- EDITH M LEDERER
The United Nations
A UN investigator says contemporary forms of slavery are widely practiced around the world, including forced labor for China’s Uyghur minority, bonded labor for the lowest-caste Dalits in South Asia, and slavery. domestic servitude in the Gulf countries, Brazil and Colombia.
Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur Tomoya Obokata adds that traditional slavery, especially of minorities, is found in Mauritania, Mali and Niger in the Sahel region of Africa.
Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Huocheng county in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region September 3, 2018. PHOTO: Reuters/Thomas Peter/File photo
He said in a report to the United Nations General Assembly released on Wednesday that child labor – another contemporary form of slavery – exists in all parts of the world, including its worst forms.
“In Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, the Americas and Europe, between four and six percent of children are said to be in child labor, and the percentage is much higher in Africa (21.6 percent ), with the highest rate. in sub-Saharan Africa (23.9%),” he said.
Its finding on Uyghurs in China’s northwest Xinjiang province follows a US ban imposed last December on imports from the region unless companies can prove the items are made without forced labour. There have been numerous allegations that China engages in systemic and widespread abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in its western region.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly criticized this finding by Obokata, who is a Japanese scholar and professor of international law and human rights at Keele University in England.
In the report, Obokata said that based on an independent assessment of available information from numerous sources, including victims and government accounts, he “considers it reasonable to conclude that forced labor among Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing has taken place in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”.
He cited two systems used by China – detention of minorities for vocational education and training followed by job placement, and a program of alleviation of poverty through work in which surplus rural workers are transferred to d other work. He said labor transfer is also practiced in Tibet where farmers, herders and other rural workers are transferred into low-skilled and low-paid jobs.
While these programs can create jobs and income as claimed by the government, Obokata said that in many cases the work is involuntary and workers are subject to excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restrictions of movement, threats, physical or sexual violence and other inhumane acts or degrading treatment.
“Some cases may amount to slavery as a crime against humanity, deserving further independent analysis,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Obokata of choosing “to believe the lies and disinformation about Xinjiang spread by the United States and some other Western countries and anti-China forces.” “.
He also accused Obokata of abusing his authority as a special investigator to “smear and denigrate China and serve as a political tool for anti-China forces”. He accused unnamed “forces” of fabricating disinformation about forced labor “to undermine the prosperity and stability of Xinjiang”. and contain China’s development and revitalization.
“China strongly condemns this,” Wang said. “There has never been ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang.”
He said China protects the rights and interests of workers of all ethnic groups to seek employment, participate in economic and social life, “and share the dividends of socio-economic progress.”
Obokata said minorities are also subjected to forced labor in Latin America, pointing to rural areas of Brazil, including the Amazon, where “slavery is intertwined with economic activities that cause environmental devastation, including l ‘illegal logging and mining’. The majority of the victims are men of African descent with low levels of education, he said.
The report also cites two other forms of contemporary slavery – child or forced marriage and sexual slavery.
Child marriage rates are rising in marginalized communities like the Roma minority in southeastern Europe, he said. In parts of the Balkans, half of all Roma women between the ages of 20 and 24 are married before the age of 18, compared to around 10% nationally, he said.
He said official data in the UK suggests that a large majority of forced marriage cases are in Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Somalia.
In other areas, Boko Haram forced Christian women and girls to convert to Islam and marry, Obokata said. Fulfude, he said.
Forced marriage is also a concern in the African nation of Congo, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam in Asia, and Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras and Panama in Latin America, a- he declared.
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As for sexual slavery, which has been particularly notable during conflicts and humanitarian crises, Obokata pointed to the more than 6,500 women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority who were allegedly captured in 2014 by Islamic State fighters. who used rape as a weapon of war against them. Nearly 2,800 Yazidi women and children remain missing or in captivity today, he said.
In Ethiopia, Obokata said, minority women in northern Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions have been subjected to rape, sexual mutilation and other forms of sexual violence by parties to the conflict. .
In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has mainly targeted Christians and moderate Muslims for enslavement, including sexual slavery, he said.
In Myanmar, women from the Muslim Rohingya minority “have been subjected to systematic sexual violence by the country’s security forces that can be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity”, he said. .
Despite the persistence of contemporary forms of slavery among minorities, Obokata said governments, national human rights bodies, civil society organizations and regional and other groups “have played an important role in prevention of the exploitation of minorities”.