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  • Writer's pictureOvith Thiyagalingam

Uyghurs in China: Demanding Freedom for the Repressed

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

This article discusses crimes against humanity and possible genocide and may be triggering for some readers.

"On the basis of evidence heard in public, the tribunal is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China, by the imposition of measures to prevent births intended to destroy a significant part of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as such, has committed genocide."

– Uyghur Tribunal, United Kingdom

Understanding the Conflict

China faces accusations from dozens of countries and international human rights organizations of committing ongoing crimes against humanity and possible genocide against the Uyghur population and other minorities in the nation’s North-Western Xinjiang region.

About 11 to 12 million Uyghurs reportedly live in Xinjiang, speaking their own language and embracing their own unique culture and traditions, distinct from those of the Han-Chinese ethnic group who form 92% of China’s population.

China’s Uyghur minority population has suffered from decades of discrimination and crackdowns from Chinese authorities, and since 2017, an estimated 1-2 million Muslims from the Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz ethnic minorities have been rounded up and arbitrarily detained without formal legal processes in hundreds of government-sponsored internship camps in Xinjiang.

While Beijing defends the camps as anti-extremism educational and vocational training centres, detainees must reportedly denounce their traditional culture and are also subjected to inhumane treatment.

First-hand testimony accounts from Uyghurs and investigation results from both independent human rights tribunals and other international human rights organizations outline clear human rights violations and acts of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including persecution, forced imprisonment, torture, rape, enforced sterilization of Uyghur women, deportation, and enforced disappearance.

Further, the Chinese government has also committed transnational repression of Uyghurs in at least 44 other countries, in the forms of online harassment and intimidation, detention, and extradition. Amnesty International reports that over 1,500 Uyghurs living outside of China have been detained or forced to return to the country to face imprisonment and torture.

“This changes the Uyghur story by making clear that China is not only mistreating Uyghurs within China’s borders, but is also pursuing them internationally, through both legal and illegal channels, on a large scale.”

- Robert Daly, Director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute

So, is it genocide?

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), defines genocide in brief as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Evidenced by the Chinese government’s execution of the torture and killing of Uyghurs, enforced sterilization of Uyghur women, and religious and ethnic persecution and assimilation of Uyghur men, women, and children alike, genocide has been committed.

Need for Student Action

In February 2021, Canada’s House of Commons passed a non-binding motion, passed 266 to 0, declaring China’s treatment of its Uyghur population a genocide. The vote is an important symbol for both Canada’s Uyghur and international Uyghur communities.

However, Canada and all its stakeholders, including students and youth, must be accountable for furthering efforts to support Uyghurs and protect international human rights.

Not sure how to help? Here’s a few tips to get you started:

  1. Be a conscious consumer.

    1. Put pressure on brands to review their supply chains. Reports indicate that China is forcing hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities into manual labour in cotton fields.

      1. Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region

      2. A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identifies companies potentially benefitting from forced Uyghur labour.

  2. Demand Canadian power holders to stand against the Uyghur genocide.

    1. Whether you help to organize a school protest or choose to send a letter to your MP, any peaceful action to urge further government action is impactful.

      1. Consider looking at Amnesty International's letter writing toolkit for guidance.

  3. Organize presentations and fundraisers in your city.

  4. Raise awareness on social media.

  5. Support advocacy groups and campaigns.

    1. Xinjiang Victims Database

    2. Uyghur Human Rights Project

    3. Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project

Your action can help create real positive impact for Uyghurs in China, internationally, and in Canada!

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