To be forced out of your home, separated from your family, and placed into an internment camp with the chilling possibility of being tortured or forcibly sterilised based upon your ethnicity is the reality for over 1 million Uyghur people living in Xinjiang, China.
The Uyghurs speak a Turkic language, practice Islam, and are both geographically and ethnically closer related to Central Asian nations in contrast to the Han people, who make up most of China’s ethnic population.
In the 20th Century, Xinjiang was twice its own separate nation named East Turkistan, only to be overtaken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with the backing of Soviet Russia in 1949. More than half a century later, China still shows no sign of mercy as the regime continues to oppress the Uyghur people forcing them to renounce their identities.
The CCP has painted the Uyghurs as “terrorists and enemies” against the state, setting up internment camps craftily labelled as “vocational training centres” to keep an anchored hold over the region and away from international scrutiny.
China Researcher for Amnesty, Alkan Akad, speaks of how the CCP is trying to portray the Uyghur population to the outside world.
“The official discourse is quite concerning,” Alkan said.
“The CCP say they want to counter extremism, terrorism, and separatism, and make [Uyghurs] like “normal” people by transforming their behaviours.”
The actions undertaken by the CCP to dilute the Uyghur population and maintain their grasp over Xinjiang have remained hidden up until 2018 following the leaking of government documents.
President of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Dolkun Isa, describes how there is no excuse for China to deny their human rights abuses any longer, drawing on his own experiences with the CCP.
“Nobody noticed this issue until 2018. Today, because of international media, there is no excuse for the CCP to hide anymore. WUC is continually working with the UN, EU and other regional bodies as the main platform to raise the Uyghur atrocity.”
In March 2019, a letter addressed to the UN from the CCP was leaked requesting the United States to abandon a planned investigation into the Xinjiang region.
“The CCP say the internment camps are vocational training camps and if that’s what they are then we don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t open up these facilities to international independent investigation,” Alkan said.
The influence of China within the UN can be felt, as the CCP continues to use their political and economic powers to avoid prosecution of their crimes against humanity towards Uyghur people.
“China is a big donor to the UN which is why China’s influence has been getting stronger, undermining the UN doctrine the CCP is now trying to use their power to stop Uyghur activists from attending the UNHRC – I was kicked from the UN in 2017. China took my name to Interpol and they detained me trying to label me as a terrorist,” Mr Isa said.
The CCP’s defences have caused many nations to stay silent in acting against the treatment of Uyghur people, as nations around the globe rely on China for economically driven national interests.
The recent $5 billion Belt and Road initiative proposed by the CCP will continue to negatively affect the treatment of Uyghur people, as one of the main centre routes for the initiative is directly through Xinjiang.
“The CCP says this project is important for the future of the country, giving them another reason to eradicate Uyghur identity, the internment camps opened in 2014 when President Xi Jinping promoted Belt and Road, proving there is a link between the two,” Mr Isa said.
Alkan too describes how Xinjiang is important to China’s Belt and Road initiative, outlining the importance of this region is to the CCP.
“China wants to make the region a central part to their initiative, especially given its geopolitical position they want to “maintain stability” in the region which might be one of the reasons why they push for the elimination of ethnic dissent in Xinjiang,” Alkan said.
Organisations such as WUC and Amnesty continue to support and issue urgent actions against the oppression of Uyghur people in China, however more needs to be done among nations in placing international pressure on the CCP to stop their human rights abuses and hold them accountable.
Petition to stand against the targeting of Uyghurs in China can be accessed here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/tell-china-to-close-its-secret-reeducation-camps-for-ethnic-minorities/
World Uyghur Congress – what you can do: https://www.uyghurcongress.org/en/what-you-can-do/
Georgia is a media & communications student at the University of Melbourne and is pursuing a career in journalism. She also has a passion for foreign languages, writing and travel. She also currently works as an associate for an investment management company where she focuses on data research with input on various marketing processes.