The 2020 US election, Prostitution Laws & Human Trafficking

In many ways, Senator Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his Vice President is historic: She is the first woman of colour on a major party ticket, as well as the first female Vice-Presidential Democratic pick in more than three decades. 

However, many on the left were not overly pleased with the decision, critical of Harris’s  regressive record when she was District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California. Among these critics were sex workers’ rights advocates, who have been vocal about Harris’s historically aggressive approach to policing the community and her perceived backflips on the decriminalisation of prostitution. 

The legal status of sex work is a domestic factor which can impact upon the incidence of sex trafficking. Under the Trump administration prostitution has remained illegal in all states (with the exception of Nevada). Alternatively, much of Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand have opted to decriminalise or legalise sex work. Eight countries have also adopted the ‘Nordic Model’ where the buying of sex is criminalised, not the seller. 

Senator Harris recently commented that a Biden Administration would be in favour of a national decriminalisation agenda. Would this legislative change work in favour of America’s fight against human trafficking or against it?

Regardless of the 2020 outcome, the current debate on how to best regulate prostitution has divided America. The core legal approaches are as follows:

Prohibition

Prohibition aims to eradicate the market for paid sex, undercutting the sex trafficking business model, by targeting both supply and demand. In practice, this approach is problematic. In the United States, law enforcement overwhelmingly targets the sellers rather than buyers of sex. Annually 70,000-80,000 people are arrested for prostitution and estimates suggest that 70% of those arrested are female prostitutes and madams, 20% are male prostitutes and pimps, while only 10% are buyers. This approach carries an unfair gender bias against females and discourages victims of sex trafficking from coming forward to authorities due to fears that they may be punished. Thus, the sex industry is driven underground making it difficult for the legal system to deliver justice to victims.

Legalisation 

Through legalisation, states opt not deter people from selling or buying sex. Proponents of this approach argue that the criminalisation of prostitution makes trafficking more attractive. They argue that permitting prostitution reduces the prevalence of sex trafficking by allowing sex businesses to recruit local women who freely choose prostitution as their occupation There is insufficient evidence to support such claims. Research suggests that rates of sex trafficking remain high in places where prostitution is legal. European adopters of the legalisation approach, such as the Netherlands and Germany, have ‘the highest numbers of trafficked women in Europe.’

Critics argue that legalisation increases the size of the sex market, encouraging traffickers to exploit women and girls in greater numbers to meet increased demand. Evaluations have also found that legalised prostitution allows traffickers to hide victims in plain sight as consenting sex workers. The Chief of the German organised crime fighting unit in Stuttgart claimed that, since legalisation, his unit was fighting organised crime with ‘one hand tied behind their back’ as legal brothels provide ‘the perfect place to launder the proceeds of other organised crime.’

Strongly supporting the experiences of the Netherlands and Germany, a 2010 quantitative analysis reported that ‘sex trafficking is most prevalent in countries where prostitution is legalised.’ A 2012 study also overwhelmingly supported these findings. Researchers investigated the effect of legalised prostitution on human trafficking inflows from 150 countries and found that on average ‘those with legalised prostitution reported a greater incidence of human trafficking inflows than countries where prostitution is prohibited.’ The study also reviewed the longitudinal effects of legalising and criminalising prostitution and found that the criminalisation of prostitution in Sweden resulted in the shrinking of the prostitution market and the decline of human trafficking inflows while the inverse was true in Germany.

Nordic Model 

The Nordic model, also known as the Demand model, criminalises the buyers of sex, but not sellers. This approach has grown in popularity as it focuses on shrinking the market for prostitution in order to reduce demand for trafficked women. This approach assumes that sex trafficking is lucrative due to the economic principles of supply and demand. ‘Traffickers choose to trade in humans due to the low start-up costs, minimal risks, high profits, and large demand.’

The Swedish law aims to combat human trafficking by acknowledging the connection between prostitution and trafficking. Approximately 400- 600 people are trafficked into Sweden each year. Since Sweden’s adoption of the Nordic model, this number has remained constant, with no significant increase in the number of recorded victims. Two years following the passage of the law, a Swedish taskforce reported a 50% decrease in the number of women prostituting and a 75% decrease in the number of men who bought sex. Thus, while the number of people trafficked into Sweden is believed to have remained level, there have been reported decreases in the number of people selling and buying sex which has reduced the attractiveness of the Swedish sex market for human traffickers. Critics claim that since the Swedish law passed, prostitution has not decreased, but rather been forced underground. While it is difficult to assess these arguments empirically, Sweden is no longer an attractive market within Europe for human traffickers. Swedish police have confirmed this view that the Nordic model has resulted in deterring traffickers from Sweden and pushed them into other countries.

