When reading about the worst events in human history, people often ask themselves, how did society let that happen? They often think, if they were alive at the time, they would've taken action to make sure the atrocities we read about in our history books wouldn't happen.
Six million Jews were slaughtered, tortured and killed by the Nazi regime in the mid 20th century in one of the worst and inhumane atrocities the world has ever seen. How did society let that happen for several years? Why was the anti-semitism that was rampant in Germany and across Europe not addressed head on by society?
In the 1990's, two separate instances of genocide occurred in the world, one in Bosnia and the other in Rwanda. Slobodan Milošević was the president of Yugoslavia in the 1990's and systematically tried to wipe out the Muslim population in one of the Yugoslavian states, Bosnia. His goal was to create a majority Serbian country. Luckily, there was some international intervention but three years of fighting (1992-1995) left 100,000 Bosnians dead and approximately 15,000 women raped.
In Rwanda, in 1994, Hutu guerilla fighters stormed into Rwanda and systematically began killing the other main ethnic tribe in Rwanda, the Tutsi's. Some estimates have 1 million Rwandans killed and nearly 500,000 women raped. There was little to no international intervention to prevent this attempted genocide from occurring. Do the lives of people in Africa not matter as much as those in the Americas, Europe and Asia? Why wasn't there any international involvement and how did society let this happen?
No matter when or where a genocide seems to be occurring, society seems to turn a blind eye or not address it head on before and while its happening. So for all of us who read about these horrible events in our history books and say we would do or say something to prevent these acts from happening again, why are we turning a blind eye on the slow genocide that is occurring to the Uyghurs population in China by the hands of the Chinese government?
Before we begin, please tell me how to pronounce Uyghurs
Who are the Uyghurs?
The Uyghurs are 1 of the 55 recognized ethnic minority groups in China. They are a Turkic speaking group that live throughout Central and East Asia. The largest amounts of Uyghurs in the world live in China's northwest province of Xinjiang with an estimated population that ranges from 10 to 15 million. 99% of the Uyghur population is Muslim.
What is China's largest ethnic group?
The largest ethnic group in China is Han, which is also the largest ethnic group in the world. 92% of China's population is Han Chinese with the two major languages being Mandarin and Cantonese. The Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, is almost entirely Han.
Please describe briefly the area in which the Uyghurs live and why it's important
The province of Xinjiang is a massive territory in northwest China that was discovered in the past few decades to have an immense amount of natural resources, especially oil and natural gas. The province also borders Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as well as Mongolia and Russia in the north and Pakistan and India in the south. Because of its strategic location and abundance of natural resources, the area that had always been predominantly Uyghur is now split 50/50 with people of Han origin.
How is the Chinese government treating Uyghurs?
Like every distinct ethnic group in the world, the Uyghurs have a culture that is unique to them. They are a proud people who have a culture that they have practiced and maintained for centuries. Their language is important to them. Their religion is important to them.
The Uyghurs have been reluctant to assimilate to the rest of the Han Chinese norms of China. The reluctance to learn Mandarin and assimilate to Han Chinese culture has drawn the ire of President Xi Jinping and his government.
In the last 5 years, the Chinese government has built secret concentration camps throughout Xinjiang. In total, the US State Department and other organizations throughout the world believe 1 million + Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are in concentration camps where people, according to the State Department, are "subjected to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and death."
According to leaked memos from the Chinese government obtained by various news organizations throughout the world, the goal of these camps is to eradicate Uyghurs of their cultural and religious identity and suppress behavior considered to be unpatriotic. Detainees in these camps are forced to learn Chinese and Chinese communist propaganda. They are being taught to forget their cultural norms.
These leaked memos also detailed even more disturbing programs that were designed to speed up the assimilation process. In what's being called the Pair Up and Become Family program, Uyghur women are being forced to sleep with Han men while their husbands are detained in other parts of the camp. This was actually confirmed by Chinese officials to Radio Free Asia but claimed these women were being paired with "male relatives" to promote "ethnic unity". Female survivors of the camp have claimed there are mass rapes occurring in the camps along with forced marriages.
One former detainee, Tursunay Ziyawudun, said she was injected until she stopped having her period and kicked repeatedly in the lower stomach during interrogations.
What does the Chinese government say about these camps?
