In recent years, China has been making headlines: either through their lukewarm position on the invasion of Ukraine, or with their continued autocratic tendencies, perpetuated by Xi Jinping’s third apportionment (this time to the positions of President of the Popular Republic of China and Secretary-General of the Communist Party). These points come hand in hand with the blatant violation of human rights and individual freedoms that are practiced regularly by Chinese forces.
Although many groups of individuals are harassed and pursued by the Chinese government, due to their open opposition to the Chinese government the Uyghur people have suffered a particularly harsh and oppressing discrimination.
The Uyghurs are a group of Muslim Asians that inhabit the autonomous region of Xinjiang, situated in the Northeast of China. Before the Chinese revolution of 1949, the Xinjiang region attempted on two occasions to create an independent country, whose name would have been Eastern Turkmenistan. However, being an autonomous region in name alone, the Uyghur people saw the Chinese government increase their influence in the area and control all their political decisions (similar events happened in the autonomous regions of Macao and Hong Kong, where the boot of the CCP crushed all those that fought for freedom and self-determination). This, however, does not justify the hatred of the Chinese government towards the Uyghur minority.
In the eyes of Beijing, the Uyghur people have been promoting a violent campaign for independence, spreading fake news, and launching organized attacks against the Chinese presence in the region. China have used the 9/11 terrorist attacks has an excuse to link the Uyghur people to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan.
These false claims were used to justify the ethnic cleansing of the Uyghur people, which has only escalated over the years, helped by the inertia of organizations that promote human rights and self-determination.
Since 2009, the Chinese government have suppressed the teaching of the Uyghur language, the practice of their culture and the worship of the Muslim faith. This even threatens the region’s economy since this minority can’t access markets. Although the situation was already dire, in 2016 the Chinese government stepped up their oppression, with the creation of “re-education camps”, forced labor and “forced sterilization”. These measures were intended to exterminate the Uyghur population.
Even with all these atrocious actions, only in 2018 was this situation brought to light and quickly spread by the mass media, through the publication of documents that showed the genocidal actions that the Uyghur people suffered and the “political re-education camps” where they happened.
Predictably, the Chinese government has dismissed these accusations, claiming them to be nothing more than an attempt by Western powers to undermine China.
In 2019, the Chinese government publicly declared the shutdown of these “re-education centers” and the release of all the Uyghur people; this was accompanied by a massive increase in high security prisons and jails in the Xinjiang region.
Due to these inhuman actions, a report was submitted to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This report details the hundreds of human rights violations cast upon the Uyghur people, through dozens of pages, leading to sanctions that restrict American and European economic relations with China. The USA have even enforced a ban on all products originally from the Xinjiang region, in hopes of exerting economic pressure to end Uyghur slave labor.
Some of the violations submitted to the OHCHR, such as prolonged forced starvation, forced sterilization, sexual assault and many others, were in line with the criteria used to describe a genocide.
Sadly, this situation has continued to this day, without China showing any interest in stopping these actions. However, this dark situation also brings a silver lining: the fact that these human rights abuses have not been forgotten by the world or gone unpunished. Besides the still-standing sanctions on China, last October there was a motion by the Member states of UN Human Rights Council to re-open the debate on the Uyghur people’s situation. However, this motion was sadly revoked by 19 member countries that voted against and others that abstained (e.g., Brazil).
What hope is there for the Uyghur people?
Unfortunately, this is a dire scenario without any real promise of any significant improvement. Xi Jinping will continue his reign of terror without any major consequences. The Uyghur people will continue under this dire situation, forced to either abandon all that makes them Uyghur, or perish.
The Uyghur people may not be the first – or the last – group to be forced into extinction by the crushing boot of the CCP, who justify these actions under their Communist doctrine, but Western democracies must never accept or attempt to reach a middle ground with this type of ideology. If we truly represent the ideals of Liberty and Democracy, then we must never allow these types of authoritarian and genocidal regimes to strive!
This article was translated from the Portuguese by Ricardo Filipe.