I know what you’re thinking, “A genocide? In 2020? That can’t be right…” Well, you’re in for a treat.
As much as we want to be proud of how ‘self-aware’ and ‘woke’ we are, the reality is that we are just sheltered. Our society thrives on the ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality. Everyone has seen the shares on social media, but where is the information and knowledge behind them? It’s one post on someone’s story, then 24 hours later it’s no longer a thought in anyone’s mind.
As you are reading this, there are between 1 and 1.8 million Uighur Muslims arbitrarily detained in internment camps in China (Aljazeera, 2020). Let me break that down for you, we’ll start off with understanding who the Uighurs are, and why China has targeted them.
What once was called East Turkestan is where about 11 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities resided. The region borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia, and largely revolve around agriculture and trade (BBC, 2014). They speak in an Asian Turkic language similar to Uzbek (Kirby, 2020). Most Uighurs practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam.
In 1949, the land known as East Turkestan, and what many Uighurs still refer to as their homeland, was annexed by China and renamed Xinjiang (Wood, 2019). The region is China’s largest producer of natural gas, and has a rich supply of oil and minerals. This attracted a lot of Han Chinese residents, a migration encouraged by the Chinese government. The tension grew as the Han Chinese were given the best jobs, and were doing well economically, which fuelled the resentment among Uighurs (2014). Eventually riots broke out as a result of the rising tensions and Uighurs protested their treatment by the government. About 200 people were killed, and hundreds more injured during the riots.
So, why is China going after Uighur Muslims? According to PBS, China claims that “they hold extremist views that are a threat to security.” Since the riots, the Chinese government blames the Uighurs for the unrest and perceives them as a violent separatist group (Kirby, 2020). They justify their treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities by saying they’re trying to eradicate extremism and separatist groups.
Uighurs have been demoralized for as long as they can remember. In 2014, some Xinjiang government departments made it illegal for Muslim civil servants to fast during the holy month of Ramadan (2014). In 2017, they passed a law prohibiting men from growing long beards and women from wearing veils; they also demolished dozens of mosques (2019).
Currently in internment camps, Uighurs are enduring forced labour, disproportionate rates of prison incarceration, coercive birth prevention campaigns, political indoctrination, and other mentally and physically abusive treatment in efforts to rid them of their religious beliefs, and drill Communist ideologies into their minds (Aljazeera, 2020).
The Chinese government denied the existence of the camps for a long period of time. It wasn’t until images surfaced showing the construction of the camps that the government acknowledged them as ‘re-education centres’ for Uighurs (2019). These images showed just how poor the conditions were for Uighurs with watchtowers and barbed wire fences. Members of the Muslim minority say that they were detained, interrogated, and beaten because of their religious beliefs. The Chinese government claims that the camps are vocational education and training centres as part of ‘counter-terrorism and de-radicalization’ measures (Aljazeera, 2020).
Sound familiar? A government claiming that they are simply re-educating a minority, only for the reality to be that they are enduring severe abuse within those walls? Canada might have a bit of history in common there… If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m talking about our disgusting past of forcing Indigenous Peoples into Residential Schools and traumatizing them forever.
Although it seems like there has been zero concern from other nations towards the Uighur Muslim crisis, there have actually been some efforts made to investigate it. In July of 2019, 22 countries, excluding the United States, signed a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) responding to “disturbing reports of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs” (2019) by condemning corrupt Chinese leadership.
Less than a week later, 37 countries defended China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” (2019) – I know… Are you kidding me? Believe it or not, the list of signatories included Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar.
Recently at the U.N. General Assembly, more than 30 countries, including the United States, condemned China calling the camps a “horrific campaign of repression” (2019). There have been various groups such as the U.S.-based Uighur Human Rights Project, Genocide Watch, and the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect that have called on the UNHRC to launch an investigation on the internment camps (Aljazeera, 2020).
It’s hard to get any real prosecution against China because of the discrepancy in proving their intentions and the way the crimes are worded under international law. The European Union has pressured China to let its independent observers into Xinjiang. At first, China had agreed to this and was ready to make arrangements, but rebuffed (Aljazeera, 2020) – if this doesn’t scream suspicion then I don’t know what does.
What’s happening in China should make you uncomfortable. It should make you want to research, ask questions, and make your blood boil. It’s not normal for non-Western countries to experience trauma and genocide. It’s 2020. In a modern world that prides itself on being ‘woke,’ we seem to be treating devastation in non-Westernized countries as if they’re conventional.
Al Jazeera. (2020, September 15). Activists want UN to probe ‘genocide’ of China’s Uighur minority. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/15/activists-want-un-to-probe-genocide-of-chinas-uighur-minority
Kirby, J. (2020, July 28). Concentration camps and forced labor: China’s repression of the Uighurs, explained. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/2020/7/28/21333345/uighurs-china-internment-camps-forced-labor-xinjiang
Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs? (2014, September 26). Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-26414014
Wood, B. (2019). What is happening with the Uighurs in China? Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/features/uighurs