Chinese Muslim Uyghurs and “Re-education” Camps

By: Edgar Cruz, September 13, 2021

There is a humanitarian crisis in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (“XUAR”) in northwest China. Numerous media outlets have reported on the plight of Uyghur Muslims, an ethnic minority group which has been the target of the Chinese Communist Party’s (“CCP”) campaign to Sinicize Xinjiang. To Sinicize is “to modify by Chinese influence.” Yet, the CCP’s approach goes beyond merely “influencing” Muslim Uyghurs to adopt the culture, language, and societal norms of the Han, the majority ethnic group in China. Countless Uyghurs have been detained against their will indefinitely in “re-education camps” without due process.

Currently, Xinjiang is under heavy surveillance by the CCP due to a history of ethnic tension there between the Uyghurs and the Hans which has led to riots. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the CCP built these “reeducation” camps to “transform the thought and behavior of Uyghurs and forcefully assimilate them into Chinese society . . . .” The CCP holds that these reeducation centers are meant to “combat separatism and Islamist militancy in the region.” The Chinese government has also framed these camps as “training” facilities where Uyghurs are taught Mandarin and job skills. The CCP even released a video demonstrating the seemingly care-free life fostered at the camps. However, testimonial evidence from former detainees paint a different picture.

A recent report by Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization that focuses on human rights, documented the stories of 55 former detainees. These testimonies allege that Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities detained at the camps are tortured physically and psychologically daily. Torture ranged from beatings, sleep deprivation, forced labor, and sexual abuse. Interviews with Uyghur women have also shed light on how China’s family-planning restrictions are enforced. Former female-detainees claim they were forced to undergo sterilization procedures, intrauterine contraceptive surgeries, and even abortions. 

Such testimonies have garnered international attention and condemnation by Amnesty International and the United Nations (“UN”). Besides these organizations, the United States and Canada have condemned China’s practices against Muslim Uyghurs as acts of “genocide.” The 1948 UN Genocide Convention’s broad definition of “genocide” includes “[c]ausing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; . . . [and] [i]mposing measures intended to prevent births within the group . . . .” Based on the evidence presented, the practices at these camps would fit the Convention’s definition. Still, the CCP dismisses allegations of crimes against humanity.

In the West, we think of education as a way of opening our minds to new ideas and learning to tolerate and respect those who believe something different than us. However, the “reeducation” centers in Xinjiang appear to be physical manifestations of close-mindedness and intolerance in the name of social policy. The testimonies of former-detainees and “clear and convincing” evidence of genocide under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention remind us that respecting other people’s culture, religion, language, and ways of life, is better policy in the name of human rights. The alternative could lead to tyranny and oppression.

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