December 23, 2019 Abdul Haqq

Systematic Sexual Violence against Women & the Need for Decisive Action

As China continues human rights abuses against more than a million Uighur Muslims, it has become necessary to examine the country’s justification for such repression before addressing another, equally sinister, practice that has received little attention until recently.  Chinese government representatives claim that:

By setting up vocational, education and training centers in accordance with the law, we aim to educate and save those who are influenced by religious extremism and committed minor legal offenses…The centers provide courses on the country’s common language, legal knowledge and vocational skills and integrated de-radicalization throughout the entire education and training process…” [1]

Various countries appear to have accepted this narrative due to their resounding silence and failure to address emerging evidence that is contrary to the above assertion.[2] One possible, albeit unacceptable, rationale for this reticence could be down to (mis)perceptions in understanding regarding universalism and what this signifies for respective societies. The Oxford Dictionary defines universalism as: ‘loyalty to and concern for others without regard to national or other allegiances.’ It is easy to surmise how China’s official line may incorporate this particular interpretation and, although it can be easily repudiated (the evidence countering these claims is strong), the remit of this article is to extend the spotlight on the country’s apparent state legislated sexual violence programme:

“In November, various Western media outlets reported that Han Chinese men had been assigned to monitor the homes of Uighur women whose husbands had been detained in prison camps.

The reports came out after an anonymous Chinese official gave an interview with Radio Free Asia, confirming the program but denying there was anything sinister about it.

As part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” programme, Han Chinese men stay with and sleep in the same beds as Uighur women.” [3]

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government maintains its contentious position of the programme “promoting unity”, in contrast to Human Rights organisations’ and activists’ accusations of  “mass rape.”[4] Unfortunately, when addressing violence against women on systematic scales like this, discourses involving contexts of universalism are customarily deficient:

To take only the most obvious of exclusions, the universalism discussed here is also a deeply masculinized one that relies on the peregrinations of men while presuming women to be stationary.” [5]

There is no indication whether this imbalance will end anytime soon; however, it remains necessary to address such disparities whenever the opportunity to do so arises. The above Chinese state legislated programme resembles previous systematic abuse of women. The enslavement and rape of Yazidi women, captured as sex slaves by ISIS, immediately comes to mind,[6] as does the more distant memory of rape camps during the Bosnian conflict of 1992-95, when Muslim women were detained and abused as part of the Serbian leadership’s ethnic cleansing policy:

The day was 2 August and all but 10 of the 105 women held prisoner in the gymnasium were to be gang-raped over the following 26 days, some of them by as many as seven Serb militiamen. Their suffering was endured by thousands of other Muslim women in August and September of last year as Serbian forces ‘ethnically cleansed’ the Muslim villages of eastern and western Bosnia.” [7]

The latter example occurred during an altogether different era. After witnessing the atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims, the humanitarian effort across the UK alone was such that a number of wellwishers – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – were galvanised to travel to deliver aid and offer whatever support or assistance required. (There was no securitised lens of criminality or terrorism during this period.) Many witnessed, first and second hand, the extent of the trauma suffered by the victims of that conflict, particularly women and children…

“In far too many conflicts around the world, rape and sexual violence — primarily targeted against women and girls — have been, and continue to be used as a strategic and tactical instrument of war. The past 20 years have shown that accountability for wartime rape and sexual violence victims has been the exception, not the rule. Despite the passage in April 2019 of UN Security Council Resolution 2467, which aims to strengthen justice and accountability in cases of wartime rape, governments are still failing to act.” [8]

Reaction vs. Inaction, Ineptitude & Indifference

When reflecting on global approaches to atrocities of the type described in this article, distinct contextual and indeed, religio-cultural patterns emerge insofar as they relate to reactions, inaction and/or indifference. For example, the wider Balkans Conflict witnessed a somewhat unique:

“…spectacle of white-on-white violence on the world stage…treated as internal to the West…” [9]

This type of conflict on mainland Europe had not been witnessed since WWII; however, as author, Darryl Li further observed:

“Bosnians, as Europeans, received more concern than Rwandans being slaughtered wholesale on a continent to the south, but this provided little consolation as they starved under siege, dodged snipers, and watched the town of Srebrenica overrun and its Muslim male population massacred with the rest scattered into exile, all under the watchful eye of the International Community.” [10]

The wilful inaction of the International Community regarding the genocide committed against the Tutsi population between 7th April and 15th July 1994, during Rwanda’s civil war,[11] could arguably be attributed to a perceived indifference toward many of the African continent’s challenges unless, of course, they threatened to impact financial and security interests of former colonial powers.[12] The question that invariably follows on from this is, what then was the excuse for inaction during the Balkans Conflict; the mass rape and Srebrenica massacre in particular? After all, the ethnic origins of the victims were European; namely, white (caucasian).

