Uighurs face human rights abuses

While China denies accusations, U.S. and U.N. officials cite forced labor camps

By Sophie Boulter and Mo Juenger, Staff Writer and World News Editor
Photo courtesy of flickr.com
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and several committees in the United Nations allege that China is committing genocide against the Uighurs.

Recent revelations of China’s treatment of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang region have prompted criticism from rights groups across the globe.

Annexed by the country in 1949 and theoretically autonomous, Xinjiang still faces major restrictions by the central government. 

The Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic group, make up approximately half of Xinjiang. A recent mass migration of Han Chinese, China’s ethnic majority, to the Xinjiang region has made some Uighurs wary that their autonomy is being threatened.

Anti-Han sentiment in Xinjiang emerged in the 1990s, causing occasional violence. Increased security has minimized dissent in recent years through the implementation of an extensive surveillance network. This network, made up of police, frequent checkpoints and facial recognition software through cameras is believed to have given officials greater authority over the Uighurs.

Recent reports and allegations against China cite forced labor, sterilization and crimes against humanity directed toward the Uighurs. According to the allegations, China has employed these actions to suppress the Uighur population. 

“Re-education camps,” which have been likened by human rights groups to concentration or detention camps, have emerged in the region. Over one million Uighurs have been detained in these camps by Chinese officials in the past several years. Satellite images show that the construction of the camps occurred between 2017 and 2018.

The images have shown watchtowers and barbed wire fences surrounding the camps. As of 2020, there are believed to be more than 380 camps in Xinjiang. 

Documents leaked to journalists in previous months, including the “China Cables,” have highlighted alleged crimes inside Xinjiang. The China Cables implied that the camps were intended to be managed like high-security prisons, dispensing strict punishments to inhabitants. 

Uighurs who have escaped the camps report physical, mental and sexual torture, including rape and forced labor. 

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken believes China is committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in the Uighur camps, though this language has been highly controversial in foreign policy groups. 

The international convention has defined genocide as the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Chinese officials said that these criticisms, as well as the use of the term “genocide” to describe their actions, are baseless. The government has denied the claims of human rights abuses voiced by various world figures.

Statements from the Chinese government have labeled the camps as “counter-terrorism” measures, adding that they aim to prevent Islamic extremism through their detention of Xinjiang Uighurs.