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Blinken Names and Shames Human Rights Abusers

The U.S. State Department labeled China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide in an annual human rights report.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington on March 30.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington on March 30. Mandel Ngan/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. calls out genocide in China’s Xinjiang region in human rights report, Brazil’s top military brass resign, and the global gender gap widens.

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State Department Report Calls Out Uyghur Genocide

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. calls out genocide in China’s Xinjiang region in human rights report, Brazil’s top military brass resign, and the global gender gap widens.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


State Department Report Calls Out Uyghur Genocide

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken lamented the state of global human rights on Tuesday at the launch of an annual report documenting rights violations around the world.

Singling out Chinese abuses of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, Blinken said the “trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction,” as he highlighted violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Russia’s treatment of Alexey Navalny, and the recent post-coup violence in Myanmar.

The report itself offers a scathing review of Chinese actions in Xinjiang, explicitly stating that “genocide and crimes against humanity” took place over the course of the past year.

In launching the report, Blinken also signaled the end of a Trump-era initiative called the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to prioritize property rights and religious freedom as the new core of U.S. human rights policy. Blinken criticized the panel, calling it unbalanced. “There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others,” Blinken said.

More to come. Blinken added that the review was not quite complete and that a follow-up report would include data on women’s rights surrounding access to health care and family planning assistance. Since the report was mostly compiled during the Trump administration, such information was absent in Tuesday’s launch.

China’s turn. China, now used to regular criticisms from the West, preempted the U.S. report with one of its own. Last week, China’s State Council Information Office released a 28-page report documenting human rights violations in the United States. The report opens with the quote “I can’t breathe,” attributed to George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked global protests last summer.


What We’re Following Today

Brazil’s military upheaval. The commanders of Brazil’s army, navy, and air force resigned on Tuesday, in an unprecedented move just one day after President Jair Bolsonaro reshuffled his cabinet, appointing a new defense minister. Replacements for the top military officers have yet to be announced. The changes come as Bolsonaro faces increasing pressure from centrist allies in Brazil’s National Congress to better contain the country’s raging COVID-19 epidemic. The vacancies also arrive at a curious time: Today marks the 57th anniversary of a military coup that deposed left-wing President João Goulart. 

The global gender gap. The coronavirus pandemic has had a detrimental effect on the fight for gender equality, as a new report found that parity across a range of areas would take approximately 135 years to achieve, an increase of 36 years compared with the same study in 2019. The Global Gender Gap Report, compiled by the World Economic Forum, found that women’s employment prospects were especially damaged in 2020 as they were more likely to work in professions impacted by a year of lockdowns.

WHO report questioned. A group of 14 countries has raised concerns over a World Health Organization (WHO) report into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. In a joint statement, countries including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom underlined “shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.” Separately, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for further research, saying the expert assessment was not “extensive enough.”

China’s foreign ministry has deflected criticism over the report. “To politicize this issue will only severely hinder global cooperation in study of origins, jeopardize anti-pandemic cooperation, and cost more lives,” the ministry said.


Keep an Eye On

Germany’s leadership race. Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union (CSU) appeared to take a rhetorical swipe at Armin Laschet, the new chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Tuesday by voicing support for national coronavirus restrictions. With Laschet’s popularity declining, Söder has emerged as a possible rival for the top spot on the CDU/CSU ticket in the race for the German chancellorship. “It feels very strange when the CDU chairman quarrels with the CDU chancellor half a year before the federal election,” said Söder at a news conference, adding that Germany needed a single plan, “not 16 different plans.”

Laschet, the premier for North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen to be bucking an agreement to apply “emergency brake” restrictions as coronavirus cases surge across Germany. A CDU/CSU chancellor is not inevitable: Latest polls put support for the party at 26 percent, just five points ahead of the Green party.

EU-Russia cooperation
. The leaders of France and Germany met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday for security discussions that also included talks on joint production of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine. The vaccine is currently pending authorization from the European Medicines Agency. Private production of the Russian vaccine is planned to begin in Italy in July and in Germany in the summer.

Egypt’s Nile warning. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared his country’s Nile River water “untouchable” in a message to upstream Ethiopia and its plans for a giant dam. “No one can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try,” Sisi said. Despite the aggressive tone, Sisi added that “our battle is a battle of negotiations,” as fresh talks between the two countries, along with neighboring Sudan, are expected in the coming weeks.


Odds and Ends

Police in France are tracking an international band of Lego thieves, issuing a warning to specialist toy shops to be on the lookout for stolen goods. A year of lockdowns has made the bricks a hot commodity, but the real money seems to be in the resale market as collectors clamor for rare Lego sets that are no longer in production.

Police were alerted to the risk posed by thieves after catching three of them looting a store near Paris. Under questioning, the trio admitted to being part of a Poland-based crew that stole Lego sets to meet collector demands. The phenomenon is not limited to Europe: In 2018, police in Portland, Oregon, uncovered a Lego theft operation, seizing $50,000 worth of Lego merchandise in a house raid.


That’s it for today.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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