A briefing on China’s genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang

By: Frances McDonough 

Earlier this month, the Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy concluded in a report that the Chinese government “bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the 1948 Genocide Convention.” The report is the first independent legal analysis of China’s mistreatment against the Uyghur population. Extensively citing leaked communications, witness testimonies, and open-source information gathering, the comprehensive verdict follows recent public denunciations from several governments, including the U.S.Canada, and the Netherlands

The Uyghur people are an ethnically-Turkish Muslim minority residing primarily in China’s Northwest Xinjiang region and numbering roughly 12 million in total. However, since 2014, almost 2 million Uyghurs have been held by the Chinese government in over 380 “re-education” camps located throughout Xinjiang. Although Chinese officials claim these camps are used for anti-extremist purposes, international experts liken them more to concentration camps intended to systematically erase Uyghur culture. 

According to this most recent report, detainees are banned from practicing Islam or studying Uyghur history and literature as they become unwillingly indoctrinated by the Chinese Communist Party. Uyghur men, women, and children in these camps are forced to learn Mandarin and allegedly face torture at the hands of guards should they refuse or be unable to do so.  

Going beyond indoctrination, previous reports revealed horrific details regarding China’s efforts to curb the Uyghur population as a whole. Children are regularly separated from families never to be seen again, Uyghur women face massive forced abortion and sterilization campaigns (as well as mass rape), and detainees are subjected to such frequent psychological and physical deprivation that suicide has become widespread (although the death toll within the camps is officially listed as “unknown”). 

In assessing claims of genocide against China, Yonah Diamond, one of over 50 experts who worked on the Newslines Institute report, noted a “common public misunderstanding” which narrowly equates the term “genocide” to mass murder. Instead, Diamond argues that to qualify as genocide, there simply must be “enough evidence to show that there is intent to destroy the group,” something he regards as indisputable considering the evidence analyzed in this case.  

Although the Chinese government continues to adamantly deny allegations, calling it “the lie of the century,” the report has sparked further public outrage which activists hope will prompt serious international repercussions in the near future. After the Biden administration imposed a preliminary set of sanctions against two Chinese officials in connection to the human rights abuses, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated, “[the U.S.] will continue to stand with our allies… in calling for an immediate end to [China’s] crimes and for justice for the many victims.” 

Prime Minister Janez Janša is slowly cracking down on free press in Slovenia

By: Nick Mosher

On March 5, the European Parliament convened to address the Slovenian government’s recent attacks on its own media. Journalists have suffered an onslaught of threats and online harassment by government officials and private citizens inspired by the rhetoric of Prime Minister Janez Janša, who has continuously criticized journalists and accused them of producing fake news.

The Slovenian government’s intrusion into free press in the country has not stopped at name-calling. Investigative journalist Lenar Kučić has reported that many media outlets in Slovenia are controlled either directly or indirectly by politicians, especially at the local level. Kučić claims that these politicians are using media outlets to promote their own public image and discredit journalist who speak out against them.

Prime Minister Janša’s most recent attack was a refusal to renew funding for the Slovenian Press Agency (SPA), one of the major media outlets in the country. While the government claims that this pulling of funds was simply because a new contract for 2021 had not been signed, many believe this is an attempt to bring down the agency. Some working for SPA believe funding will go instead to a new media outlet, the National Press Agency, which appears to have close ties to Janša’s party. Janša has also called for the resignation of SPA’s director, Bojan Veselinovic, for “unlawful activity” and accused him of being a “political tool of the extreme left.” 

Prime Minister Janša and Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti initially agreed to attend the European Parliament’s hearing and answer questions about what they have claimed to be “absurd” accusations of media suppression. However, the leaders cancelled their visits beforehand with no clear explanation. The surge of media suppression began when Janša took power in March of last year and will likely continue as he hopes to consolidate control of Slovenian media before beginning his tenure this July as the President of the Council of the European Union.

Baby trafficking persists in Uzbekistan as the country looks to reform

By: Lane Johansen

Uzbekistan has long held the reputation as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Since his election in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has sought to change this reputation, enacting numerous reforms to improve the country’s human rights record. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council on February 22, 2021, Mirziyoyev stated that “ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms shall remain central in reforming Uzbekistan.” 

