The Uyghur Muslims of China
Hailing from the Central Asia region, the Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority. They are inhabiting China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang, situated in the northwestern part of the country. They are one of several Muslim minorities in Xinjiang who have been oppressed, including Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Hui.
It is estimated that over 1 million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in internment camps described by the regional government as ‘vocational training centers’ designed to carry out anti-extremist ideological education. It is believed to be the largest internment camp of ethnic-religious minority groups since World War II. The Uyghurs have been subjected to torture, forced labor, forced sterilization, institutionalized enslavement, sexual violence, and religious restrictions.
Around 11 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities constitute the autonomous region of Xinjiang bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia. The region is being controlled by the Chinese authorities since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Speaking of Uyghurs, they communicate in their own language, a Turkic language akin to Uzbek.
Xinjiang, which was once part of the ancient Silk Road trading route, is abundant in oil resources. The region drew more Han Chinese as it developed alongside the rest of China, a migration prompted by the Chinese government. Ethnic tensions arose as a result of this demographic shift, particularly in some of the larger cities.
Incessant Atrocities in the Xinjiang Region
In 2009, riots erupted in the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi, after Uyghurs protested against the government and the Han majority’s treatment of them. Amidst the riots, around 200 lives were lost and hundreds of them were injured. The Chinese authorities accused the separatist groups of the pernicious protests; a tactic to be employed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic-religious minorities in China in the near future.
The Chinese government points to sporadic terrorist attacks, growing extremism and an Uyghur independence movement as justification for the crackdown. This, in turn, has given Beijing justification for turning Xinjiang into a surveillance region. Uyghur separatists have carried out violent attacks in recent years and some of them have joined groups such as ISIS. However, there is insufficient evidence of a cohesive separatist movement, jihadist or otherwise.
Xinjiang is regarded as one of the significant logistic hubs for China’s trillion-dollar project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is projected to strengthen the country’s economic and political influence in the global context. The growing relevance of Xinjiang to China’s ambitions is one of the main reasons the Chinese government is asserting control in the province.
Uyghur-based activists argue that years of state-sponsored oppression and discrimination against the group have bolstered grass-roots opposition to the government. The world has declared that the mass atrocities committed against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China amount to genocide, a conclusion backed by a mountain of evidence and international law.
Allegations of Genocide
State parties to the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948 are liable for preventing and holding China accountable for the heinous crimes against the Uyghurs. State parties hold the responsibility of ensuring justice for the victims and ending impunity for the perpetrators in the absence of a competent international body.
According to the Genocide Convention, genocide is any of five acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part”. In addition to killing, these acts include causing serious bodily or mental harm, intentionally inflicting life conditions calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part, imposing birth-prevention measures or forcibly transferring children of the group to another one.
To say the least, the Chinese government has committed every one of these acts in its state-sponsored campaign against the Uyghurs; most of them on a systematic and widespread basis. As a result of the mass internment and imprisonment, many Uyghurs have lost their lives in detention. The only international tribunals with jurisdiction over genocide claims, namely the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), are unlikely to exercise authority anytime soon.
China does not acknowledge the ICJ’s authority over genocide issues and is not a member of the ICC. As a UN Security Council member, China has the ability to obstruct any move to send a case to the ICC or ICJ. The Uyghurs are subjected to forced sterilization and birth-prevention policies, destroying the group’s reproductive capacity.
Even though the Uyghurs account for 1.8% of China’s total population, Xinjiang held the highest net IUD placements of any other region in China in 2018. Moreover, between 2017 and 2019, the birth rate in Xinjiang fell by nearly half, a significant decline anywhere since the UN began keeping track of such data. The statistical yearbook of 2020 for Xinjiang contains no data on birth rates.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act
On December 23, 2021, the President of the United States Joe Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The Act is a bipartisan bill that aims to ensure that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang region are exempted from entering the US. The enactment of the bill is a direct response to Uyghurs and other ethnic-religious minorities groups being subjected to forced labor and other such atrocities.
Earlier in 2021, the US State Department acknowledged the atrocities committed against the Uyghurs as genocide and crimes against humanity. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act stipulates the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to use the rebuttable presumption that products “mined, produced, or manufactured entirely or partially” in the Xinjiang region are made with forced labor. The Act will become law on June 21, 2022.
If CBP concludes that an importer has satisfied these requirements, the CBP must submit a report to Congress and make it publicly available within 30 days of reaching the finding. The Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force Act of 2018 was enacted by the House of Representatives. The task group shall publish in the Federal Register by January 22, 2022, a notice asking public views on how to ensure that commodities produced entirely or partially with forced labor in China are not imported into the US.
The legislation calls for a public hearing on the use of forced labor in China as well as “possible steps” to ban the importation of forced labor commodities. Importing goods created entirely or partially with forced labor is prohibited in the US. The US intends to collaborate with Mexico and Canada in order to successfully execute Article 23.6 of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which prohibits the importation of items manufactured entirely or partially by forced labor.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act also directs the US to work vigorously to prevent, publicly condemn, and eradicate human trafficking, including forced labor across the world with the aid of diplomatic channels and multilateral institutions.
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