Uighurs on brink of persecution as countries fail to hold Beijing accountable in Xinjiang

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More than a million Uighur Muslims, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group have been reportedly detained and thrown into so-called “re-education camps” by Chinese authorities. UN and other rights groups are urging China to halt the crackdown while Beijing maintains that the Uighurs are not subjected to any form of human rights violations.

Vijay Srinivas | Bengaluru

The world has not learned any lesson at a time when it marks 25 years of the Srebrenica genocide of 1995, one of the bloodiest massacres in Europe since World War-II that killed over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, as the international community fails to hold Beijing accountable for the prevalent situation in Xinjiang province.

More than a million Uighur Muslims, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group have been reportedly detained and thrown into so-called “re-education camps” by Chinese authorities. UN and other rights groups are urging China to halt the crackdown while Beijing maintains that the Uighurs are not subjected to any form of human rights violations. China has denied access for Journalists to report from these camps and has not shared any information regarding the “detention centers” in the public domain.

In a major blow to Beijing’s claims, Associated Press reported that China forced birth control on Uighur women to squelch its population. In another incident, the US Customs and Border Protection confiscated 13 tons of products made from human hair suspected to be forcefully removed from Uighurs juxtaposing with the dark events at Auschwitz. All this raises even more concerns about the ethnic group.

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Why are Uighurs detained?

Reports claim that they have been targeted for different reasons that include getting in touch with 26 countries which China considers as ‘sensitive’ nations, visiting mosques, sharing Quranic verses, and having more than three children which in simple words, for being a practicing Muslim in a communist-ruled China I extremist behaviour. According to the New York Times’s ‘The Xinjiang Papers’ report, Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned of ‘toxicity of religious extremism’ and ordered to curb it through “dictatorship” in a set of secret speeches in 2014. Particularly after the 9/11 attacks, Beijing started justifying its actions against the Uighurs.

A 2009 rioting incident in Xinjiang where 200 people were killed as clashes broke out after Uighurs protested over Han Chinese migration had changed China’s attitude towards Uighurs entirely. Several attacks that took place later were blamed on Uighurs. Beijing now thinks Uighurs could potentially be terrorists.

What is happening in the camps?

The people who have been detained have no charges against them and have no provisions to challenge their detentions legally. While the information on what’s happening inside the detention camps is very limited testimonials from those who have escaped Xinjiang describes the worse conditions prevailing there. Uighurs are subjected to “electrocution, waterboarding, physical and sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, injections of certain substances” and are continuously monitored round the clock. Some even say that they are not allowed to have a beard and fast or worship during Ramadan.

The economic factors

Beijing is concerned that any separatist activity in Xinjiang could hamper its pet project the Belt and Road initiative due to its linkage with the region. Xinjiang is also China’s hub for coal and natural gas reserves but according to rights groups the benefits of these plants are enjoyed by Han Chinese and Uighurs are mostly left high and dry. Uighurs on the other hand are forced to work in factories near detention camps and are subjected to forced labour. China aims at making Xinjiang a hub for textile manufacturing and apparel.

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A muted global response

Many countries across the world have condemned the Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang and UN groups have been demanding access to the detention centers. Trump administration recently sanctioned four Chinese firms and a regional security agency for their authoritarian actions against Uighurs. Trump’s move was truly historic but still toned down after John Bolton, the former NSA alleged that it was Trump who encouraged Xi to build mass internment camps. The eerie silence maintained by Muslim nations including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is quite astonishing. They have prioritised their economic ties with China singling out Uighurs. Turkey became the first and only Muslim nation to issue statements on Uighurs urging China to ensure “full protection of the cultural identities of Uighurs” at a UN Human Rights Council session in 2019.

In an interconnected world, if nations choose to ignore a genocide level event in the making, then it’s just not China but the entire world that would be termed complicit in history.

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