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Somalia and the human rights debate in Central Asia

Storyline:Archive, Opinions

By Abdallahi Mohamed

The introduction of the Draft Decision L.6; “Debate on the Situation of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), China”, during the 51st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 6th of October, 2022 has caused many divisions among Nations. Some states like China strongly objected it while others like Somalia supported it and others abstained.

Nations that objected this debate argued that it was a political manipulation by the US and its allies and not pro-human rights interest. China being at the center of the debate strongly argued that the Xinjiang issue was about counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and anti-separatism and hence allowing it to proceed was to undermine stability in Xinjiang and slowdown Chinese development agenda.

I wish to opine on this issue. But first, it is prudent that we look at a brief background of XUAR. As per the United Nations Human Rights article on XUAR dated 31st October, 2022; this is the largest Chinese region, highly populated and blessed with many resources including oil, gas, lithium, zinc, coal, lead and a major Chinese agricultural production source.

Therefore, the region’s strength is richly endowed with natural resources, hence being looked at as the future “Empire of the World”. The region borders Russia, Afghanistan which positions it both advantageously and disadvantageously among four historical seats of power: It is advantaged by being a viable route and access to Central Asian markets and all regional powers but disadvantaged by being historically vulnerable to attacks from all sides, hence its political fragmentation and lack of the ability to utilize the readily available natural resources. Its susceptibility to conflicts and instability, enhances witnessed confusions of its historical cultural influences, tribal and clan loyalties or even religious intense and passionate feelings.

This has disadvantageously placed it at the center of geostrategic calculations in the United States’ War on terror context. Additionally, western nations have accused China, former Soviet Republics and Russia of being suppressors of separatist movements, associated ethnics and religion with War on Terror.

It is also important to note that, Central Asia was a peaceful place with no role in the US and USSR Cold War relationship. But after dissolution of the Soviet Union and re-discovery of energy resources in the Caspian Sea in the 90s, it became a region of tension in the Russian-US relations. It also became a conflict zone area with ethnic violent clashes in the region’s Ferghana Valley as well as being entangled in Tajikistan 1992-1997 civil war with Afghanistan.

Political, economic reforms and many social problems influenced infiltration by many radical groups which have contributed to separation ideas, and joining foreign radicals to execute their ideas. The US even singled Afghanistan out as a country where terrorist groups operate after the 11th September, 2001 events.

During my stay in China, I had an opportunity to visit Xinjiang on several occasions and met people of different sectors. Unbelievable, people speak the Uyghur language, practice their cultural traditions and even proudly advertise on streets in their language. The Chinese Government has even allowed use of the language in the region’s radio, TV and press not forgetting printing Uyghur on the Chinese currency, “RMB Yuan”. At no single time did I witness human rights violations during my service and thereafter.

This region is privileged, for example, during the time of Family Planning in China, it had the opportunity for families to have more than one child resulting in its ballooning Uyghur population from 3 million before the People’s Republic was founded in 1949 to almost 12 million now. Xinjiang has 24,400 mosques more than even those in US, UK, Canada and other European countries combined.

As a fact, the region has major Muslim communities which have been embraced by the Chinese Government and allowed to freely practice their faith.

More so, China has tried resolving this issue diplomatically. For example, in the UN meeting held on 21st October 2022, The Chinese UN ambassador remarked that China had organized many conferences and tours in Xinjiang and extended invitation to diplomats, Journalists, officials of international organizations and religious persons, over 2000 have been there, including Somali diplomats.

But the US and some other western countries always turn down such invitations. This could have been a single important diplomatic method of resolving the region’s misunderstanding rather than engaging in blame games. Internally, it is living proof that China has no bad feelings about the Muslim Community.

Looking at the capital Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is situated near a Muslim community, where all Muslim practices are embraced including eating halal foods and running a good Muslim primary school that even enroll children of Chinese diplomats.

The ambassador remarked that Somalia was a strong supporter of China on the Xinjiang issue just as other Muslim and developing countries till October 2022. What does this tell us? Because it was the only African and Muslim country that voted to the contrary, hence putting the mutual relationship it had with China to test.

Historically, China and Somalia relationships have been taken for granted both on regional and international arena. But the current government seems to be abusing the same for some unknown reasons regardless of being singled out by the UN as human rights suppressors in their quest to fight radical groupings in Somalia. I am a strong believer of history determining the future and Somalia must learn and should not be coerced and manipulated for selfish interests.

Given the aforesaid background, I think the US, China and Former Soviet Union’s relations in Central Asia are better addressed by these super powers. Their interests in this area are a lot and should be settled on a different scale other than dragging developing nations into their conflicts. Witnessed insecurity in this region emanates from the diverse culture with citizens not being able to identify themselves with a particular norm.

I believe that the US being proponents and crusaders of human rights debates globally should live and lead by example. They should lead from the front in fighting human rights abuses other than talking about other countries as they do otherwise. The world has witnessed human rights abuses by the US against others.

For example we have witnessed their roles in human rights abuses in Iraqi prison in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo bay detention camp in Cuba, Kabul International Airport Prison in Afghanistan and even cases in Somalia and Libya. It is indeed ironical and shameful for Somalia to support the debate especially under a President who was elected on a “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” slogan.

It implies that our government has taken sides, hence fueling the tension between China and the US and its allies not forgetting Somalia’s future relationships with China. If there is anything to go by, then Somalia has more experience than most countries on insecurity and its effects; radical groups, separation, etc. and their effects to nations.

We have stalled economically, our security is assisted by friendly nations, we are struggling to search better livelihoods, our children lack identity and of course our government lacks pride among other nations. The big question is, “why is Somalia entering the War of Super Powers”. As a country, we have bigger problems on our shoulders and we shouldn’t entangle ourselves with others rather than seek for partnering for our prosperity.

I therefore, wish to advice our government, to make informed decisions on foreign policy matters. Somalia is a member of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) whose members do not buy into this proposal. Our representatives should have consulted these blocks with an aim of solving the problem rather than fueling it further. The debate in my opinion was grafted to suppress Chinese influence globally for their detractors’ selfish interest.

This does not mean Somalia cannot address human rights issues. It is right and just to air its views and make decisions in proven cases like the serious human rights violations muted against Palestinians with Israel and what is witnessed against black people in America.

Thus, my advice to developing countries like Somalia with many internal challenges, some related to Xinjiang issues, is it should have voted alongside China or at its worst abstained in the voting pattern, because it needs more friends than enemies to spur its reconstruction, security and economic development to improve its people’s livelihood.

Taking sides jeopardizes our diplomatic efforts made so far as we will be interfering with the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China and also wastes our invested resources in this just course. No nation will take us as serious partners. It should be noted that, our forefathers built these relations 620 years ago and it will not be in our interest to destroy it overnight.

The author is a Somali businessman