The normative objectives and results of the Nordic model also cannot be underestimated. When Sweden introduced the legislation, it had merely 30% community support. Today the figure is close to 80%. The legislation has had the effect of changing Swedish culture. It is no longer socially acceptable to pay a woman for sex. This, alongside harsher penalties for buyers, has led to Sweden having a much smaller human-trafficking problem compared to other European nations. 

Recommendation

The fight against global sex trafficking is counterproductive if countries have conflicting approaches to regulating domestic prostitution. Having reviewed the various legislative approaches, it is evident that targeting demand is an integral part of any legal solution. Though imperfect, the Nordic model has a proven track record of reducing the demand for prostitution which minimises the incentives for human traffickers to conduct their businesses. 

According to the most recent polling, the Biden Harris ticket will be victorious in November. As the decriminalisation model has proven unsuccessful in reducing human trafficking, Biden and Harris should re-calibrate their official stance on regulation to reflect the Nordic Model. This will shrink the demand for prostitution in the US, thus making the American sex market less attractive to human traffickers. 

How Australia should approach China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang

Australia has traditionally held the conventional wisdom that as China grew economically, it would establish a middle class that would pressure the government to recognise human rights. Under the presidency of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has instead shown that economic growth can reinforce a dictatorship. 

The religious and ethnic persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province is of growing concern to the Australian government. The United Nations estimates that at least one million Turkic Muslims are being detained in internment camps and forced to undergo ideological re-education. Uyghurs are currently working within factories of well-known multinational companies such as Apple, BMW, Volkswagen and Nike in conditions which strongly suggest forced labour.

Amnesty International alongside members of the international community have criticised the CCP over its treatment of the Uyghur people. President Xi, has been unmoved by this mounting  pressure, recently remarking that the Chinese approach to its internal affairs was “completely correct” and remained a “major task for the entire party and nation.”

Amnesty recognises that Australia is deeply committed to human rights. Australia recently passed its Modern Slavery Act (2019) to combat violations of human freedom in global supply chains. Australia has also utilised its status as a constructive middle power to promote human rights through forums such as the UN Human Rights Council (2018-2020) and the ‘Liechtenstein initiative.’

Australia’s current approach towards China’s abuses prioritises soft diplomacy and is premised in the belief that China will eventually progress to respect the human rights of its citizens. Amnesty stresses that this approach of quiet diplomacy has proven to be ineffective. Therefore, Australia must immediately reform its foreign policy approach towards the CCP. If left unchecked, the threat posed by China’s human rights violations undermines Australia’s  objectives to promote human rights and makes a mockery of the international human rights framework. 

Recommendations: 

1.  Australia should implement a preferential refugee program to provide Uighur Muslims with priority protection and resettlement in Australia; 

2. Australia should follow the United States in screening and banning certain exports believed to have been produced by forced Uyghur labour;

3. Australian state visits to China should be conditioned on human rights progress and the granting of access for UN investigators to independently assess conditions in Xinjiang. 

Human Rights Council

Action on China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims presents a unique opportunity for Australia to demonstrate international leadership through human rights advocacy. China has continued to manipulate the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by proposing resolutions which undermine the international system. In 2018, China proposed a UNHRC resolution calling on states to ‘promote mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights.’ The resolution implied that human rights could be negotiated and that economic development should take precedence over individual human rights. This stance weakens the international human rights framework by normalising the idea that human rights are voluntary.

While Australia and other countries have leveraged international forums to criticise the CCP’s human rights abuses, such motions have been completely ignored by China. In 2019, Australia partnered with 21 other UNHCR countries in writing a letter to the CCP calling for an end to the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims. China retaliated by suspending its human rights partnership with Australia.

