By Abrita Kuthumi
[Aljazeera/How Hwee Young/EPA]
As China has quickly ascended as a global power that will come to influence the world during the 21st century, the country’s ongoing human rights violation records have come into question. The Chinese government, with the leadership of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping, has taken draconian measures to control its people under the state. This has been demonstrated recently through the lockdowns and tracking devices during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this method has been praised belatedly as it narrowed Covid-19 cases in the country, it has also been criticized for impeding on people’s rights.
However, prior to the issue of Covid-19, the Uighur people living in China have been experiencing multiple violations against their human rights. The Uighurs are an ethnic minority Muslims that closely identify to the cultures and ethnicities in Central Asia. Around 11 million of them reside within the region of Xinjiang, the most northwest region in China. They are known for their agriculture and trade. Because the region is governed independently from China, they speak their own language known as Uighur, and they are ethnically and culturally different from the rest of China, the Uighurs people have sought to separate by declaring independence during the early 1900s. However, the communist state of China crushed the movement in 1949 and claimed its sovereignty over the territory.
Although an autonomous region, the policies passed from Beijing have heavily impacted Uighurs in Xinjiang. In 2014, the Chinese government banned people from fasting during Ramadan and making visits to the mosques. In 2017, Xi Jinping was even recorded making comments that directly targeted Muslims: “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation”. Beyond Islamophobic remarks and actions, the state has further abused human rights through its re-education camps, forced labor, and limited child policies.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report claiming more than 1 million Uighur Muslims were kept in re-education camps that forced them to give up their religious and ethnic identity and to pledge allegiance to the state. They were obliged to attend night schooling to study Mandarin, sing the Chinese national anthem, and follow other activities that the state demanded in the name of patriotism.
The ASPI report also noted that Uighur Muslims were being forced to work in factories to make goods for well-known global companies from the United States, Japan, Korea, and more, such as Amazon, Mitsubishi, and Samsung. They were not only being economically exploited but also dehumanized in the process as another instance came up where the US Customs found 13 tons of hair from Uighur Muslims being shipped as products.
For Uighur women, there is another story when it comes to human rights violations. The Uighur women can have two children- three if they reside in the countryside- according to the rules of the state. To police this act, the government has given authorities the power to raid homes in search for hidden children and give detention sentences if they are not adhered. To prevent the increase of Uighur population, the state regularly takes pregnancy checks, imposes intrauterine devices, sterilization, and even abortion. This has drastically waned the Uighur birth rates in Xinjiang, a place that once used to be known for its blooming population.
With all these human rights violations, the United Nations Human Rights committee has likened these events to concentration camps. The international community has denounced China’s treatment of the Uighur people. The United Kingdom called it “gross and egregious” whereas the Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented that it was “shameful”. When China takes the seat of a global superpower that can interfere and shape the course of the world, what will the nation do when other countries point fingers toward it for its human rights abuses?