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We Said Never Again, But We Are Letting It Happen Again

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

Humans are more connected to each other now than ever before with the advent of technology. We can learn about the lives and cultures of people from all around the world. We can sympathize with them. And now, with a world pandemic sweeping across continents, we find even more similarities to each other as we are all faced with this unprecedented difficulty.

We understand each other and we care for each other.

So we must stand up for each other.

But, there is a genocide going on right now that has not received the media attention that it deserves.

What is a genocide? 

The Genocide Convention defines genocide in article II as the following: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What’s happening?

11 million Uyghur people once called Xinjiang home. However, in the late 1990s, the Han Chinese began to dominate the area as a part of  the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to eradicate the Uyghur identity. The Uyghur are the target for the most severe and restrictive security measures; they are constantly stopped at checkpoints as well as banned from practicing their Islamic faith.

Now, over one million Turkic Uyghurs are detained in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labor factories in China. Hundreds of thousands of women are subjected to extreme forms of torture including rape, forced intrauterine devices, sterilization, and even unwanted abortions.

The CCP is covering up these atrocities by calling the detention centers “re-education camps.” The China Cables, a set of leaked Chinese documents about how the mass detention camps are being run, states otherwise. Sophie Richardson, the director of the Human Rights Watch organization states, “This is an actionable piece of evidence, documenting a gross human rights violation.”

What needs to be made clear here is: What is happening right now to Uyghurs in East Turkistan is an active genocide.  

What can you do?

We often overlook things that don’t seem to have a direct impact on our lives. In fact, you may have even seen this and thought to yourself, I don’t support the ethnic cleansing. But what can I do? However, this genocide is directly impacting all of us, and many of us may be actors without realizing it.

1. Sign petitions

This is a simple and effective way to speak up against these atrocities. Recently, it was discovered that Disney’s live action movie, Mulan, was actually filmed in parts of Xinjiang province where the Uyghurs are being detained in detention camps. This is a petition to boycott the film. Here are some other petitions to sign:

2. Fundraisers

If you can, donate to organizations working to end this genocide:

3. Corporate accountability 

Uyghurs are subjugated to forced labor by some of the most popular brands in the world. I can’t purchase a Nike sneaker knowing about the torture that their workers endure. Here are two things we can do to influence change:

  1. As a consumer, boycott brands. Simply don’t buy brands that are using forced Uyghur labor to produce their goods. These brands include Nike, H&MGap, Victoria’s SecretApple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and many others. Here is an infographic with an updated list as well as alternative brands to buy from.
  2. Email brands and comment under their Instagram posts. Not all of us have the means to completely avoid this list, but this is another tactic to show your support

4. Constituent role

Email your state senators to pressure them into sponsoring the S.3471 – Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. There is clear bipartisan support for this bill which will ensure that goods made through forced Uyghur labor do not enter the U.S. market. This bill has already passed in the House of Represenatives, so the next step is presentation to the Senate.

5. As a student

Raise awareness of this issue on your campus. This could include investigating whether your campus has ties to incriminated companies using forced Uyghur labor.

An interview with Tasnim Benalla of freeuyghurnow

I had the opportunity to speak with Tasnim Benalla, the co-founder of freeuyghurnow, a student coalition aiming to educate and create changes regarding this issue. I also spoke with one of the coalition’s research members.

The story of freeuyghurnow

Tasnim tells me she and her team realized, “Graphics [have] gained a new traction [on social media].” And they decided to use this marketing power as the means for educating people about the Uyghurs.

“Now, we’ve grown a lot more. Our social advocacy includes posting infographics and videos. We are also working on corporate accountability through protests, working with congressional members and the European parliament. Student advocacy extends internationally, raising awareness on [a global range of] college campuses.” 

A message of hope

I told freeuyghurnow’s researcher that many of us think when huge atrocities occur we are too removed or too insignificant to make a difference. When I talk to family members and friends, encouraging them not to buy these brands, I always get the response: well am I not supposed to buy shoes then? I can’t make a difference, the people who are doing this will be punished. So, how do we move away from this individualistic mindset?

The research member tells me, “The whole reason we learn about genocide is, if this occurred now, I wouldn’t do it now. In this age, We have social media and Instagram—you don’t have to commit to being at the forefront fighting against this, but you have the ability to change this.

“Think about the effectiveness of student activism against apartheid in South Africa. We have time and we have social media. And quite honestly, ask yourself if you can wear those shoes knowing they were made with forced labor.”

Sabrina Salam

Columbia Barnard '24

Sabrina Salam is a first year at Barnard College hoping to pursue law, writing, and psychology. When she isn't exploring topics on social justice to write about, Sabrina loves to watch documentaries and hike with her family.