2020 marks Australia’s final year on the UNHRC. Though Australia’s lobbying has not resulted in a marked improvement to human rights in China, Australia must take advantage of its final months on the Council. Australia could draw attention to its human rights initiatives on the Council by establishing a preferential refugee program to provide Uyghurs with priority protection in Australia. This would enable Uyghurs willing and able to escape from persecution to rebuild their lives. It is currently estimated that there 12 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang. While Australia is unable to facilitate what will likely be a mass influx of people, Australia could commit to a refugee quota and encourage its partners to help shoulder the burden. Though this policy will not address the root causes of the human rights abuses in China, it will send a clear message to the CCP that its behaviour is unacceptable, while providing safety and security to survivors. 

International Leadership

Australia has an opportunity to enhance its status as a regional and world leader in human rights by renouncing China’s abuses. While Foreign Affairs Minister Payne has previously criticised China for its repressive policies against the Uyghurs, Australia can and must do more.  

State visits are a foundation of international diplomacy, and the CCP utilises photos opportunities  from foreign visits to fuel propaganda. In November 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron visited China and made no public mention of human rights concerns. Quiet diplomacy is ineffective in pressuring the Chinese government to modify its behaviour. Most importantly, such visits are disheartening to Chinese citizens, the ultimate agents of change. Australia can set a better diplomatic example by refusing to coordinate state visits to China so long as conditions remain unchanged. The Australian government can also utilise its normative influence to encourage allies to do the same. By publicly calling out Beijing for its human rights violations, this will send a clear message to the CCP while emboldening victims to enact change. 

Australia is also reticent of China’s growing influence in the Indo Pacific region. In response, DFAT is interested in identifying new ways to promote Australia as a partner of choice for development and trade in the region. Promoting a compelling, human-rights respecting alternative to China will enable Australia to differentiate itself from the CCP and gain greater support from its regional partners. 

Trade Considerations 

China and Australia have a strong bilateral trade relationship which should be a key consideration when taking any political action against China. China is Australia’s largest trading partner for both imports and exports, currently accounting for 27.4% of Australia’s total world trade.  Noting that China is such a significant trading partner, Australia finds it challenging to implement trade sanctions as this may disrupt the country’s economic prosperity. 

Trade has been used by the United States government as an important lever to sanction Chinese imports from Xinjiang. The U.S. now screens products that have originated from Xinjiang to detect goods which are potentially linked to state-sponsored forced labour. In September 2020, the U.S. implemented an executive order blocking Chinese imports such as cotton, garments, hair products and electronics from the region. Amnesty International recommends Australia explore a similar policy of screening imports in order to deter modern slavery.

So far, Australia has been unwilling to take action against China’s repression. This was evident in 2019, when Foreign Minister Payne described China’s treatment of Uyghurs as ‘disturbing,’ but simultaneously refused to implement sanctions against China. Australia’s inability to turn rhetoric into action against China demonstrates a complacency that goes against Australia’s interests and values. 

Adopting a tough stance on the CCP poses significant risks to Australian trade. However, if Australia can cooperate with other countries to address China’s blatant disregard for human rights, the international balance of power will shift. Though China can endure unilateral sanctions from Australia, its economy cannot take on the entire world.

Conclusion

Adopting these recommendations will enable Australia to promote its international leadership on human rights and build credibility within the Indo-Pacific region. Though unilateral actions by Australia will not enact instant change in China’s behavior, its example will encourage others to follow suit. This will heighten the financial and political costs of China’s oppression. Amnesty International hopes that this pressure will eventually result in an end to China’s systemic religious and ethnic abuse of Uyghur Muslims. 


How human trafficking is enabled

We often associate human trafficking with a visceral image of young girls being exploited and sold for sex at the hands of ruthless pimps. Google an image of human trafficking and results of this description will be found. While this depiction reflects much of the human trafficking which is reported to authorities, it is an incomplete image of a much broader issue. Less attention is typically devoted to the trafficking of people into exploitative agricultural work, construction work, domestic work, or other non- sexual labor.

Acknowledging one form of human trafficking while remaining ignorant to all others, only addresses a fraction of what is a highly prevalent transnational crime. Society’s lack of understanding of the complexity of human trafficking is largely to blame for our crippling inability to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

The United States of America v Farrell illustrates the vulnerability of migrant workers and lack of public awareness of human trafficking warning signs.