Extending this and additional questions beyond the European context, what is the excuse for the inertia regarding recent atrocities committed against the Rohingya population? How is it that only one nation-state – The Gambia – has initiated legal proceedings against the Myanmar government for genocide and mass rape?[13] Bringing the initial question forward; with the revelation of China’s state legislated programme that effectively facilitates the rape of Uighur women, why is there a definitive muteness from a number of countries? Are China’s economic might and investments across various continents  the decisive factor behind this silence? The latter question is beyond this article’s scope so focus will continue on the preceding ones.

A rather obvious and common denominator for all the ethnic groups referred to in the questions posed above (with exception to the Tutsi population) is that they were/are Muslim. The realisation of  a collective indifference when Muslim populations are concerned is likely to be denied by some, yet will be  unsurprising to others, especially when contrasting these examples with western responses toward other arguably more compatible counterparts, like the Yazidi community. In a previous article, I referred to the disparity in the UK government’s response between persecuted faith groups, and this can be extended to other countries within today’s existing context:

“Nationality and increasingly, religion have become determining factors regarding the government’s action or inaction as we have witnessed with the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq on the one hand and the Palestinians in Gaza on the other…

 ‘Prime Minister David Cameron reminded us that we are a Christian country. We must step up to the plate in offering help and support to our fellow Christians and other persecuted minorities in Iraq.’” [14]


Returning to the Bosnian Muslim example once more, Li highlights:

“The fact that so many Bosnians are Muslim was a sign of the West’s universality, while their whiteness was a sign of Islam’s universality.” [15]

The above-mentioned societal context illustrates parallel and complementary universalisms: These constructs provide the premise upon which unified challenges to government-supported and structural sexual violence can begin. As this decade draws to a close, many societies appear more polarised than ever before and, as political centre-grounds give way to popularism, the risk of behavioural extremes becoming even more normalised increases. We only have to look at the reasons behind the re-emergence of the #MeToo movement to comprehend the extent of sexual violence and abuse in western societies. Other societies are not immune and also have more than their fair share of this pervasive problem. It is only when collective punitive action/reaction at every societal level replaces inaction and indifference that there can be any real hope of progress to eliminate this syndrome. Remaining silent over systematic abuse – regardless of the perpetrator – can no longer be the default option.





[1] Schlein, L: ‘US Denounces China’s Justification of Uighur Re-Education Camps,’ VOA News, 25th June 2019:

[2] Leduc, S: ‘Muslim countries’ silence on China’s repression of Uighurs,’ France24, 27th November 2019:

[3] Fernando, G: ‘’This is mass rape’: China slammed over programme that ‘appoints’ men to sleep with Uighur women,’ NZ Herald, 21st December 2019:

[4] Ibid

[5] Li, D: ‘The Universal Enemy, Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity,’ Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, Standard University Press, Kindle Locations 290-292, 2020

[6] Oppenheim, M: ‘Yazidi rape survivors forced to abandon children of ISIS to be able to return to community: ‘Drowning in an ocean of pain’’, The Independent, 3rd August 2019:

[7] Fisk, R: ‘Bosnian War Crimes: ‘The rapes went on day and night’: Robert Fisk, in Mostar, gathers detailed evidence of the systematic sexual assaults on Muslim women by Serbian ‘White Eagle’ gunmen’, The Independent, 8th February 1993:

[8] Siaci, D: ‘The Mass Rape of Rohingya Muslim Women: An All-Out War Against All Women’,, 29th September, 2019:

[9] Li, D: ‘The Universal Enemy, Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity,’ Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, Standard University Press, Kindle Locations 225, 2020

[10] Ibid, 263

[11] Wikipedia: ‘Rwandan Genocide’,

[12] Nyabola, N: ‘Will the Stability Doctrine in Africa Destabilise the world?’ 23rd January 2018:


[14] Baker, A H:”On a road to nowhere…” 14th May 2014:

[15] Li, D: ‘The Universal Enemy, Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity,’ Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, Standard University Press, Kindle Locations 266-67, 2020

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