is further “obligated … to submit the case to competent authorities … when a presumed torturer or war criminal finds themselves in the country.”
Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian state where the court system would allow no such scrutiny. China, prior to Xi’s reign, was only slightly more open, at least tolerating the existence of human rights attorneys. Yet under Xi, China has implemented a systematic campaign of “disappearing” human rights lawyers, shutting down their firms, and treating them as criminals despite existing legal documentation protecting them.
As of 2017, dozens of attorneys have simply “disappeared” from China, typically after the police raid their law firms. Some have resurfaced after being forced to record hostage videos confessing to unspecified crimes against the state. Those who have escaped say they were “forcibly taken from their homes, detained for weeks, sometimes months, in secret prisons, denied communication with family and legal representation, strong-armed into making videotaped confessions, and ultimately released without being convicted of a single crime.”
Many remain missing. Among them is one of the nation’s most prominent attorneys, Gao Zhisheng, who police forced into house arrest for months before he vanished entirely over a year ago. Gao has survived disappearances in the past, but had resurfaced only to continue his activities: defending Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and other enemies of the state from arbitrary charges. This time, few believe he will resurface alive, many noting the case of Li Baiguang.
Li also defended religious minorities and human rights advocates. He was not disappeared; he was killed, those familiar with the case say. After years of defying the government, Li went to visit a doctor in February complaining of a mild stomach ache. Less than a day later, the government pronounced him dead of a “sudden outbreak of illness.” He had no life-threatening preexisting conditions in his medical history.
Xi has almost completed his purge of human rights attorneys. This month, the independent agency Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Beijing Fengrui law firm, China’s largest specializing in human rights with nearly 100 lawyers working there at their peak, had “ceased to exist.” Xi’s regime had drowned it in arbitrary litigation, government raids, arrests, and disappearances.
The elimination of human rights lawyers has allowed Xi to expand his violent assaults on ideological minorities. High on that list are Christians, who may no longer technically be a minority – some estimates suggest as many as 130 million Christians live in China, more than the about 90 million members of the Communist Party.
International observers have accused Xi of launching “the worst clampdown since the Cultural Revolution” against Christianity, a campaign largely consisting of taking down crosses, demolishing churches, and detaining or killing any Christian who defends their faith. The most gruesome example of Christian martyrdom in the Xi era occurred in 2016, when Ding Cuimei, wife of Rev. Li Jiangong of the Beitou Church, stood with her husband in front of a bulldozer to protect her place of worship. Authorities buried them alive, but only Li managed to escape.
The horrifying incident, which occurred before the church’s congregation, did not trigger a lessening in the attacks on Christians in China. Chinese police expanding their toolbox, using dynamite and excavators as well as bulldozers to tear down some of the country’s biggest churches.
Given the large population of Christians in the country, Xi’s regime has largely failed to suppress it with the same vigor as other minorities. At the top of the list are Uighur Muslims – a minority who primarily live in one geographic region, making them easier targets to contain – and Falun Gong practitioners, branded “heretical” before Xi’s tenure in 1999 but significantly more persecuted since he took control.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that combines Taoist and Buddhist elements to promote meditation as a form of wellbeing. The practice actively rejects many of the tenets of communism and encourages individual thought, therefore, the Communist Party acted to suppress it. Unlike other minorities, Falun Gong practitioners have face the particularly horrific practice of live organ harvesting while imprisoned.
According to multiple reports by NGOs and research institutions in the Xi era, citing survivors of Chinese prisoners, Xi’s China has harvested the organs of thousands of political prisoners in recent years without their consent. While the Communist Party managed to hide its organ harvesting locations and keep the program a secret for some time, one study found that the number of hospitals reporting organ donations was significantly smaller than the official tally of organs the Chinese government harvested in 2016, for example. Beijing could not explain the discrepansy, but former Falun Gong political prisoners could – the government stole their organs. China responded to the reports by calling its organ harvesting system “fair” and publishing a report that its organ theft system was “hailed by [the] international community.”
Like Christians, Falun Gong practitioners have the advantage of being spread all throughout China. Had their population been contained to mostly one region, they may have ended up in internment camps, tortured and brutalized to abandon their beliefs. This is the case of the Uighurs of Xinjiang, over a million of whom are believed to be languishing in what China has branded “vocational training camps” where they are subject to electrocution, food and sleep deprivation, and communist indoctrination.
In Xinjiang, crimes such as “refusing to watch state TV” can land a Uighur person in a camp. There, according to survivors, they are tortured and forced to learn Mandarin, abandon Islam, and worship Xi personally.
“The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins,” Mihrigul Tursun, a camp survivor, told an audience in Washington, DC, this week. The government shaved her head, forced her to go without sleep, made her chant praises to Xi Jinping, and killed one of her infant triplets.
Other witnesses say they are forced to sing Communist songs for hours and eat pork, a way to prove they are no longer Muslim.
Not all in Uighur concentration camps are adults. When the adults get taken away, the children get moved to “orphanages” where they are deprived of contact with other Uighur children, taught Mandarin as a means to eradicate the Uighur language, and forced to praise communism. The estimates of the number of child camps for Uighurs are in the dozens.
The legal definition of “crimes against humanity,” as per the Rome Statute, is a series of crimes “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Among the listed crimes are murder, torture, rape, “forcible transfer of population,” “enforced disappearances,” or “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering,” among others.
It is difficult to find a crime listed under “crimes against humanity” that evidence does not suggest Xi has committed. The closest is “apartheid,” but Xi has reportedly implemented even that in Chinese colonies in Kenya.
The outrage against MBS, should claims about Khashoggi’s claims be correct, is not unfounded – but it raises real concerns about the world’s silence and acceptance of Xi Jinping, who barely bothers to hide his human rights abuses anymore. Argentina has a much more dangerous criminal on its hands than the Saudi prince to consider detaining.