Policy Paper (4): China’s Detention of the Uyghur
In 2018, a UN human rights panel stated it had received credible reports of one million ethnic Uyghurs being held in a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region of China. The Xinjiang region is geographically strategic to China’s Belt and Road initiative, the development plan that drives its investments and infrastructural projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Uyghur, or Uighur, is a predominantly Muslim ethnic Turkic group from Central Asia. The largest concentration was to be found in Xinjiang, the region annexed by China in 1949 when Uyghurs comprised roughly three-fourths of the population. At the time, China’s majority ethnic group the Han Chinese accounted for only 6% of Xinjiang’s population. Today’s official statistics show a population made up of 42% Uyghur and 40% Han in Xinjiang, a dramatic shift attributed to migration into the region. Xinjiang’s Uyghurs are subject to surveillance, arbitrary detention, deaths in custody, forced labour, and general mistreatment. The conditions they are forced to endure if true amount to systemic violations of freedom of thought and expression, freedom of religion, and the right to due process. In this, they are not alone since other reportedly persecuted minorities in Xinjiang include the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz and Hui.
Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, has estimated two million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities as being forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the region. McDougall expressed “deep concern” at the apparent transformation of the Xinjiang autonomous region into an effective “massive internment camp” and a “no rights zone”and accused China of being responsible for human rights violations “in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability”. According to McDougall, Uyghurs, were being treated as “enemies of the state” based on their ethnic and religious identity. Although there had been previous indications of the plight of the Uyghurs, the new documentation confirmed the allegations of mistreatment, which China had denied previously.. The source responsible for release of the documents remains unclear.