Human trafficking - Crime Stoppers Australia
Resource derived from Crime Stoppers Australia, https://crimestoppers.com.au/resource/human-trafficking/.

United States of America v Farrell

In 2005, Robert and Angelita Farrell, owners of a Comfort Inn hotel in South Dakota arranged for nine Filipino workers to obtain visas to work in their hotel. 

The Farrells took care of all visa fees and drafted employment contracts for each worker. They told workers that they would not be reimbursed for travel to the US and that their visas would be denied if they revealed this to the consular authorities. Despite beginning the employment relationship financially indebted to the Farrells, the workers anticipated that their wages would enable them to promptly repay their debts.     

When the workers arrived, the couple confiscated their passports and other immigration documents. The Farrells took advantage of the workers making them work 12-16 hour days and paying them half the wages initially promised. The defendants also charged the victims for previously undisclosed fees such as unwanted food and transportation to and from work. Recognising that the workers would never be able to repay their increasing debts, the Farrells demanded that the workers obtain outside employment. 

Each worker initially expected to have two trips sponsored by the Farrells to work at the hotel. However, the Farrells’ informed their workers that no one was going to be brought back to the US for a second trip unless he or she submitted a letter requesting re-employment. The workers complied and returned to South Dakota, facing the same enslaved conditions as last time.

One evening, the Farrell’s contacted the chief of police to intimidate the workers after two had expressed a desire to leave. Sensing something was amiss after visiting the hotel, the officer removed the victims from the couple’s possession and the Farrells were subsequently arrested on the charge of conspiracy to commit peonage.

On November 2007, a federal jury found Robert and Angelita Farrell guilty of peonage, document servitude, visa fraud and making false statements. Robert Farrell was sentenced to a term of 4 years and 2 months in federal prison and his wife, Angelita, a 3-year sentence. The defendants were individually fined US$15,000 and subject to three years of supervised release following their respective prison terms.

The Farrell case stresses the underreporting of human trafficking in the US. This couple managed to forge immigration documents twice and illegally administer second jobs for their workers, while enslaving them in horrendous living conditions for some time, without triggering immigration officials, police or members of the public. 

Partially to blame for this is the inaccurate, widely held public perception of human trafficking and the culture of law enforcement.

Failing Public Perceptions of Human Trafficking

A key issue in this case was whether the victims worked voluntarily for the Farrells. While it would have been a simpler case if police had found victims chained in the Farrell’s basement, the reality is that many human trafficking cases occur within the context of a voluntary working relationship. Thus, the degree to which the victims’ work was involuntary was difficult to prove.  

Akin to many human trafficking cases, the victims initially worked voluntarily for the Farrells, testifying that they wanted to better their livelihoods in the US. The Farrells possessed strong evidence in favour of a finding that the employees were in a voluntary working relationship. For instance, the Farrells’ presented the signed contracts and the fact that the workers agreed to begin their working relationship indebted to the Farrells. Additionally , the Farrells had letters written by the workers, each requesting a second trip to the US to work at the hotel.   

In this trial, the testimony of human trafficking expert Joy Zarembka enabled jurors to better understand the behaviour of victims and assess the truthfulness of their allegations. Zarembka provided a testimony of the various warning signs in employer-employee relationships that may indicate the employee is not labouring voluntarily but rather in a climate of fear. In her opinion, there was a climate of fear in the Farrells’ relationships with their workers. 

In this way, the role of expert witnesses in human trafficking cases can be paramount to ensuring victims receive a fair trial. Experts should also play a more substantial role in public education to alleviate widely held misconceptions of human trafficking. This will equip people with knowledge of warning signs to look out for that may be indicative of human trafficking.

The culture and framework of Law enforcement

Police rely on community members to report crimes by calling 911. Their work is reactionary rather than investigatory. This is problematic for victims of human trafficking as the crime usually occurs behind closed doors or without community awareness. If the public fail to report on instances of human trafficking, the framework of law enforcement is such that police cannot protect victims or charge perpetrators.

