CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Amid mounting international pressure on Beijing over Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China invited diplomats from twelve mostly-Muslim countries, and foreign media from six, on tightly managed tours in Xinjiang late Dec-mid-Jan including in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax; EU delegation visited Urumqi and Kashgar 11-13 Jan. Senior Xinjiang official 6 Jan said China would welcome “unbiased” UN inspection visit, so long as officials “refrain from interfering in others’ internal affairs”. U.S. senators 17 Jan re-introduced Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which reiterates calls for sanctions under Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials affiliated with camps and would establish investigative positions in U.S. govt. 37 international NGOs 30 Jan called for UN Human Rights Council to adopt resolution condemning Chinese human rights violations at session opening late Feb. Kazakhstan 21 January raised concerns with Beijing over reports of ethnic Kazakhs being held under house arrest in Xinjiang after being freed from camps (see Kazakhstan).
New York Times 16 Dec reported mounting evidence from satellite images, accounts from region and previously unreported official documents suggest system of forced labour from internment camps in Xinjiang, with growing number of detainees being sent to new factories built inside or near camps. Foreign ministry 17 Dec accused foreign media of making “many untrue reports” about “training centres”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5 Dec reported she had requested direct access to Xinjiang region to verify “worrying reports” of re-education camps holding Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. German Commissioner for Human Rights and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also expressed concern during month about reports of treatment of Uighurs; China repeated warnings for other countries not to interfere in its domestic issues. Responding to Indonesian govt expression of concern about alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Chinese embassy 20 Dec reiterated that China guaranteed religious freedom of all citizens, and that camps are to counter terrorism and religious extremism and provide vocational training.
Further reports emerged describing extensive growth of political re-education camps used for mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang region. Jamestown Foundation report 5 Nov cited evidence of dramatic increases in Xinjiang local govt budgets for construction of security facilities, prisons and detention centres in areas with high concentration of ethnic minorities. China 6 Nov faced Universal Periodic Review by UN Human Rights Council; thirteen mostly Western countries expressed concern over China’s treatment of minorities, calling on Beijing to release those arbitrarily detained and close camps; China rejected criticism and did not respond to requests to allow independent UN observers into region. Six UN officials 12 Nov penned letter to Beijing describing Xinjiang regulations and justifications for re-education centres as contrary to international human rights law, while group of fifteen Western ambassadors, spearheaded by Canada, co-signed letter to Xinjiang Party Secretary requesting meeting to discuss alleged human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs; foreign ministry dismissed letter as interference in China’s internal affairs. Coalition of 278 scholars issued statement 26 Nov calling on states and institutions to demand Beijing end detentions and impose sanctions. China’s state media continued to frame camps as necessary and effective response to terrorism and extremism. China’s ambassador to U.S. said any sanctions would draw “proportionate retaliation”, Reuters reported 27 Nov. Chinese state media late Nov reported that authorities in Ningxia province, home to Hui Muslim minority, signed “cooperation anti-terrorism agreement” with officials in Xinjiang, prompting concerns among rights groups of possible spread of crackdown.
Amid growing global concern and criticism about reports of mass detentions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (mainly Uighurs but also ethnic Kazakhs), Xinjiang regional legislature 9 Oct revised its 2017 anti-extremism regulations, retroactively authorising existence of political re-education and detention centres, which officials say are aimed at countering terrorism and religious extremism and achieving social stability and security. Regulations state that so-called “vocational training centres” will “carry out national common language, laws, regulations, and vocational skills education and training, organise and carry out anti-extremist ideological education, psychological correction, [and] behaviour correction”. Radio Free Asia 2 Oct reported Chinese authorities moving large number of Uighur detainees out of Xinjiang to facilities across country due to “overflow of inmates”. Using satellite imagery, BBC 24 Oct reported more than doubling in size of camps and security facilities since 2017 to total 440 hectares across 44 sites; AFP investigation 25 Oct cited Chinese govt documents indicating at least 181 camps exist and local govt departments in charge of such facilities may have procured police batons, cattle prods and handcuffs. UK foreign minister said diplomats who visited Xinjiang confirmed reports of mass internment camps were “broadly true”.
