Updated: Oct 3, 2020
It's no news that China has been ethnically cleansing the Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang. I have been following it in the news since the story had broken out from the organ harvesting to the forced sterilisation, and now trying to timeline it for this post it felt like it had only been happening in 2020, but has its origins in 2017.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) churns out its propaganda machine saying that the Muslims living in Xinjiang are the "happiest Muslims in the world." Yet, the news being uncovered on the Uyghur Muslims says otherwise with reports of organ harvesting, forced sterilisation, and the shipments of human hair.
Due to the work of researchers and journalists, alongside the testimonies of survivors, it has become public knowledge that this oppression of Uyghurs has been on the increase since 2017. They were moved from 'reeducation' facilities to being forced into slave labour.
The people of Xinjiang have been subject to high levels of surveillance through the use of facial recognition technology, monitoring of internet usage and the forced DNA collections. The aim of this was to identify which members of the population should be sent to the internment camps.
The authorities identified actions such as praying regularly, growing a beard, traveling to Middle Eastern countries, wearing a shirt with Islamic imagery, trying to quit smoking or drinking, and praying in a public place, as flags which could have an individual sent to a camp. Some could simply be sent to a camp for just being Uyghur.
What happens in these camps? Detainees have been forced to learn Mandarin and memorise Communist propaganda in order to leave. Foreign media has been restrticted from visiting such sites and the way we learn about what has happened in the camps comes from testimonies of survivors. World Without Genocide report that former detainee Omir Bekali, a survivor of the camps who was arrested when visiting his parents said that "detainees in internment camps were made to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones, and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party."
Some of the violence endured by prisoners include beatings, being hanged from ceilings and walls, shackling and sleep deprivation.
One of the most harrowing reports of abuse is the organ harvesting of Ugyhurs. I remember reading about this earlier in the year, and it was horrifying, and the lack of response or outrage by foreign governments was disappointing, but also terrifying. If the harvesting of organs of innocent individuals was not enough for western governments who pride themselves as free countries and human rights champions, why was this not enough for them to take any action?
The term 'cultural genocide' has been appearing in the investigations into what has been happening to Uyghur Muslims. The CCP criminalised most expressions of faith, from closing mosques to the destruction of burial sites. By using this term it avoids the CCP of international accountability, as the U.N's 1948 convention on crime does not recognise cultural genocide. From the information we now know about the happenings in Xinjiang, genocide is occurring, and the international community is deathly silent on the issue.
Late June 2020, a German anthropologist Adrian Zenz published a report which revealed the forced sterilisations and birth control program implemented in order to lower the Uyghur birth rates. He found that birth rates dropped by 84% from 2015 to 2018 in Xinjiang's major Uyghur areas. It also uncovered plans to sterilise or implant IUDs (intrauterine contraceptive devices) into 80% of women of childbearing age in the rural areas of Xinjiang. However, what makes this much more sinister is that at the same time the CCP worked to increase the Han Chinese population in the area.
Another method of punishment in order to curb the population of Uyghurs includes the imprisonment of individuals for having too many children. The Associated Press reported that of 484 camp detainees in the Karakax county, 149 were detained for having too many children, which seems to be the most common reason for detention. Parents have been taken away from their families unless they can pay extortionate fines.
These actions taken by the CCP is an act of genocide according to Article II of the U.N's convention, which states that "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group," is an act of genocide. This was the final straw in a series of abuses against the Uyghurs, which led two Uyghur human rights organisations to file a complaint to the International Criminal Court alleging genocide.
The world is too silent on this issue, especially the Western world who continually say they will never forget and 'never again.' I don't want to be pessimistic, but petitions are useless at this point. The countries that support freedom of religion, the countries that continually say never again, keep letting ethnic cleansings like this happen. They need to stop sitting back silently and take on China. Hold them accountable for the death of millions of Muslims. Some European governments have merely expressed concern, others have said nothing, which is not good enough especially with all the knowledge we have available in the public sphere of the attacks happening to the Uyghurs.