For these reasons, Police in the US focus on the prevention of sex trafficking of U.S. female minor victims, whom they perceive to be the most vulnerable, publicly supported victims. We know from the Farrell case that human trafficking can seamlessly occur outside of the sex-slavery paradigm, however more often than not it seems that cases like these are falling through the cracks of our justice system. Human trafficking does not discriminate against gender, age or culture, it impacts girls, boys, men and women alike. The double standard of US law enforcement efforts to address the sexual slavery of US female minors, while remaining legally blind to other forms of modern slavery that exist is a true failing of the justice system.

Though the institutional weaknesses of law enforcement and lack of public awareness for human trafficking are grim, greater understanding of the problem among ordinary people like you and I will lead to increased reporting of the crime. If we acknowledge that human trafficking is happening in our communities and educate ourselves on its many variations, this will inevitably lead to a world where more perpetrators are held legally accountable for their actions.


Who is the partner of choice for developing states?

The European Union have provided development and trading partnerships with nations from every corner of the globe. In doing so, the EU promotes democracy and human rights by attaching social provisions and human rights conditions to their agreements. For example, EU development partnerships in the Indo-Pacific or Central Africa will be subject to clauses regarding the internal affairs of a country.

Comparatively, China’s programs and partnerships do not bind political clauses to agreements. China promotes norms of ‘unconditionally’ and ‘win-win’ economic outcomes and will turn a blind eye to the internal affairs of the countries it partners with.  This approach allows China to be increasingly viewed as the development partner of choice as they are willing to meet the immediate economic needs of states.      

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 further elevated the status of China’s economic model.  Responding to the crisis, China unleashed substantial stimulus packages through the state-controlled financial sector and aided regional neighbours. China’s trade surpluses and currency manipulation have also led it to accumulate the world’s largest foreign currency reserves, thus becoming a central part of the international political economy. China’s performance, when juxtaposed with Europe’s response which was largely confined to bailing out poorly regulated banks, positions China strongly to extend its normative power throughout the developing world.            

The European Union’s strict criterion for its membership and programs rests on principles of democracy and the rule of law. While developing countries have traditionally been willing to make concessions in their internal affairs in return for economic benefit, China is providing ‘no strings attached’ partnerships and an economic model that outperforms that of the EU. Therefore, the EU’s normative influence to promote democracy throughout the world is waning significantly.   

To maintain a normative presence which continues to push developing nations closer towards democracy and the recognition of human rights, the EU must do more to acknowledge the role of China by allowing reform in areas of traditional EU development initiatives. Greater flexibility and inclusion in EU programs will enable a balance to be struck between economic and social development. This will also reduce the appeal of China’s development program which often leaves countries devastated by national debt and forced to maintain deferential stances towards the grand strategy of the CCP.

A right to develop?

The “East Asian Miracle” was the title of a 1993 World Bank report which attributed the rapid economic growth and development of Asian countries post-World War II to the success of neoliberalism. While the neo-liberal theory of development is widely held in the West, the developmental state theory poses a challenge to the Anglo-American analysis, providing an alternate explanation for the rise of economies within East Asian following World War II. 

Critics of the neo-liberal consensus argued that Asian economies rapidly developed due to the strong, centralised roles assumed by governments in economic planning. Regional leaders such as Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Yuan Yew also reacted to the atmosphere of neoliberal triumphalism that was conveyed in the World Bank report and advocated for others to “look East” toward countries like Japan for models of economic development rather than West.

Developmental state theory argues that late industrialising nations need to take measures to catch up with advanced capitalist economies. Protection and oversight from central governments can help to created a dynamic environment for countries to develop evenly and strengthen their industrial capabilities prior to integrating into the neo-liberal global market. 

While developmental state theory provides a plausible alternate explanation for the rise of East Asian economies, the model is not superior to a democratic capitalist system. The strong role of the government in developmental states gives rise to authoritarianism. In the interests of pursuing drastic economic development, states subordinate political objectives. This means that citizens are not free to criticise their government or actively have a voice in policy development. 

The process of industrialisation enables developing states to drastically improve living standards and reduce abject poverty. Such needs are arguably more pressing than the actualisation of civil liberties in countries where access to food, water, shelter and sanitation are not ubiquitous. 

Given these considerations, it is reasonable to offer developing states a grace period in which they can prioritise national economic development above the civil rights of citizens. However, when has a state sufficiently developed to a stage where the international community can pressure them to uphold the human rights of their citizens?