Human Rights Watch 9 Sept and Amnesty International 24 Sept released reports accusing Xinjiang regional govt of conducting systematic mass campaign against Muslims involving arbitrary detention, torture, mistreatment, and pervasive controls on daily life; corroborates reporting since 2014 by NGOs, scholars and media describing widening scale of detentions without due process, political indoctrination, control over religious practice, restriction of movement and pervasive mass surveillance. Also called on China to provide information on all detainees, end measures, follow due process, and allow monitors access. New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in 10 Sept maiden speech called allegations deeply disturbing and urged China to provide access for her staff to monitor situation across country. Beijing rejected Bachelet’s call, saying there was no need for UN monitors to visit Xinjiang. China’s State Council denied govt was mistreating Muslims, describing camps as professional training and educational centres. U.S. State Department 11 Sept said it was “deeply troubled”. Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs urged China to relax restrictions on Muslims that otherwise could “increase the chances of an extremist viewpoint growing” during 19 Sept meeting with China’s ambassador in Islamabad, Dawn and The Nation reported.
Rapporteur to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 13 Aug cited reports China’s expanding network of political “re-education” centres in Xinjiang region may now hold up to a million people in “counter extremism centres”. Describing “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”, rapporteur said “another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination”; also cited cases of seemingly arbitrary detention, mass surveillance and confiscation of travel documents, among other security measures. Rapporteur said national security laws have become “imprecise and over-broad” and now “enable abusive, arbitrary, and discriminatory prosecutions and convictions”. Statements by U.S. officials and 17 Aug reporting by Wall Street Journal and other media corroborated assessment and noted that Uighurs outside China said that some relatives have died in detention or soon after release. Responding to allegations, Chinese official acknowledged camps’ existence for first time but described them as “vocational training centres”; official denied they held a million people but did not provide alternative figure. CERD’s concluding observations 30 Aug expressed alarm and called for China to end detentions and release detainees. Commentary in state media Global Times 12 Aug argued that measures are necessary transitional phase to eliminate terrorism and stabilise region.
People’s Daily reported that authorities in Xinjiang had relocated 461,000 residents to work in other parts of region during first quarter of 2018, with plans to relocate 100,000 in southern Xinjiang by 2019. Scholar at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Global Times that relocation will help maintain regional security and alleviate poverty; some observers cite move as part of campaign to weaken Uighur culture.
Reports continued to emerge of abuses in mass internment camps where authorities have reportedly detained hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighur Muslim Chinese for “re-education” in Xinjiang – estimated possibly over 10% of region’s adult Uighur and Kazakh population.
U.S. State Department official in Beijing 18 April said U.S. was “deeply concerned” about China’s reported detention of tens of thousands of ethnic Uighurs in political re-education centres, including relatives of several U.S. citizens working for Radio Free Asia, and was considering sanctions under 2016 Magnitsky Act which targets foreign individuals responsible for human rights abuses. Followed early April call by U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China for U.S. administration to take stronger line on China’s detentions and intensifying digital surveillance in Xinjiang. U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report 20 April said repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang worsened in 2017. Reports emerged late April that authorities in Xinjiang had detained prominent Uighur professor, Abdulqagir Jalaleddin, late Jan.
Govt statistics revealed public spending on security and surveillance in Xinjiang region rose by 92% in 2017, compared with 11.4% increase in rest of country; and grew tenfold in last decade. Radio Free Asia reported that Chinese authorities had detained relatives of several of its reporters covering Xinjiang, in retaliation for its coverage of crackdown on ethnic Uighurs.
Malaysia reported 10 Feb it had received extradition request from Beijing for eleven ethnic Uighur Chinese who were detained in Malaysia after escaping from a Thai jail in Nov. U.S. called on Malaysia to offer temporary protection to detainees, “who may be subject to torture or persecution if returned against their will”; Human Rights Watch called on Malaysia not to return Uighurs to China, citing threat of imprisonment and torture; Malaysian Bar Association warned that extradition would violate international law. Radio Free Asia reported 7 Feb authorities in Kashgar, southern Xinjiang, requiring unemployed Uighur men to attend political indoctrination classes. Human Rights Watch 27 Feb reported that authorities have deployed big data “predictive policing program” in Xinjiang and detained some individuals flagged as potential threats. Govt announced three-year poverty eradication plan focusing on 22 poorest counties in Xinjiang. In China’s north-west Gansu province, authorities in Linxia county reportedly banned Hui Muslim children from attending religious education during Chinese New Year.
Amid ongoing crackdown on “extremist” or “politically incorrect” views, Radio Free Asia 22 Jan reported some 120,000 ethnic Uighurs being detained in political re-education camps in Kashgar, Xinjiang, according to anonymous security official.
Govt criticised Human Rights Watch (HRW) report claiming that it collects biometric data including DNA and fingerprints from millions of Xinjiang residents for surveillance purposes; HRW said data collected through govt-provided medical check-ups. Associated Press and Wall Street Journal published articles detailing extent of surveillance in region.
