The Uyghur Muslim minority of China has faced what is considered as human rights abuses at the hands of the Chinese government. Such abuses have included torture, forced detainment in internment camps, and ‘re-education’ programs that have been embedded with Chinese propaganda. Although there has been strong condemnation by the international community regarding these repressive policies, the Chinese government have denied any allegations of ethnic cleansing and human rights abuse aimed at the Uyghur population.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has described the Chinese government’s actions as “shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone,’” highlighting the issue of the government masking their actions from international and regional public knowledge. When describing the objectives of the government’s repression against the Uyghur population, James Millward, a scholar from Georgetown University, has stated to Vox News that “the ultimate goal, the ultimate issue that the Chinese state is targeting is the cultural practices and beliefs of Muslim groups.” Although the reasons for this remain unclear, some sources have claimed that the Chinese government’s repression has been born out of reducing religious radicalization and extremism while others have critiqued that the government wishes to abolish Islam in its entirety. Contrastingly, the Chinese government has denied all wrongdoings whereby a senior official of the government has claimed that “there is no arbitrary detention” of the Uyghur population and that “there are no such things as re-education centers.”
Psychological indoctrination through forced removal and internment camps is a form of human rights abuse whereby the government must be held accountable. As a country controlled by a one-party state, the lack of exposure and access to the situation in the Xinjiang region is highly critical and damaging. The Chinese government needs to be held accountable for their actions. Although their justification of the policies is to reduce terrorism, it is clear that they have bigger intentions. The intention of wiping out an entire ethnic group for a political agenda and to restore a ‘Han homogeneity’ needs to be addressed and scrutinized. Although lawmakers have pushed for sanctions, they will not be enough since China’s economy will most likely be minutely affected. What needs to be done is perhaps international intervention in the region, whereby official documentation of the abuses needs to be undertaken. The first step towards reducing human rights abuses is accountability, and since the Chinese government has restricted such domestic measures, international intervention and documentation are needed.
As minority group within China, Uyghur Muslims make up approximately 10 million people of China’s total population where the majority reside in the Western autonomous region of Xinjiang in China’s north-west that borders with Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Repressive policies aimed at the Uyghur population have long existed since the dissociation of dynastic rule and the establishment of a Communist government during the mid-20th century. As an oil and resource-rich region that was once situated along the Silk Road trading route, Xinjiang attracted large-scale migration of ethnic Han Chinese which was encouraged by the government. However, with the recent surge and interest in terrorism, the Chinese government have correlated the Uyghur population and their religious affiliation of Islam with extremism, by justifying repressive policies as a method of maintaining social stability within China.
Since the Uyghur people inhabit a majority of China’s north-western region, they must be treated with the same dignity as other ethnic groups within China. Although they may differ from the “conventional” Chinese Han identity in terms of culture and religion, it is inherent that their identity is respected. Human rights abuses towards a population should never be justified with political agenda but should be seen as what it is – a textbook form of ethnic cleansing.