Friday 26 March 2021

Weapons Of War.

Severe Human Rights Abuses: A New Zealand mounted rifleman razes a civilian farmhouse during the Boer War of 1899-1902. New Zealanders should be very clear that the Chinese Government is very far from being the first to crush an insurgency by adopting the methods of collective punishment.

I NEVER KNEW my maternal grandfather, but I grew up with his weapons. One of these, an 1896 Mod Mauser rifle, was taken as a trophy during the Boer War of 1899-1902. Captain William Marshall served two “tours” in South Africa with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. His second tour coinciding with the most brutal phase of the war, during which the British commander, Lord Kitchener, invented the concentration camp.

These camps, in which 26,000 Boer women and children died from all the predictable diseases associated with poor nutrition and overcrowding, were constructed to house a belligerent population which would otherwise have given aid and comfort the Boer guerrilla fighters who were then inflicting such serious casualties upon the Imperial British forces.

As a grown man, I sometimes wonder whether Van Rijn, the previous owner of that German-made rifle (one of thousands sent secretly to the Boer republics by Kaiser Wilhelm II) had a wife and children in one of those British concentration camps. On the day his deadly-accurate weapon acquired a new owner, was he fighting to free them, or avenge them? In a curious way, that name, “Van Rijn”, carved into the rifle’s stock, still haunts me.

More than a century after New Zealand’s mounted infantry gave their support to the inventor of the concentration camp, New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, and Senator the Hon Marise Payne, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, have appended their signatures to a statement reiterating their “grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. In particular, there is clear evidence of severe human rights abuses that include restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, as well as forced labour and forced birth control, including sterilisation.”

That “pre-emptive counter-terrorist measures” are in force in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is undisputed. That these measures may have given rise to “severe human rights abuses” is, moreover, an entirely credible claim. Counter-terrorist measures, whether undertaken in Bloemfontein, Abu Ghraib, or Xinjiang, usually do. Missing from Minister Mahuta’s statement, however, is any explanation as to why the Chinese Government remains willing to endure the criticism of other nations for its actions in the XUAR.

Most New Zealanders would struggle to locate Xinjiang on a map of the world. That’s a pity, since the XUAR’s geographical location speaks eloquently to the reasons for Beijing’s concerns. Strung along Xinjiang’s western border are no fewer than five predominantly Muslim states: Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Were a Uyghur independence movement in search of allies – and arms – it would not have to look very far.

Most New Zealanders are equally unfamiliar with the history of Uyghur separatism in Xinjiang. According to the 2002 article written by Assistant-Professor Chien-peng Chung, of Singapore’s Institute of Defence & Strategic Studies, published in Foreign Affairs, Uyghur separatists were responsible for 200 attacks against Chinese targets between 1990 and 2001. These attacks killed 162 people and injured 440 others. In 1997, in the town of Ili, more than 100 people, most of them Han Chinese, were murdered in an abortive Uyghur uprising.

Between the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the present crackdown on the Uyghur population which began in 2018, Chinese Intelligence struggled to keep on top of jihadist agitation and infiltration inspired by terrorist organisations in South-East Asia and the Middle East.

The Chinese Government’s shift of focus, from individual to collective punishment, was inspired by exactly the same considerations as Lord Kitchener’s: to deny the separatists the aid and comfort of sympathetic compatriots. In this respect, China’s collective repression differs little from the CIA’s notorious “Phoenix Program” of 1968-71. Designed to assist the South Vietnamese Government’s “pacification” of villages known to be sympathetic to the Viet Cong, the Program is estimated to have killed in excess of 26,000 persons – many of them victims of the most brutal torture.

To explain the strategy and tactics of a ruthless regime is to risk being accused of justifying them. Such is certainly not my intention. All I am attempting to make clear is that the Chinese Government is very far from being the first to crush an insurgency by adopting the methods of collective punishment.

As, no doubt, Minheer Van Rijn would testify.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 March 2021.


Graham Wright said... Kenya too had its camps during the Mau Mau emergency. The insurgents were confined to the Bantu tribes in Central province but were unrecognisable because they wore no uniform. They lived in the forest and viciously preyed on their fellow tribes people and European farms for sustenance. To have ignored their activities would have led to chaos and mayhem, consequently the government had no choice but to seize all tribesmen of a certain age and screen them. The State of Emergency was lifted in 1960, three years before the country became independent. Although they were not holiday camps, I do not believe that there was any program of sustained abuse.