Amnesty International 14 Nov reported that authorities in Xinjiang have detained up to 30 relatives of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya in recent months.
China further increased security and surveillance measures in restive Xinjiang region ahead of 19th Party Congress 18-24 Oct. In Xinjiang, civil servants, employees of state enterprises, govt-affiliated sectors and some schools were reportedly called back to work 2 Oct during national holiday week.
Human Rights Watch called for govt to free thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims, including children, reportedly detained at unlawful “political education” centres in Xinjiang since April 2017. Beijing late Sept denied reports that authorities were seizing Muslim prayer mats and Qurans in Xinjiang.
Authorities in Xinjiang reportedly took measures to prevent local Uighurs from observing Ramadan; also started forcing children under sixteen with religious names to change name. Govt 1 June issued white paper describing “great progress” in promoting human rights in Xinjiang; international rights groups dismissed report.
Media reported ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang being forced to submit DNA samples during mandatory health checks, prompting concerns from human rights groups. Uighur students studying abroad reportedly forced by regional govt to return to hometowns by 20 May, or face threat of their families being detained. Amid concerns over ethnic Uighurs travelling to Syria via Turkey to fight alongside Islamist militants, Chinese President Xi mid-month told Turkish President Erdoğan they should deepen counter-terrorism cooperation. Media 4 May reported Communist Party’s United Front Work Department created new bureau to oversee Xinjiang, indicating increase in Party concern and control of restive region.
Increased show of force and security measures in Xinjiang following Feb attacks continued. Authorities on heightened alert after Islamic State (ISIS) released propaganda video apparently featuring ethnic Uighur Chinese late Feb, threatening attacks in China. Addressing national people’s congress 10 March, President Xi urged security forces to erect “Great Wall of Steel” around Xinjiang. Xinjiang lawmakers late March passed legislation widening rules aimed at combatting religious extremism, including ban on “abnormal” beards, wearing of veil in public places, taking effect 1 April. Law Institute of state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 21 March published report warning that despite recorded decline in terrorist acts with tougher security, situation in Xinjiang could worsen due to growing links with foreign terror groups.
Five people reported killed and ten injured by three assailants in knife attack in Pishan county, S Xinjiang 14 Feb; police shot suspects dead. Parades involving thousands of troops staged in Hotan 16 Feb, Kashgar 17 Feb and Urumqi 18 Feb, and in several cities 27 Feb. Police 21 Feb reported all vehicles in Xinjiang must be installed with satellite tracking devices. State media reported Xinjiang authorities offering rewards of up to 5mn yuan for information on terrorism.
Govt 9 Jan reported police had killed three “violent terror” suspects in Xinjiang. Xinjiang authorities 1 Jan conducted anti-terror exercise following late Dec attack on govt building; local govt head 10 Jan said authorities would tighten security along border with Pakistan to prevent terrorists entering or leaving. Several individuals from Xinjiang arrested by Turkish police 5 Jan suspected of involvement in deadly New Year’s Eve attack on Istanbul nightclub.
Xinjiang authorities reported terrorist attack in Moyu County, W Xinjiang, 28 Dec in which assailants drove car into govt building and set off explosives, killing two people; three assailants shot dead.
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee 7 Nov for the first time issued interpretation of Hong Kong’s basic law before judgment by a local court, requiring Hong Kong legislators to “accurately, completely and solemnly” swear scripted oath of allegiance. Ruling came after two newly-elected pro-independence legislators deviated from regular oath-taking to enter legislature 12 Oct, pledging allegiance to “Hong Kong Nation” and using derogatory term for China. Hong Kong High Court 15 Nov disqualified the two legislators-elect from taking office; said ruling independent of Beijing’s interpretation.
Bomb exploded 10 Sept during police raid of suspected militant’s home in Xinjiang’s Hotan county, reportedly killing at least one police officer; authorities allegedly arrested seventeen suspects, imposed media blackout.
People’s Liberation Army Daily 16 Aug reported govt tested 21 new pieces of “security equipment” including drones and assault helicopters in five-day counter-terrorism exercise in S Xinjiang. Xinjiang regional govt 5 Aug passed new counter-terrorism law prohibiting spread of “distorted Islamic ideas”.
Media 21 July reported that China and Pakistan launched first joint patrol of mutual border between Xinjiang and Kashmir. U.S. think-tank 20 July reported that over 100 Uighurs fled Xinjiang to join Islamic State between mid-2013 and mid-2014.
Govt 2 June released white paper on “Freedom of Religious Belief in Xinjiang” defending crackdown against Islamic militants, and asserting no religious discrimination in province; however local officials reported they routinely blocked Uighurs’ right to fast during Ramadan.