On July 31, 2019, Mirziyoyev issued a presidential decree establishing the National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor. In 2020, Uzbekistan adopted several laws designed to prevent human trafficking, including the “strengthening of measures of responsibility for child and forced labor.” In general, this legislation has effectively combatted the prevalence of human trafficking in Uzbekistan: in 2020, the Interior Ministry recorded 74 cases of human trafficking, down from 123 cases in 2018 and 574 cases in 2012.  

While the number of human trafficking–related crimes has decreased significantly, the share of baby trafficking continues to rise and remains a serious problem in Uzbekistan.  In January 2021, the Interior Ministry reported that 185 newborns were sold over the past four years. In a surprisingly candid acknowledgement of the Uzbek government’s weak oversight capabilities, Tanzil Narbayeva, the head of the Senate and chairwoman of the human trafficking commission, remarked that there is no unity between government agencies in the fight against child trafficking and that penalties for such crimes remain far too low.  

Narbayeva specified the primary reasons for baby trafficking in Uzbekistan: of the women who sold their children, 17% did so to hide the child from their parents, 31% because of a difficult social situation, and 52% for financial gain. Interior Ministry representative Nargiza Khojiboyeva noted that the majority of babies are sold by unmarried girls and emphasized the social vulnerability of and lack of material support for these mothers.  

Uzbekistan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report for the third year in a row, narrowly avoiding a downgrade to Tier 3. The report contains recommendations for further reforms to effectively combat human trafficking in Uzbekistan. If President Mirziyoyev hopes to keep his promise to ensure that human rights and freedom remain central to reform, he must strengthen efforts to eliminate trafficking in Uzbekistan – including addressing the underlying social issues partially responsible for the persistence of baby trafficking in the country.  

Uzbekistan’s rocky start toward democratic reform

By: Nick Mosher and Lane Johansen

On October 14, 2020, Uzbekistan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) for the first time ever. The country became one of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses in the world under Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s only previous president, who held power from 1990 until his death in September 2016. Human Rights Watch documented years of brutal torture under the Karimov regime, including beatings, rape, asphyxiation, and even boiling dissidents alive.  

Six days after Karimov’s death, Shavkat Mirziyoyev – who served as Prime Minister for the previous thirteen years – was elected president. Since then, Mirziyoyev has enacted important changes such as closing an infamous prison camp and largely ending forced labor. These promising reforms resulted in The Economist choosing Uzbekistan as the “country of the year” in 2019. On February 22, 2021, President Mirziyoyev delivered an optimistic speech at the 46th Session of the UNHCR, declaring that the country’s “democratic reforms have become irreversible and are aimed at establishing a new Uzbekistan.” 

Unfortunately, Mirziyoyev’s regime has already fallen short of its newly proclaimed ideals. Human Rights Watch has continued to document politically-motivated arrests and forced labor in the country after Mirziyoyev assumed power. Most recently, state security forces arrested opposition politician Khidirnazar Allakulov on February 26 on the charge of publishing information on a local resident without permission. Allakulov, leader of the unregistered Truth and Progress Party, was planning a party congress at a wedding hall in Tashkent. The event was widely advertised on social media, but the building was suspiciously shut down for renovations before the event could take place.  

All unregistered parties are illegal in Uzbekistan, and the formation of opposition groups has been a constant struggle. There are currently only five official political parties in the country, in large part due to strict requirements for registration and frequent arrests of opposition leaders. While there are high hopes for change in the nature of governance in Uzbekistan, continued acts of oppression such as Allakulov’s recent arrest will severely limit the country’s ability to move forward. 

Who is Alexei Navalny and why does Putin want him dead?

By: Nick Mosher

On August 20, 2020, Vladimir Putin’s greatest political opponent, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned by an agent of Russia’s security service, the FSB. The opposition candidate fell ill while on a flight after Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, was applied to his clothing. The pilot made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors saved Navalny’s life by treating him for suspected poisoning. The doctors later denied the presence of toxins in his system. After much difficulty, German authorities secured permission to fly Navalny (who had fallen into a coma) to Berlin, where he made a full recovery over the following months.

Alexei Navalny is a lawyer and politician who gained popularity in the late 2000’s as a blogger. In 2011, he established the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and has since effectively utilized his YouTube channel (which now has 6.5 million subscribers) to expose corruption within the Russian government. Putin has been Navalny’s primary target, which hasn’t gone without retribution; the opposition candidate has been arrested over 10 times for crimes ranging from unlawful protests to fictitious embezzlement accusations that have barred the politician from running for several posts, including his campaign for president in 2018. 

