Article by Angela Moon
China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province is drawing international concern. In addition to constant police surveillance, the Chinese government has detained Uighurs into re-education camps where they are forced to listen to lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist party, and write self-criticism essays. More recently, the government has even separated Uighur children from their parents and placed them in orphanages, a move to systematically distance young Muslims from their culture. The goal is to remove any devotion to Islam, and maintain an iron grip in Xinjiang where more than half the population of 24 million belongs to Muslim ethnic minority groups. Most are Uighurs, who speak a Turkic-based language, and refer to their homeland as East Turkestan.
China’s targeting of Uighur Muslims violates international human rights laws and norms, particularly concerning discrimination on the basis of race, culture and religion. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemned China’s actions, having reviewed reports that point to Muslims “being treated as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity.” China has categorically denied reports of abuses in Xinjiang; according to reports uncovered by former detainees, however, one can be thrown into a camp for “praying regularly, reading the Quran, going abroad or even speaking to someone overseas.” All of these are committed with intense camera surveillance, without any right to privacy, and arrests are made without due process. In addition, overwhelming evidence, including “official directives, studies, news reports, and construction plans” has surfaced online, along with eyewitness accounts by former detainees who fled to Turkey and Kazakhstan.
China’s actions have deeply troubling implications for international human rights. If unchecked, China’s ruthless policies against Uighurs may lead to complete ethnic cleansing of a minority group, as it proceeds under the guise of national security against terrorism and Chinese national unification. We should not accept this outcome. The U.N and other human rights bodies, and other nation states must continue to hold China accountable, or risk having the legitimacy of international human rights law dismantled in the process. The U.N should press for thorough investigations in China, and aggressively call on China to release all detainees, while the U.S. and other nation states should impose sanctions for human rights violations and stop selling items China may need. The choice is ours to act and interfere.