For years, Beijing denied these camps existed but then backtracked and said these camps are “vocational training centers". Beijing has justified these "training centers" by calling Uyghurs a "terrorism collective". By designating the Uyghurs a "terrorism collective", the Chinese government began a massive surveillance campaign.
In Xinjiang, every 100 feet you travel, there are cameras set up monitoring every move. There are police checkpoints wherever you go. These checkpoints pop up on roads in the province. This had led to long lines with some folks being arrested on the spot. Random people are stopped on the street and are asked for identification and their electronic devices are confiscated for random checks. Other surveillance techniques includes face and voice recognition, iris scanners, DNA sampling and 3D identification imagery of Uyghurs.
How is this a genocide or how you described it earlier, a "slow" genocide?
It's 2020 and the world is interconnected like never before, China plays a huge role in international politics and trade. The Chinese government simply cannot go out and begin systematically executing ethnic minorities in their country. This genocide is by no means on the scale of what happened to the Jews across Europe in World War 2 or the Tutsi's in Rwanda but this is a long term genocide the Chinese government is executing.
It's been reported the government has implemented mandatory birth control, mass sterilization and forced abortions. Nearly 90% of the targeted women in these concentration camps have had some sort of IUD or other intrusive surgical birth prevention mechanisms done on them.
Because of these drastic measures to prevent and suppress births of a group of people, the actions taken by China officially meet one of the criteria for a genocide according to the UN.
Is the Chinese government doing this because there is Islamaphobia in China?
As mentioned earlier, the Uyghurs are Muslim and in a communist state that forbids religious freedom this is a huge driving force. But to say this is solely happening because the Uyghurs are Muslim is not true.
Xinjiang, until the 1940's, was an autonomous region sporadically at different points in time. For years, there have been factions of Uyghurs who wanted to become autonomous and break away. As demonstrated numerous times in their communist history, the government has a zero tolerance policy for those who advocate for democracy or show any disdain towards the government.
The Hui are another ethnic group in China that are predominantly Muslim. They pray and practice their religion openly and for the most part, the Chinese government leaves them alone. This is because the Hui are very close in terms of culture to Han Chinese. They speak Mandarin, aside from pork, eat the same cuisine and from all other aspects have assimilated to Han Chinese culture.
The way the Hui are treated is a stark contrast from how the Uyghur population is treated though they share the same Islamic faith.
What does the United States say about this?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had some striking and harsh words in the summer of 2019. When asked about the situation in Xinjiang, Pompeo stated "China is home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time; it is truly the stain of the century".
In a RARE bi-partisan moment in Washington, Republicans and Democrats passed a bill in May of 2020 that was signed by President Trump into law. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 passed through the House of Representatives by a vote of 413-1.
When signed, President Trump wrote "The Act holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China."
Wait, what did John Bolton write in his book about these camps?
The day President Trump signed the act into law, John Bolton, Trump's former National Security Advisor, claimed in his book, in a call with President Xi Jinping, President Trump actually agreed with Jinping on the camps. Bolton said, Trump told President Xi he supported the camps because he didn't want to derail the China Trade Agreement that was in negotiations at the time. IF these allegations are true, it means the President of the United States supported the systematic genocide of the Uyghur population.
What can the world do now?
The largest incarceration of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust is taking place and the world is watching it happen. The United States passed The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 but in reality, it's a slap on the wrist. What can the world do?
I don't know the answer to this because the sad fact is, China is such a powerful force in the world, that what can be done has to be executed in a manner that doesn't start World War 3. Nations across the world can implement sanctions like the ones against Iran that have crippled their economy. However, China's economy is so large, sanctions against them might just be a dent to their overall GDP production.
But what can be done is the US and other international organizations grow a back bone. In April of 2020, China was appointed to the UN Human Rights Council. The council’s mandate is to promote and protect human rights around the world.
Read that again.
China was appointed to the UN Human Rights Council. The same nation that has 1 million+ people in concentration camps, the same nation that denies human rights to Tibet, the same nation who doesn't recognize Taiwan, the same nation who denies Hong Kong's population the right to protest and violates their sovereignty agreement.
By enabling the Chinese government, the world, specifically the UN, is legitimizing China's human rights violations within its own borders. It's downright disrespectful to have them sit on this council.
So the next time you think how the world allowed some of the worst atrocities to occur, think about this quote from Edmund Burke:
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.