After spending five months recovering in Germany, Navalny flew back to Russian on January 17. He was arrested immediately upon arrival. The crime? Violating parole for his 2014 embezzlement conviction. A difficult parole to fulfill considering he was comatose in a German hospital recovering from the Russian government’s attempt on his life.  

Navalny’s most recent arrest sparked widespread protests in over 200 cities throughout Russia. 50,000 demonstrated in Moscow alone. These protests have garnered brutal responses from Russian forces, including beatings from police officers and thousands of arrests. While the EU has condemned the Russian government’s actions, Putin’s administration has pushed back, claiming the EU is acting unfairly and unilaterally. Putin has even kicked out diplomats from Poland, Germany, and Sweden for attending protests. 

Navalny’s strategic team is calling for protestors to focus their efforts on supporting candidates running against politicians from Putin’s party, United Russia, in elections this coming September. On February 2, a Moscow court ruled that the suspended sentence for which Navalny was on parole will be replaced with a prison sentence of over two and a half years. Navalny was transferred from his prison in Moscow to an unknown location. His supporters fear he has been sent to a penal colony. Meanwhile, the EU and US are preparing to sanction top Russian officials, escalating tensions between Russia and the West.

Ethnic tensions continue to fester after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabkh war

By: Lane Johansen

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory in southwestern Azerbaijan (near the Armenian border) with a majority ethnic Armenian population. It was established as an autonomous region of Azerbaijan in 1923, but Nagorno-Karabakh’s government voted to unite with Armenia in 1988; intensifying separatist efforts resulted in Azerbaijan abolishing the enclave’s autonomous status in 1991. The subsequent conflict culminated in the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War, during which both sides accused the other of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic tension has repeatedly sparked violence in the region since. 

A self-declared independent state, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but de facto governed by separatist ethnic Armenians. Hostility in the enclave reflects broader religious and geopolitical conflict in the region: Nagorno-Karabakh comprises an overwhelmingly Armenian Orthodox population, while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. Russia is a traditional ally of Armenia; Turkey and Azerbaijan are close partners. Turkish-Armenian relationship have long been tense, largely due to Turkey’s continued denial of the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide. 

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan (supported by Turkey) launched an attack on the eastern border of Nagorno-Karabakh. War erupted immediately, and Amnesty International documented at least 146 civilians unlawfully killed by Armenian and Azerbaijani forces during the next month. Armenia was outmatched by Azerbaijan’s Turkish-supplied drones and surrendered on November 8, with another Russian-brokered peace deal ending the brutal conflict. Azerbaijan retained control of the areas it took during the war and almost 2,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the enclave. However, Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have clashed several times since the November ceasefire, especially near the ambiguous new Nagorno-Karabakh border.     

62 Armenian POWs are still being held in Azerbaijan, with the Armenian government failing to negotiate their return. Thousands are protesting in Armenia and demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation, while the mood in Azerbaijan is antagonistic and “vengeful.” Ethnic tensions continue to blister after the release of videos showing mass atrocities, such as live beheadings, on both sides.  

Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey are capitalizing on the conflict to increase their influence in the broader Caucasus region: on January 30, the countries opened a joint military center near the Nagorno-Karabakh border. To counter the enhanced Turkish presence, Armenia is seeking closer ties with Russia, which consequently threatens Azerbaijan. With unsatisfactory mediation and escalating tensions exacerbated by Russian and Turkish power plays, the threat of renewed violence seems to only be increasing.  

For more information on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: 



The struggle against Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko

By: Nick Mosher

On August 9, 2020, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, announced that he won 80% of the vote in the latest election. Belarusian citizens and the West have widely condemned this election as fraudulent, with repeated demands for a recount. Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, has been president for the past 26 years.

Outrage immediately followed Lukashenko’s most recent claim of victory as throngs of thousands gathered in the capital city, Minsk, calling on the dictator to step down. In response, Belarusian authorities cracked down on the protests and arrested thousands, with widespread reports of abuse and torture of those in custody.

Most of the opposition leadership is in exile, including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – the popular opposition candidate claiming to be the true winner of the election – who fled to Lithuania on August 11. The Belarusian protests have no formal leadership, but formed spontaneously, with word spreading through social media.

