On September 9th, 2020, more than 100 lawmakers of the UK signed a letter addressed to the Chinese Ambassador, condemning China over the abuse of Uighur Muslims- one of the most sensitive topics of this era. China has detained around a million Uighur Muslims in their detention camps with the objective of teaching them Mandarin and vocational skills. But, the behavior of the officials in these camps indicates something entirely different. In the year 2009, a 403-page internal document of the Chinese Government was leaked. This document contains the details regarding the treatment of the community in the so-called “boarding schools”. The conditions inside these detention camps are very harsh and because of this, half of the world, including the United Nations (UN), is criticizing the actions of the Chinese Government.
According to experts, the idea of re-education camps was started in 2014 and gained strength in the year 2017. These experts contend that Uighurs have been detained in these camps since April 2017. A majority of the people have not been charged for committing even a single crime in their lifetime. Thus, this detention is not justified at all. According to media reports, these people are targeted for various reasons including travelling to any of the twenty-six countries that China considers to be sensitive, praying in mosques, or having more than three children. But, these offences are not serious. According to critics, their only offence is being a Muslim.
The matter was started during the riots of 2009 which occurred in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjing. The reason behind these riots was the Han Chinese Migration which was incentivized by the state. The protesters were mostly Uighurs and thus according to experts, this incident changed the Chinese Government’s attitude towards them. After this incident, the Chinese authorities tried to blame the Uighurs for almost every cataclysm that occurred in the region, whether it was an attack on the train station or local government offices. Moreover, the Government also feared those Uighurs who moved to Syria to fight for various militant groups. According to the Chinese Government, all those Uighurs would return to China in the future and spark violence. These incidents and thoughts of the Chinese administration resulted in the creation of re-education camps for transforming this community.
The main contention of the Chinese Government for detaining Uighur Muslims is that they hold extremist ideas which may become a threat for the Chinese Government and its integrity. President Xi Jinping in his speech in 2014 said that the tools of dictatorship should be used to eliminate Islamic Extremism. Moreover, in the year 2017, the Government introduced an anti-extremism law that prohibited the practice of keeping long beards and wearing veils. This law officially recognized the practice of re-education camps.
During 2020, re-education camps increased drastically. The size of these camps increased by 3 times in the span of only one year. With this, the expenditure on these camps also increased by almost 20 billion Yuan as compared to 2017.
Even though information related to conditions within these camps is limited, various detainees who have successfully fled the camps and China describe the conditions to be harsh. According to these accounts, detainees are forced to learn Mandarin and renounce Islam. They are also forced to pledge loyalty to the Chinese Community Party. Cameras are used to trace their each and every movement. They are tortured during interrogation as well. Women are sexually abused and forced to undergo abortions. They are forced to implant contraceptive devices against their will. Suicide is a normal phenomenon inside these camps. They are also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol which is forbidden in Islam. In short, the conditions inside these re-education camps are simply intolerable. Hence, experts are contending that the real motive behind this move of the Chinese Government is to annihilate the whole community.
The main reason given by the Chinese Government for the introduction of these re-education camps is that it will control terrorism. According to Chinese Officials, this will help in curbing the 3 evils of the world: religious extremism, separatism and terrorism. However, according to the latest release of some Chinese Documents, these camps are identified as ‘brainwashing internment centers’. This initiative of the Chinese Government violates various provisions of international human rights treaties including Article 14 of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which makes it the duty of every State party to help the victim of an act of torture in getting redress. Yet, in the case of Uighur Muslims, the State itself is torturing its citizens. This initiative also violates Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,and Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Though China has ratified all these treaties, it is still failing to uphold these provisions.
The Chinese administration is violating the human rights of the Uighur community on a massive scale solely because of the structure of its counter-terrorism law. The definition of the term ‘terrorism’ under this law is very wide, or in other words, vague. Such vague definitions are expressly restricted under the provisions of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.
The letter signed by the British lawmakers condemning the actions of the Chinese Government has once again ignited the controversy of Uighur Muslims. The act of the UK lawmakers may not improve the situation of the community, but it has brought this issue to the forefront globally. Even if currently the whole world is engaged in a fight against the deadly coronavirus, this matter must not be ignored. The actions of the Chinese Government may even cause an alarm for the UN. UN has the power, as well as the responsibility, to improve the current situation of the Uighur community. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council has the power to take necessary decisions in order to maintain peace. But before doing this, the UN prefers to send a letter of concern in these kind of cases. In case the administration of the nation does not pay any importance to the letter, the UN turns towards the provisions of Chapter VII, but only in very rare situations. The letter of concern acts as a warning to the concerned Government about the violations of the various international human rights treaties that it has ratified. This has also been seen in the controversy over Quebec’s Bill 21.
The decision of the Chinese Government to detain the Uighur Muslims is one of the most dangerous assaults on human rights in the present era. It violates various international treaties and conventions. Some critics are arguing that this step also gives an impression of the situation under Nazi Germany. Whether they are correct in saying this or not is debatable, but one thing is clear that this kind of detention of a particular community on such a large scale is fearful and must not be ignored, especially in current times when the concept of human rights has reached its peak. Various powerful organizations including the UN can play a lead role in this fight against these kinds of human rights violations. The hardships that the Uighur Muslims are facing as detainees in the camps cannot be measured; it is very harsh to force a religious person to perform activities forbidden by his religion like eating pork and drinking alcohol. In other words, we can say that the Chinese officials are trying to take away the religion of the Uighur Muslims which amounts to a form of mental torture. Thus, this situation demands the immediate attention of the whole world.
Kapil Devnani is a second-year BA. LL.B. Hons. student at Hidayatullah National Law University in Raipur, India.
Suggested citation: Kapil Devnani, Uighur Muslims: A Community on the Verge of Extinction, JURIST – Student Commentary, September 25, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/09/kapil-devnani-uighur-muslims-extinction/.
This article was prepared for publication by Akshita Tiwary, JURIST’s Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at email@example.com