In practice, the international community has had difficulty in grappling with such questions. Most notably, China lays claim to the second most powerful economy in the world while also holding developing-state status which allows it to maintain the need for international concessions and time to adequately develop. 

The right to develop is an internationally recognised right at the United Nations and has also been ratified in a number of international instruments and national declarations.

  • 1991 China published a White Paper on its right to prioritise economic stability over Western priorities of civil and political freedoms (essentially China published the view that individual freedoms, while important should not come before the interests of the collective)  
  • Right to Develop is recognised at the UN (since 1986) and this resolution and way of thinking continues to be a prominent issue cited by developing countries when discussing international issues (UN- Res. 41/128) 
  • This right is also recognised in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights
  • Reaffirmed in in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the 1993 Vienna Programme of Action and  2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Though the international community has found consensus on the existence of an international right to develop, a lack of clarity remains on when this right expires.

So long as China continues to argue its status as a developing state and the leader of the developing world, the right to develop will increasingly be used as a tool for countries to argue that authoritarian governance and centralised economies are not merely temporary but rather provide a strong alternate model to democratic/capitalist governance. This reality will result in a world that is less free, and more divided between East and West.

Hong Kong: One Country, One System

In light of the ongoing 2019-20 Hong Kong protests, China’s ceremonial parliament has voted to bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to enact dramatic national security legislation. According to the Chinese government, these new laws are intended to crackdown on ‘secessionist and subversive activity … terrorism and foreign interference’. Beijing has previously blamed the lack of a national security law for last year’s alarming anti-extradition protests. However, activists remain concerned that these laws will undermine civil liberties and bring an end to Hong Kong’s unique partial autonomy.

Hong Kong is currently governed under a “one country, two systems” model underpinned by two key documents: The Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. These established China’s rule over Hong Kong – subject to significant caveats including the continuation of British capitalism, maintenance of the common law, protection of civil liberties and an understanding that Beijing would not directly intervene in the city for a period of 50 years from the city’s 1997 handover. Significantly, Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong shall enact national security legislation “on its own.”

While details about the application of these new security laws remain unclear, they clearly encroach upon Hong Kong’s existing autonomy from China. The ‘crimes’ stipulated in the security laws have vague definitions and could potentially include any attempts to voice dissent against the Government. Such laws may also lead to widespread arrests on arbitrary political charges, a crackdown on free speech, and the unleashing of China’s security organs, such as the Ministry of State Security and the People’s Armed Police. If these reforms are unable to bridge the divide between Hong Kongers and Beijing, then Hong Kong may remain a tinderbox of revolt for years to come.

The enactment of this legislation has prompted wide-spread criticism from international actors such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. In the United States, the Trump Administration has announced that it will no longer treat Hong Kong as being autonomous from the Chinese mainland as a result of Beijing’s latest intervention. In addition to the political ramifications, Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub is now in danger. For businesses, the main value of the city is that its financial and legal systems are more transparent and fair compared to China’s. These features make Hong Kong an attractive option for both foreign and Chinese firms looking to prove their credibility in the region. Any erosion of the rule of law and freedom of speech risks undermining this appeal.

Following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would strip Hong Kong of its special privileges, China’s state media have taken aim at the US by comparing #BlackLivesMatter protests with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. A commentary published in China Daily – a mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party – said US politicians should do their jobs and help solve problems in the US, instead of trying to create new problems and troubles in other countries.

Chinese attempts to equate protesting in some US cities with wide-spread calls for democracy and freedom from China in Hong Kong are disingenuous and politically-motivated. At this critical time, it is important that Western media outlets critically assess China’s claims and report them for what they are. Racial tensions in the US and Chinese interventions in Hong Kong are entirely seperate issues. Failure to recognise these clear differences and blind acceptance of CCP rhetoric plays right into Beijing’s hand and may cost the people of Hong Kong their freedom.

Hope for persecuted Christians in US-Australia bilateral

The Islamic State genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, beginning in 2014, drew international condemnation. In 2020, Southeast Asia is the new hotspot for Christian persecution. Communism and religious fundamentalism appear to be the main driving forces of Christian Persecution. Such oppression will only be increased by the global COVID-19 pandemic as Christians are more likely to experience discrimination when seeking basic provisions in many countries.

