By: Saleema Walter, MPAC Policy Intern
Recent UN report reminds the international community that more action is needed to address China’s ongoing persecution of Uyghurs
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently issued a long-awaited report on human rights violations in the Xinjiang region of China. This 48-page document details China’s persecution of Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim minority communities in Xinjiang since 2017. The findings suggest that China may have committed crimes against humanity based on the systematic abuse of Uyghurs, including reports of torture, forced sterilization, disappearances, and arbitrary detainment in “re-education camps.” The Chinese government has since responded, denouncing the allegations as “lies,’’ and declaring the report “a farce orchestrated and performed by anti-China forces in the US and other Western countries.” Regardless of China’s position, it is evident from the report that China has been attempting to erase the religious and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities under the guise of suppressing religious extremism and terrorism.
While the situation in Xinjiang has been described in a myriad of ways, such as “the Uyghur Crisis” or “China’s repression of Uyghurs,” the Trump administration took an important step forward in 2020 by acknowledging China’s persecution of Uyghurs as genocide. Following that, the former president also signed into law the Uyghur Humans Rights Policy Act of 2020, which imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. This legislation also protects US citizens and residents, including ethnic Uyghurs, from harassment and intimidation by the Chinese government. However, not every country is as eager to intervene. In June 2022, sixty-nine countries signed a statement addressed to the UN Human Rights Council stressing that Xinjiang-related issues are “China’s internal affairs,’’ and declaring that they “oppose politicization of human rights.” The issue of intervention has been a source of contention among some countries, while others, such as the United States, have already implemented concrete measures to denounce China’s actions.
The United States has essentially banned all imports from the region through its Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), signed into law by President Biden in December 2021. Similarly, in 2021, the United Kingdom announced a series of measures that imposed economic, legal, and reputational risks on businesses with links to Xinjiang. Additionally, the European Parliament adopted a resolution the following year calling for an import ban on goods produced with forced labor from entering the EU market. Through these measures, many countries have begun a greater discussion on how to systematically end all forced labor around the world.
Sadly, the horrors and systemic abuses that Uyghurs have been subjected to, are ones that Muslims around the world know all too well. In an effort to address this, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), introduced the Combating International Islamophobia Act, along with its Senate companion bill introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It has already passed in the House of Representatives and awaits passage in the Senate. Should it be signed into law by President Biden, it would establish an Envoy to specifically monitor and combat Islamophobia abroad.
We must continue to apply pressure on China as the government continues to deny allegations of its crimes against humanity and genocide. While we understand that American-China relations are nuanced, we need to draw the line somewhere. The situation in Xinjiang is only one of many instances in which Muslims are being persecuted on the basis of religion and culture around the world. Now is the time to partner with our allies around the world to establish systems to hold perpetrators accountable. By doing so, we can send a message not only to China, but also other countries with similar track records of minority persecution that violating human rights of minorities will not be tolerated.