Who Are the Uyghurs?

With only a few weeks to go before China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the world has once again shifted its focus to the plight of the Uyghur people and the human rights abuses many Uyghurs have experienced at the hands of the Chinese government.  There are more than 12 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, located in China’s northwest.  Uyghurs are primarily Muslim and share cultural and ethnic similarities with other Central Asian peoples and nations.  They speak their own language, which resembles Turkish, and make up less than half of the population of Xinjiang, China’s largest region.

China: Uighur men in a market in central Kashgar, Xinjiang Province. Photo: Pictures From History/UIG

In response to acts of terrorism, the Chinese government launched its “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism” in May 2014, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Parts of the campaign were modeled after the United States’ War on Terror efforts.  Human rights groups have reported the campaign was responsible for the detainment of more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the following years.  Those detained were frequently sent to what the Chinese government terms “re-education camps”.  The Chinese government recently claimed these camps have been closed.  Hundreds of thousands of other Uyghurs were sentenced to prison terms and human rights groups also claim Uyghurs are being used as forced labor.  Additional evidence from former detainees and human rights groups report that Uyghur women were being forcibly sterilized.  The Chinese government has denied all such claims.

China: Uighur women spinning silk, Atlas Silk Workshop (Atlas Karakhana) in Jiya Village, about 13km northeast of Khotan, Xinjiang Province. Photo: Pictures From History/UIG

The United States, among the world’s harshest critics of the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs, went so far to declare China was carrying out a genocide.  President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the genocide declaration on January 19, 2021, the Trump Administration’s final day in office.  The condemnation was supported by the incoming Biden Administration, with then incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken denouncing the Xinjiang “concentration camps” and agreeing with Pompeo’s declaration.

The Id Kah mosque is the largest mosque in China. Every Friday, it houses nearly 10,000 worshippers and may accommodate up to 20,000. The mosque was built by Saqsiz Mirza in c.1442 CE (although it incorporated older structures dating back to 996 CE) and covers 16,800 square meters. Photo: Pictures From History/UIG

Human Rights Watch has encouraged governments worldwide to join nations that have already announced a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which are set to begin on February 4.  At present, the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada have all announced diplomatic boycotts.

For more information about and how to support groups working to improve conditions for the Uyghurs in China, please visit the Uyghur Human Rights Project at https://uhrp.org/

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Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/19/break-their-lineage-break-their-roots/chinas-crimes-against-humanity-targeting#

New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/politics/trump-china-xinjiang.html by Edward Wong and Chris Buckley

BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037

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