The Persecution of the Uyghurs: What is Going on in China?
Aya Hafeda Staff Writer
Via Al Jazeera
Like many countries around the world, China possesses many minority ethnic groups. In 2022, the most familiar being the Turkic ethnic group: Uyghurs. About eleven million Uyghurs live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, China and are known to follow the religion of Islam.
In August 2018, a US representative at the United Nations Committee of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had received credible claims confirming the existence of one million Uyghurs in concentration camps in the city of Xinjiang, China.
According to previous concentration camp victims, Uyghurs are forced to undergo daily atrocities: rape, forceful abortions, sterilizations, physical and verbal abuse, organ harvest, invasive homestay and forced family separation, all because of their Muslim faith. On September 30th, 2022, The NY Times released an article which estimated that “around 8,500 mosques across Xinjiang had been completely demolished since 2017”. Accusations include the destruction of places of worship and tombs, targeting Muslim religious figures, banning religious books, clothing and holidays celebrations.
Just recently, on the 31st of August, 2022, the UN released a long-awaited report on the crimes China is accused of committing. This demonstrated their acknowledgement of their urgent situation following the numerous complaints on the case. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High-Commissioner of Human Rights stated that: “allegations of patterns of torture, or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.” Along with many other charges, the UN has declared that “This has included far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms in violation of international laws and standards.”
President Xi Jinping does not tolerate minorities who share values and customs that differ from the rest of the Chinese population. According to Jinping, the Uyghurs and Kazaks’ adherence to Islam and Turkic language was an issue to be dealt with. Jinping had previously forced labor onto them in urban and factory jobs in the city in order to avoid divisions such as dissimilar traditions. In 2014, the Chinese government began building various camps meant to assimilate the minor Muslim ethnic groups.
In response to the dismay the world felt with regards to the cruel treatment, the president said: “Incorporate education about a shared awareness of Chinese nationhood into education for Xinjiang cadres, youth and children, and society. Make a shared awareness of Chinese nationhood take root deep in the soul.”
In Canada, a motion to declare China’s crimes against the Uyghur population as an ethnic genocide passed 266-0,with not a single objection. This motion makes Canada the second country, after the USA, to acknowledge the present genocide in China. Furthermore, since July 1st, 2020, Canada adopted a prohibition similar to the United States that was enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency “on the importation of goods from any country produced wholly or partly by forced labor”. When employing this prohibition, Canada noted that “Canada noted that “Article 23.6 of the United States‑Mexico‑Canada Agreement establishes an obligation for each party to prohibit the importation of goods that have been produced with forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory child labour”.
In the United States, during December 2021, Congress adopted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. However, in a CNN Town Hall on February 16, when asked about his input on the situation, President Joe Biden stated that “culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow”. Many critics spoke out against his statement. Nonetheless, his secretary of state, Tony Blinken, used the term "genocide" during the confirmation of the description of the Uyghurs’ ill treatments.
The European Union has also issued a ban against work and imports from Xinjian, after Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for one. According to Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, their goal in upholding this ban is to “eliminate all products made with forced labor from the EU market, irrespective of where they have been made.” The ban has yet to come into effect.
Surprisingly, on September 13th, 2022, during the 51st session of the UN Human Rights council, 27 governments, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Egypt signed an official declaration of support to Chinese policies and condemned the UN’s report on crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs. When observing crimes against humanity, it is not unusual to feel helpless and that our involvement is in vain. However, in this situation, you can help.
There exists a non-profit organization based in Montreal called the International Support for Uyghurs (ISU) located in Lasalle, Quebec. Their organization aids the oppressed ethnic group in China by proposing helpful methods, and advocating against ill-treatments. You can help by subscribing to their organization and receiving all of the latest news, upcoming events in Montreal, as well as updates, and achievements concerning the issue. The website offers three ways to help: volunteering, donating, and raising awareness. You can also read an open letter sent to all members of Parliament, including Trudeau, inciting Canada to do more in prohibiting labor work from Xinjiang and speaking about the ongoing crisis.
According to The Business & Human Right Resource Center, 83 companies were exposed for directly or indirectly benefiting from the oppression of the Uyghur people. This included major brands such as Nike, North Face, Apple, and Zara.