Govt passed new anti-terror legislation late Dec creating national intelligence centre for counter-terrorism and increasing ability to monitor and decrypt online activity.
State media 20 Nov reported security forces have killed 28 people allegedly responsible for Sept attack on Xinjiang coalmine in which around 60 reported killed. Slain suspects reportedly include seventeen from three Uighur families, including three children. Editor of Communist party’s Xinjiang Daily newspaper Zhao Xinwei fired and expelled from party for “serious violations of discipline” early month, accused of corruption, abuse of power, and “improper discussion” of govt’s security policy in Xinjiang, including making critical public comments.
Govt 1 Oct blamed Xinjiang separatists for 18 Sept attack at Sogan coal mine in which at least 60 people reported killed; authorities continue to seek perpetrators, have identified seventeen suspects from three Uighur families.
Group of unidentified assailants described by authorities as separatists attacked police in Aksu, Xinjiang with knives 18 Sept; at least 40 reported killed, including five police.
Courts in Xinjiang late Aug jailed 45 people convicted of supporting terrorist organisations or helping people flee abroad. FM 4 Aug appealed for U.S. to help fight Xinjiang militants.
Shenyang police 13 July shot dead three alleged “Xinjiang terrorists” and injured woman in raid, also reportedly captured sixteen suspected terrorists; Uighur rights group said those arrested and shot were Uighurs trying to flee country. Police 24 July conducted anti-terrorist raid in Wenzhou, Zheijiang, arrested two Uighurs accused of planning bomb attack in Shijiazhuang mall.
Uighur group 22 June reportedly attacked police checkpoint in Kashgar, Xinjiang; at least eighteen dead including three police and fifteen people suspected of involvement in attack. Police 17 June shot dead Uighur man who “charged” into ticket queue holding brick at railway station in Xi’an. Govt 16 June banned Uighur Muslims from fasting for Ramadan; authorities in Shayar, Xinjiang 15 June issued order calling for close watch on Uighurs during fasting period.
Six reported dead and four injured in two suicide bombing attacks in Hotan and Lop early month; police claimed attackers were ethnic Uighurs, detained more than 200 people including relatives of suspected attackers. State media 25 May reported crackdown on 181 “terror gangs” in Xinjiang. Authorities in Ili prefecture ordered all residents to hand over passports by 15 May amid widening security clamp-down. Police reportedly shot dead two Uighur men who attacked police station in Hotan prefecture late month.
State media 13 April reported plans for anti-terrorism law that would give govt broader surveillance powers. Police reportedly detained hundreds of villagers in Shayar in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture during 16 April raid. Prominent Uighur scholar Qamber Amber sentenced to nine years’ jail 21 March for “refusing to co-operate” with authorities. Security forces engaged in three-month anti-terrorist operation in Xinjiang killed three members of ethnic Uighur family and jailed two 7 April. State media 17 April announced two suspected terrorists shot dead on Vietnam border.
Police shot dead seven Uighurs in Kashgar prefecture, Xinjiang, after they allegedly hacked to death four people including local police chief 8 March; police had reportedly earlier shot dead a Uighur woman. Police 12 March reportedly shot dead four Uighurs responsible for knife attack on ethnic Han group in Kashgar; 9 March shot dead up to seven Uighurs in Hotan prefecture. Senior party official in Xinjiang 10 March said some Uighurs fighting alongside Islamic State before returning to Xinjiang “to participate in terrorist plots”; several arrested on return. Three people convicted over March 2014 mass stabbing in Kunming executed 24 March. U.S.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project reported up to 700 killed in political violence in Xinjiang 2013-2014, mostly ethnic Uighurs. Supreme Court reported 712 people convicted for terrorism, separatism and related crimes in 2014, said such offences its top priority in 2015. Draft anti-terrorism law deliberated at National People’s Congress early March, criticised by rights groups.
Radio Free Asia reported three clashes in Xinjiang during month: at least seven killed in reported suicide bomb attack in Hotan prefecture 13 Feb; two killed in clash with police 16 Feb; four police stabbed to death 17 Feb, nine suspected assailants and four bystanders also killed.
Local media reported Xinjiang police shot dead six people allegedly trying to detonate bomb in Shule, Kashgar prefecture. State media reported police shot dead two ethnic Uighurs trying to cross border into Vietnam 18 Jan; govt said hundreds crossing border each year to join terrorist training camps. Five dead following clash at checkpoint in Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang late Jan. Govt extended anti-terrorism campaign introduced May 2014 to end of year.