Lukashenko, in an attempt to quell protestors, promised constitutional reforms that would be ready for a vote by the end of 2021. Critics believe this is an attempt by the dictator to delay changes until anger towards the regime has died down and his grip on the country is restored so no real changes have to be made.

Lukashenko called a soviet-style “All-Belarusian People’s Assembly” on February 11 to discuss reforms, but hopes for real changes were further weakened by Lukashenko’s remarks at the assembly, in which he called the mass demonstrations of the past six months “a blitzkrieg” that was initiated by “artificial external forces.” The event itself was widely criticized as a blatant attempt by Lukashenko to consolidate power; the majority of the 2,700 delegates at the People’s Assembly came from government-backed sectors that have consistently offered support to Lukashenko’s regime.

Although numbers have dwindled in recent months, Belarusian citizens continue to demonstrate against Lukashenko. In response to the massive number of incarcerations, protestors have opted to gather in local neighborhoods rather than on main streets in Minsk to avoid arrest and torture. With all major opposition leaders either detained or in exile, the future of Belarus is still in question as legitimate reform by Lukashenko seems doubtful. 

Sadyr Japarov’s rise from prisoner to president in Kyrgyzstan

By: Wes Culp

A new era of Kyrgyzstani politics has arrived. This is heralded by the inauguration of President Sadyr Japarov on January 28th following an election the OSCE declared to be dominated by Japarov through misuse of financial and administrative resources. While fundamental campaign freedoms in the election were “generally respected”, the presidential election was itself tied to a referendum on the structure of the Kyrgyzstani government which saw 81.3% of voters favor a switch to a presidential republic from Kyrgyzstan’s prior parliamentary government, according to the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission. Such a switch promises to make good on Japarov’s vague promise of a “dictatorship of law and justice” in the country, a phrase previously used by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Until October of 2020, Japarov was serving a ten-year sentence for taking hostages as part of protests against a foreign-owned mining project in northeastern Kyrgyzstan in 2013. Japarov’s time in jail was cut short when protests over unfair parliamentary elections in October led to protestors freeing Japarov from prison and the overthrow of former President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Shortly after gaining his freedom, Japarov became acting president of Kyrgyzstan through the January 28th presidential election, which he won.

On February 12th, President Japarov announced that a referendum will be held on April 11th to approve a new constitution. While the text of this document has not yet been made public, constitutional convention chairman Bekbosun Borubashev has described some of the proposed changes. These include a reduction of the size of the unicameral Supreme Council, the elevation of a national Kurultai deliberative body, the weakening of the Supreme Council’s ability to impeach the president, and changes to the division of powers between executive and legislative bodies. Additional broad proposals, such as the combination of the posts of prime minister and head of government administration as well as the sanctioning of “traditional and spiritual” Kyrgyz values, lead independent observers to fear the new constitution would grant Japarov undue powers in his office as president.

Introducing Liberty Lexington

Dear Reader,

Through my studies, I’ve come across countless records of crimes that governments across the region of Eurasia have committed against their own people. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eurasia continues to be a hotbed for human rights abuses that are so often overlooked in the West. With the huge amounts of information being consumed every day, it’s difficult for the news of tragedies halfway around the world to reach our screens. 

Liberty Lexington was created with this in mind. Our goal is to make information about human rights abuses in Eurasia more readily available for people who, frankly, don’t have the time to do the research on their own time. Liberty Lexington aspires to readily provide this information in a succinct fashion – around 300 words per article – so as to not interfere with busy schedules. Democracy and good governance only survive through an enlightened citizenry, and we believe that Liberty Lexington’s succinct and efficient formula allows for people to become more aware of the world around them while staying on schedule. 

Liberty Lexington has another goal specific to Washington and Lee as well. W&L has a rich history of students graduating and pursuing illustrious careers in finance. The quickly-developing economies across Eurasia suggest that these countries will emerge as much more significant players in international trade and finance in the years to come, and Liberty Lexington aims to inform future financial leaders of the humanitarian crises taking place in Eurasia during their time at W&L. Ideally, these financial leaders, informed of the atrocities occurring in these countries, will be able to use their financial leverage to demand accountability from these governments. We hope that one day, W&L alumni (and in turn, Washington and Lee University) will be seen as leaders in the fight for human rights across the globe.

Nick Mosher