Holding China Accountable For Its Mistreatment Of Ethnic Uyghurs

While the Uyghurs are a predominantly large Muslim Turkish ethnic group with a distinct culture, their presence in China (heavily concentrated in Xinjiang) has been admonished in this present day and age. Ethnic Uyghurs remain targeted for surveillance and control tactics.

China’s agenda of severe repression towards these individuals has precipitated from years of tension between China and its people.

In the 1940s, China’s civil war permitted Xinjiang to achieve a short period of independence and it became known as China’s ‘East Turkestan.’ As Chinese Communist Party Leader (CCP) Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the state began to perceive the Uyghurs as an official ethnic minority to support the CCP’s manifesto of securing “a great family founded in principle on ethnic equality.” The creation of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1955 also served to quell independence movements to maintain Beijing’s sovereignty over China.

The 1960s, however, deemed to be a turning point. Mao’s agenda to eliminate these ‘opponents’ was taken from ideas drawn in the Communist Red Guards which sought to eradicate old culture, ideas, habits, and customs. As religious and Uyghur language books were confiscated then burnt, Mao forced millions of educated Uyghur youth to perform hard labour and to abide by a harmful “re-education” program. The antipathy directed then has further continued today. Undoubtedly, ethnic Uyghurs are living in a mirrored reality.

Most recently, China has amplified its mistreatment towards ethnic Uyghurs. It has allegedly been transferring detained Uyghurs to factories belonging to global companies like Nike, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Zara, H&M, Mercedes-Benz, and Uniqlo. In a report issued from the Canberra based Australian Strategic Policy Institution (ASPI) March 1, 2020, approximately 80 000 Uyghurs were relocated from detention camps within the Xinjiang province to these factories. Through the use of satellite imagery, media reports, and open-source public documents, the ASPI discovered 27 factories across several Chinese provinces that have mobilized forced labour upon Uyghurs since 2017 under the Xinjiang aid program. The conditions thousands of labourers are forced to succumb to grossly violate human rights in subjugating labourers to discriminatory practices. Under these practices, labourers are forced to move into segregated dormitories, study Mandarin and pursue ideological training apart from the state’s frequent surveillance and prohibition of religious practices.

As the authors affirm in the report, “This…exposes a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain.”

Additionally, the rise of Covid-19 has threatened the existence of Ethnic Uyghurs as Beijing’s response to the crisis remains cruel. In regions like Xinjiang, police brutality and “re-education camps” used to confine Uyghurs are rampant. Evidently, China’s response to the pandemic has led to hunger and panic inside and outside of the camps. Separate reports have also concluded that said authorities continue to force Uyghurs to return to factories initially shut down from the crisis in spite of threats to individual health and safety.

With the Uyghur Human Rights Project presenting social media posts and Uyghur language videos revealing food shortages in Xinjiang, the group construes that the claims made in these sources are substantiated by news reports.

Omer Kanat, the executive director behind the Uyghur Human Rights Project spoke briefly during a Wednesday press conference. “The reports of desperation and agony among Uyghurs are genuine,” stated Kanat. He continued that “[e]arly this year, as soon as we started hearing about the coronavirus outbreak, Uyghurs in the diaspora immediately began to warn that we now face a whole new threat, a threat that could easily wipe out even more of our people.”

Even with Chinese authorities forcing millions of its residents including ethnic Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region to stay at home without providing food accessibility, China denies its repression of ethnic Uyghurs.

Mihrigul Tursun, an Uyghur detained when visiting her family near Urumchi in 2015 claims that the camps were a horrendous reality. Tursun said, “[i]n the camp, there’s a lot of sickness[es]. We were never allowed to get proper medical care. And now that the coronavirus is coming out, I’m very worried that people are dying.”

Another source, Dr. Ferhat Bilgin, informed the Uyghur Times of China’s motive by deducing that the pandemic has prompted the state to treat these labourers as commodities to ward away an economic collapse; Dr. Bilgin explained, “[i]f they survive they produce a profit, if they die, that would be ‘too bad.’ For the first time in history, Uyghurs [have] become commodities of the State.”

Inevitably, foreign states that possess ownership rights over brands like Apple, Nike, Zara, and H&M need to boycott the factories in China that have mandated forced labour upon China’s Uyghurs. Even if it requires a loss of revenue in limiting these global value chains.   In addition to this, the United Nations, World Trade Organization and UNICEF need to impose sanctions on China and unite to terminate the illicit business and segregationally practices haunting the Uyghur population.

Staying silent on this issue is the equivalent to complacency. Heinous acts over the course of history continued because of this mentality. In a situation that encroaches on the very lives of these human beings, and strips away any sense of identity, intervention is demanded. It is a social and moral responsibility to not give a blind eye and repeat the same mistakes made during the Rwandanian genocide where Western Bureaucrats treated the conflict apathetically in fear of losing their reputable status.

The international community must stand against this crime against humanity now before it is too late. Or, it faces the irreversibility of abiding by predatory behaviour.

Silvia Saavedra
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