Here are just a few examples of the kinds of persecution that Christians face in Australia’s backyard.

China 

As of 2018, the Xi Jingping’s government has implemented draconian laws on religious practices. Increased surveillance and restriction of privacy have severely constrained the religious freedoms of the Chinese people. Christians found to publically profess their faith have experienced interrogation, imprisonment and loss of property. The Chinese Communist Party is driving ‘thought reform’ with plans to retranslate and annotate the Bible so that the text is compatible with sinicization and socialism. Troubling parallels can be observed between this heavy-handed response to Christianity and Mao-era attempts to control hearts and minds.

India 

Opposition to Christianity has reached unprecedented levels in India due to the rise of Hindutva nationalism. Aid to the Church in Need reported nation-wide attacks on Christians in 24 of India’s 29 states from 2017 to 2019. Indian Christians face physical abuse, rape and murder for professing their faith. Sectarian violence remains wide-spread. However, of greatest concern is the growing impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, engendered by the failure of authorities to address attacks on religious minorities.

North Korea 

North Korea is an exceptionally dangerous place to be a Christian. The bible is illegal and from a young age citizens are taught to worship Kim Jong-Un. Christians in North Korea are routinely deported to kwanliso, maximum security political prisons or ‘re-education’ camps. Torture, starvation, sexual assault and death are frequently reported within these facilities. CEO of Open Doors David Curry, cautioned that as COVID-19 ravages health conditions in developing countries, “North Korean Christians who are already seen as second-class citizens, traitors, and infidels” face exceptional risks.

Laos 

In Laos, Christianity is branded as a harmful Western influence which challenges the nation’s communist values. Government officials use Laotians’ hostile attitude towards Christians to justify strict monitoring of believers. Converts to Christianity in Laos face the most severe forms of persecution. Abandoning Buddhism or tribal animist beliefs is seen as a betrayal to family members and the community.

Myanmar 

The international community has rightly condemned the horrific ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Yet, the Buddhist-dominated military has also systematically attacked other religious minorities including Christians. The military routinely engage in torture, rape, abduction and murder of Christians. Efforts to force conversions to Buddhism are common. Thousands of Christians have also been displaced and forced to flee to refugee camps. As access to these regions is very limited, their plight goes widely unnoticed outside Myanmar.

Brunei 

Brunei is an Islamic absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. In 2014, Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt parts of Sharia law, despite condemnation from the UN. The Sultan, along with the prime minister, has declared his vision that Brunei will be an entirely Muslim nation by 2035. All churches, including registered ones, are monitored and restricted by the authorities. Further, Islamic authorities offer financial bonuses and employment opportunities to those who follow Islam. This creates a social hierarchy that discriminates against non-Muslims.

Malaysia   

The Federal Constitution of Malaysia purports to protect the right to freedom of religion, including the profession, practicing and propagating of a person’s religious beliefs. Despite this, federal law favours the Islamic faith. Article 3 of the Federal Constitution privileges Islam with special status. Although it is more subtle than in neighbouring countries, examples of discrimination against Christians include the existence of sharia courts available to Muslims and the constitutional definition of ‘Malay’ to mean only those who profess the religion of Islam.

An opportunity for the United States and Australia

Under President Trump, the US has affirmed its strong commitment to the freedom of religion both domestically and internationally. While I was at the UN during Leaders Week 2019, the US hosted a high-level event titled ‘The Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom’. The scheduling of this event at the same time as the Climate Summit sent a clear message to the international community about the foreign policy priorities of the Trump/Pence administration.

Domestically, Trump has made a 2017 executive order to advance religious freedom as a centre-piece of his administration’s human rights agenda. The President has also taken action to ensure that Americans and American organisations are not forced to violate their religious or moral beliefs by complying with the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. Further, the Administration has dedicated $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics around the world.

Given our shared liberal-democratic values, Australia is uniquely positioned to cooperate with the US on this serious international human rights issue in our region. With rising Christian persecution in Southeast Asia and the Indo-pacific, Australia’s strong bilateral relationship with the United States may provide a solution. As an evangelical Christian, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shares a unique personal connection with persecuted Christians in our region and a commitment to protecting religious freedoms alongside President Trump and Vice President Pence. If there were ever a time to ignite a global crusade to combat religious persecution, this would be that time.