Steps are being made, with Politico reporting that the Trump administration has held discussions about issuing a formal genocide determination. But, as Jimmy Quinn for the National Review discusses, the State Department lawyers have to prove the intent of the CCP to destroy the Uyghurs. Zenz's report among the previous evidence provides support for the case, but proving intent is difficult.
The sterilisation processes and words from government officials stating that Uyghurs pose a threat of terrorism, and their media has been clear on the attitudes towards the Uyghurs. A CCP official said in an article last year, that they aim to "break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins."
Quinn goes onto say that the main roadblock to determining genocide is the lack of attention being paid to Xinjiang. There is a need for one country to designate the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as genocide, which could raise international attention on the issue and gather a collective international response.
Actions are being taken by British lawyers, as of last week. Human rights lawyer, Geoffery Nice who led the prosecution against the prosecution of ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was asked by the World Uyghur Congress to investigate the abuses and possible genocide. This has started the process of gathering information and testimonies of Uyghurs exiled abroad, and there has been mentioning of evidence of new testimony from former security guards who worked in the detention camps. There is hope over the next few months that a strong legal case will be formed.
The London tribunal's judgement will not be able to hold any government accountable, but what it hopes to do is address the lack of action. The hope is that the report will pressure the U.K. government specifically, and other governments into taking action against China.
Religious leaders have begun to condemn the atrocities. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams alongside 70 other faith leaders condemned the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, by stating that they are facing "one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust," and that those responsible need to be held accountable.
This statement was signed by religious leaders from different faith backgrounds. From Christian bishops to the Dalai Lama's representative in Europe and cardinals, imams and rabbis. Part of their statement addresses the use of 'never again,' - "After the Holocaust, the world said 'Never Again'. Today, we repeat those words 'Never Again,' all over again. . . . We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity."
But, China's control and dominance as a world power has helped them to pressure countries into staying silent on the issue or even getting them to endorse the actions. And this is common in countries in the Muslim world. As brothers and sisters in faith, Islamic countries have done little to nothing to help their fellow Muslims. Saudi Arabia with all its wealth and influence sits back.
Many of these countries that China financially supports are developing countries in Africa and South Asia. Pakistan's Prime Minister, Imran Khan has been vocal on the mistreatment of Muslims worldwide, but has been very silent on the case of the Uyghurs. It is clear this comes from the power relationship between Pakistan and China.
It wasn't until a reporter pushed him on the issue at the World Economic Forum in January that he talked about Pakistan and China's 'special relationship,' as the government had helped them when Pakistan was at "rock bottom."
It is very much China's global power that has led to this overall lack of response, wishy-washy statements from politicians, and slow actions from the international community. There has been no action, just critical statements. There are moves being made in the U.S. with the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act requiring reports on the national and security threats posed by the abuses in Xinjiang and would require reports from the Secretary of State and FBI.
Human rights organisations are doing what they can, with organisations like the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China who initiated the Independent China Tribunal. They publicised the transplant abuse that was going on throughout China. In their Final Judgement and Summary report published in June 2019, they stated that "forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims," including Uyghurs. This week, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, sent an open letter to governments and genocide prevention organisations expressing their concerns about the crimes against humanity and genocide that is taking place.
So, what now? We can only hope now that these reports and tribunals are enough to put pressure on our governments to actually take action, instead of making meaningless critical statements against the Chinese government.
On an individual level we can share information on the abuses as we hear them, talk to our friends and families about them, put pressure on local government. Something as simple as boycotting the new release of Mulan, which was filmed in Xinjiang of the current abuses. Cast members have also supported the Hong Kong police in their treatment of pro-democracy protestors, which sparked the initial boycotting of the film.
Words from governments are worthless now, action is needed. Genocide after genocide, the world has not learned since the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Resources and Reading on the Uyghur Genocide: