HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE UYGHUR COMMUNITY
The particular religious and philosophical beliefs followed by a minority group are often what differentiates them from the majority. In every part of the globe, there are certain communities or group of people that are discriminated and persecuted against their religion, race, political ideology, faith etc. For instance, in North Korea, Christians and Christians missionaries are imprisoned in labour camps, Afghanistan being a Muslim country does not recognise Christians as religious community, various Islamic countries do not acknowledge Ahmadis, Shias, Yazidi etc. as a part of Islamic group, Jews in Germany, Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan etc. Similarly, Uyghur is one of the Muslim groups that is systematically oppressed by China.
This community originally belonged Eastern Turkistan which was annexed by Qing dynasty in 1949 later known as People’s Republic of China. This community resides in Xinjiang which lies in the North-Western part of China that was declared as an autonomous region in 1955. In 1966, China launched a cultural revolution that led to the weakening of the central authority and amidst this, various protests were organised by East Turkestan People’s Party to seek independence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Turkic citizens formed their own independent states such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. But at the same time, after the Cultural Revolution in China, the power of the Communist party was restored, there was no such liberation for the Uyghur community. This led to the rise in resistance movements by various militant groups within Xinjiang and countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. Following such protests and demonstrations, Beijing issued Document 7.
Xinjiang was seen as the most serious threat against the Communist China and ‘Strike Hard’ campaign was launched against the protestors. The repression under the ‘Strike Hard’ campaign continues till the present date. The Communist country is severely threatened by the ‘Separatist movement’ for the independent state of Uyghurs and even if there is a slight suspicion of involvement in ‘illegal religious activities’, one could be detained without trial. This has resulted in violent and frequent clashes with the authorities with attacks being launched against Police or any other symbols that portray Chinese rule. Xi Jinping, who has served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and now its President, has introduced various draconian measures to tackle the Uyghur community. One of these measures is ‘Counter terrorism’ that includes Concentration camps and mass Surveillance systems.
FORCIBLE BRUTAL ACTION BY THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME
One of the main reasons behind such persecution is the political system of China. This implies that any religion as well as an ideology which recognises itself at a higher pedestal then it is considered to be a threat to the communist regime. As a result, such system with the highest power enforces political and cultural at any cost. The final goal of such state is Sinicization that is to forcefully transform all the religious and ethnic minorities to achieve its party-approved ideologies. Similarly, Xinjiang is of geo-strategic importance because of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative. Thus, China has always been of the view that it would make all the efforts so as to maintain utmost peace and security in this area.
Religious persecution of this community has taken various forms. For instance, in one of the recent findings by United Nations Human Rights Council, it was observed that the Chinese government is harvesting and selling organs of the persecuted religious minorities. Lawyer Hamid Sabi, at UN Human Rights Council presented various findings by the independent Chinese Tribunal which highlighted that the members of the Uyghur community are illegally detained and their bodies are used to maintain a bank of organs. He further stated that “Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of political conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale.” Chinese government has crossed all the limits in curbing the religious and cultural identity of the Uyghur community. In this context, Chinese government has levied many restrictions in practicing Islam with a strict control on various Islamic schools. In July 2014, certain number of government departments in Xinjiang imposed a ban on Muslim Civil servants so as to practise fasting during the holy month of Ramzan. These steps proves to be a gross violation of Article 18 under Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Similarly, many Uyghurs have been put into detention camps which is yet another horrifying story. Around eight hundred thousand to two million Uyghurs and other Muslims, including ethnic communities such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks, have been under detention camps since April 2017. These Muslims have been labelled as ‘extremists’ for practising their religion. The Chinese administration justifies their tools by saying that these steps are necessary to ensure territorial integrity and curb ‘separatist’ ideas. Some of these people been detained because they had contacted or travelled to twenty-six countries which China considers to be ‘sensitive’. Most of these people cannot challenge their detention even when they haven’t committed any crimes and at the same time, they don’t have any legal avenues regarding the same. Many detainees who have fled such camps have shared that they were forced to denounce Islam and coerced to recite Mandarin verses. Women were subjected to gender-based violence that also included sexual abuse. Some of these women also had to take contraceptives against their will and undertake abortions. Government officials first denied the camps’ existence. In 2018 the Chinese administration was quite ignorant about the presence of such camps and addressed them as centres for “vocational education and training programs.” According to a report in March 2019, these camps were officially referred as “vocational training centres”. The governor of Xinjiang Shohrat Zakir, called them as “boarding schools” that would render job skills to “trainees” who have administered themselves wilfully and. But there have been various documents that were leaked in latter part of 201. These documents portrayed the reality as the administrators made all the efforts to repress Uighurs as they were locked in camps and prohibited to leave. Chinese officials stated that these camps were organised so as to prevent violence. The aim of these camps was two-pronged. First the idea was to teach Mandarin, Chinese laws and vocational skills. Secondly, to provide an atmosphere that would help in preventing the citizens to be influenced by the extremist ideas.
Apart from such brutal action, detainees in such camps are surveilled at every moment. Mya Wang of Human Rights Watch stated that “Our research shows, for the first time, that Xinjiang police are using illegally gathered information about people’s completely lawful behaviour and using it against them.” Further she said that “The Chinese government is monitoring every aspect of people’s lives in Xinjiang, picking out those it mistrusts, and subjecting them to extra scrutiny.” It has been noted by the experts that “Xinjiang has been turned into a surveillance state that relies on cutting-edge technology to monitor millions of people.” There have been a formation of a grid-management system where cities and villages were divided with around five hundred people accommodating that place. Every square consists of a police station which is responsible to closely monitor these people through regular scanning of identification cards, obtaining their photographs and fingerprints, closely checking their cell phones and DNA collection. Simultaneously, in Kashgar that lies in the western part of Xinjiang, there is the presence of police checkpoints at every hundred yards with the insertion of facial-recognition cameras everywhere. The government also runs a programme called as ‘Physicals for All’ that collects and stores citizens’ biometric data. After collecting such information, it is eventually stored in a database known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform. This system using artificial intelligence creates a list of suspicious people. In November, 2019 International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released certain documents which disclosed that more than fifteen thousand residents were put in detention centres for seven days in June 2017. This is in violation of Right to Privacy that holds utmost importance to ensure dignity of a person. Similarly, Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” But in the given scenario, Chinese government have blatantly ignored the basic human rights of the Uyghur community.
UYGHURS FIGHTING IN THE TIMES OF COVID-19
The Chinese government did not spare the Uyghur community even in the time of pandemic. The citizens who were detained at the so called ‘re-education’ camps were forced to give their organs as the administration decided to kill them on demand to cater to the needs of the mainland China. According to reports, members of the Uyghur Community were sent to Chinese manufacturing powerhouses located in Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangzi and Zhejiang with an intention to keep the factories running despite a stringent lockdown in the entire mainland. On 22nd February, 2020 when Corona virus cases were at its peak in China, it was observed that more than 400 Uyghur youth were moved to the provinces of Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Hunan, that were already at a very high risk amidst this pandemic.
This religious and cultural genocide has definitely led to a gross violation of human rights of the Uyghur community. There is a dire need of three-pronged action, this includes a collective action by the U.N., individual states’ response and finally, the action of the international community beyond U.N. In this regard, U.S.A. has already imposed sanctions and blacklisted 28 Chinese organisations for the purchase and import of goods. Wilbur Ross who is the Secretary of department of Commerce has said on its website “the US Government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China.” But various countries have failed to criticize such steps by the Chinese administration on account of their economic relations. In this context, around 37 Asian, Latin American, African, Middle-Eastern countries, in a joint statement, have applauded their efforts to ensure human rights. These issues would remain unaddressed till the time there would be a stern action by the collective efforts of the international community. There would be a conflict of interest in ensuring the territorial sovereignty and upholding the human rights of such communities. But at the same time, U.N. cannot act submissively in view of China’s economic retaliation and would have take stern measures regarding the same.
ARTICLE BY – BHAVYA BAHL (SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA) HRDI THINK INDIA WORK FROM INTERNSHIP.