Urumqi court 8 Dec sentenced eight people to death for role in deadly April/May terror attacks. Three people injured in knife attack in Urumqi, Xinjiang 15 Dec; police detained suspect, did not give motive. Urumqi authorities approved ban on women wearing face-covering veils in public.
State media reported fifteen people killed, fourteen injured in Xinjiang 28 Nov in Shache county by attackers who threw bombs from vehicle and stabbed people. Xinjiang court upheld life sentence imposed on prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti for separatism; seven students who worked for website run by Tohti being tried on same charge. 22 imprisoned at mass trial in Xinjiang 11 Nov on charges including rape, disturbing public order, “illegal preaching”. State media 25 Nov reported govt’s “strike hard” campaign in Xinjiang, announced in May, has cracked 115 terrorist cells, shut down 171 “religious training sites” and arrested 238 people.
Ethnic tensions continued in Xinjiang with several deadly attacks: four Uighurs armed with knives, explosives 12 Oct killed 22 in Maralbeshi county; two Uighurs 10 Oct killed eight, including three police and three govt officials, in Guma county; policewoman with Uighur name killed 13 Oct, reportedly in reprisal for govt-affiliation. Govt crackdown on Uighur minority continued: twelve sentenced to death 13 Oct over July attack on police station in Shache county. Pro-democracy protests continued in Hong Kong: 20 protestors injured 18-19 Oct in clashes with police; govt, protestors held talks 21 Oct, no agreement reached.
Govt counter-terrorism crackdown continued throughout month, focusing on Uighur ethnic minority: three sentenced to death, one to life imprisonment 12 Sept over 1 March knife attack at Kunming station; four sentenced to up to 20 years imprisonment 17 Sept for planning terror activities; prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti sentenced to life imprisonment 23 Sept for alleged “separatism”. Mass peaceful protests began late Sept in Hong Kong in opposition to Beijing’s restriction of candidates for election of city’s next chief executive due 2017.
Govt anti-corruption drive continued: investigation into former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang gained unanimous support from all provincial party committees by 18 Aug. Multinational anti-terror drill held 24 Aug by Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Authorities 12 Aug reported 25 sentenced to prison for terrorist activities; govt 23 Aug said 8 executed over 2013 Tiananmen Square attack.
First ever vice-ministerial anti-terror talks between U.S. and China held 15 July in Beijing, co-chaired by Chinese Vice FM Cheng Guoping and U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tina Kaidanow: consensus reached on deepening cooperation. Guangzhou public security bureau 14 July announced creation of special anti-terror police force in wake of 6 May knife attack and other attacks across country. Police 28 July clashed with assailants in Xinjiang’s Kashgar Prefecture; incident described as terrorist attack by state media; over 20 killed and 70 arrested according to Uighur advocacy group.
Violence continued in Xinjiang: 13 shot dead 21 June in Yecheng County during attack on police station; 13 executed 16 June on terror charges. Vice Head of State General Administration of Press Jang Jianguo 23 June announced govt campaign against publications encouraging extremism. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region police authorities 23 June said China’s anti-terror movement resulted in 32 gang-busts, over 380 suspects apprehended, and conviction of 315 in 1 month. U.S. 4 June urged authorities to account for those killed during 1989 Tiananmen Square protests; FM spokesman Hong Lei “deeply dissatisfied” by comments.
31 killed and 90 injured 22 May in Urumqi market, attack linked to Uighur-Han tension. Separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) 11 May claimed responsibility for April bomb and knife attack in Urumqi station. Security increased following attacks: 39 sentenced 21 May and 55 27 May in Xinjiang to up to 15 years in jail on terrorism charges, 3 sentenced to death; suspects believed to be Uighur. 6 injured 6 May in knife attack in Guangzhou. Nationwide anti-terror campaign announced by state media 25 May; Xinjiang police 26 May detained 5, seized 1.8 tonnes of bomb-making material in Hotan. President Xi 29 May urged development, education, employment and legal religious activities to promote Xinjiang stability.
3 killed, scores injured in bomb and knife attack on railway station in Urumqi, Xinjiang province 30 April, during visit to region by President Xi; Xi urged “decisive actions” against terrorist attacks.
29 people killed, over 130 injured in mass stabbing attack at Kunming Railway station in Yunnan province, SW 1 March; authorities blamed separatists from Xinjiang region, which is now reportedly considering drafting anti-terror laws for first time.
Local authorities reported police shot dead 14 people during riot near Kashgar city in Xinjiang 15 Dec; 2 police also killed. Follows Nov clash in which at least 9 civilians, 2 police reported killed. State media reported 8 people killed in clash with police in Yarkland county 30 Dec.