The Barron said...

When we examine imperial history we need to break from the bias in the early reporting. While the Boers suffering is undoubted, we should remember that both the Boers and British were fighting over control of others land. The indigenous black Africans suffered from both sides.
"Tens of thousands of black and 'Coloured' (mixed race) individuals became involved a auxiliaries and combatants on both sides. Non-whites who fought against the Boers risked instant execution if caught. By May 1902 at least 115,000 black people who had got in the way of British sweeping up operations were incarcerated in concentration camps, and of these at least 14,000 died. Churchill himself was aware of the role of non-white combatants, and was 'conscious of a feeling of irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men'. Yet in time he abandoned the idea that the conflict should remain a 'white mans war'..." - Richard Toye, Churchill's Empire (2010)
Churchill was to later down play the role of the black South Africans in their own country, discussing 'two valiant races', referring to the British and the Dutch.

Patricia said...

I have always found difficulty in accepting the official version of events in other countries especially when they are powerful countries and even when they are not. As in China, Russia especially. That so called Russian politician Natylian (sp..) who was supposed to be poisoned, and the so called Salisbury Russian poisoning in Salisbury when there is a chemical warfare centre 5 miles down the Road. But I suppose they are designed for the masses and my opinion is neither here nor there. A very good book I am reading is Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains which explains a lot of the why the world changed so much in the 1980s

greywarbler said...

Back to looking at China's terrible behaviour. It would be surprising if they did not look with curled lip at Australia having a tantrum about it, with their disgraceful treatment of Kiwis, aborigines and boat people dating back to the 1970's. They have had concentration camps holding needy desperate refugees and others, like Kiwis. They refuse to give Kiwis citizenship setting high demands of personal financing and skill requirements beyond middle-class level even, treating us like aliens, and imprisoning our people in an echo of the transportation-style Brit behaviour.

For us to make a joint protest with Australia to China is an indication of how regressive our foreign policy is. The sleeping beauties there have been kissed by an intruder posing as legit but from some private school brought up in the Old Tradition!

Nick J said...

What most historic records of the white settlement miss are the concurrent histories and how this affected the development of modern South Africa. Without delving into the black white colonial narrative there were a fascinating array of events going on in the background. Have you read about the Mfecane that displaced whole nations? What emerges is the fact that complicates the simple black white narrative, that native Africans have agency, agendas, that are active participants that cannot be ignored. Like here in NZ nothing about the past is simple and uncomplicated.

The Barron said...

Mfecane was basically consolidation (mainly through warfare) of inter- related Bantu speakers to form what became the Zulu nation. The spread of maize agricultural led to larger nation states, as intensive agriculture did everywhere.
The interesting thing for me is how the Afrikaner history crested the myth that the Bantu people were arriving in southern Africa at the same time as the Vortrekers,a myth they were able to misrepresent through history and science throughout Apartheid, and convince lazy Western historians.

Nick J said...

The myth is why I mentioned it. These were real people doing stuff, acting within the possibilities open to them. Good example is Mosheshwe's response to Boer aggression. The Sotho utilised Boer tactics raiding homesteads to draw Boer farmers home away from Thaba Bosu. I don't n buy modern victim based histories, whilst they hold some truth they also cheapen the actors who actually do things.

Woodbrook said...

Dear Chris
This article does come across to me as implying that, as NZ soldiers were associated with the disgusting concentration camps during the Boer War, NZ criticism of present day Chinese Govt conduct in Xinjiang is less credible. Attacks by Uighur terrorists reflect frustration after decades of efforts to suppress Uighur culture and to ignore legitimate concerns, which encourages separatist sentiment and actions. With respect to the last sentence: "All I am attempting to make clear is that the Chinese Government is very far from being the first to crush an insurgency by adopting the methods of collective punishment". Yes, its true, but it does not make the Chinese conduct better or worse, two wrongs don't make a right and since the Boer War the world has adopted various legal declarations in support of human rights - China is a signatory to a number of those. What was accepted or not seen as particularly bad decades ago is considered bad or unacceptable now - a sign of human progress, I'd say. And in terms of crushing insurgency - a key principle of successful counter-insurgency is to protect the population, not to punish them.