WASHINGTON, D.C.—Accusations that the Chinese government is committing atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims have persisted for years. The ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities reside in China’s Xinjiang region and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and various groups such as Human Rights Watch, the population has been subjected to “crimes against humanity.”
Nearly 11 million Uyghurs live in Xinjiang with a distinct culture and language and are a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group.
Few around the world listened until an independent tribunal in London decided that China’s government was indeed committing genocide against Uyghurs. However, Uyghur activists and U.S. lawmakers gathered on Dec. 11 to recognize the suffering the Uyghurs continue to endure and to continue to bring attention to what they state is happening.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Uyghur American Association, and the World Uyghur Congress marked Dec. 9 as Uyghur Genocide Recognition Day. It was the second anniversary of the finding of genocide by the Uyghur Tribunal, and the 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention.
“By holding this event, we want to highlight the importance of commemorating the victims of the Uyghur genocide and honor the survivors,” said Omer Kanat, executive chairman of the World Uyghur Congress and director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. “But we must act without delay on real action, for accountability, deterrence and a practical humanitarian response.”
The remembrance was held Dec. 11 on Capitol Hill in the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Caucus Room of the U.S. House of Representatives. Uyghur activists explained the urgency in highlighting the cruelty that continues in Xinjiang as well as advocating purposeful ways to stop it.
The London tribunal’s panel of international legal experts, scholars, and representatives from non-governmental organizations examined over 500 witness statements, heard live testimonies from more than 30 witnesses, and received analysis from 40 expert witnesses. The evidence base comprised approximately 100,000 pages of documents.
Mr. Kanat explained that eyewitness accounts detailed the systematic brutality within China’s internment camps, including instances of torture and sexual violence, as well as the pervasiveness of forced labor, forced sterilization, and surveillance infrastructure in the region.
Expert witnesses at the tribunal presented evidence from internal Chinese government documents, public directives, Chinese government media releases, and analyses of government statistics.
With an abundance of evidence and a stamp of approval from the London Tribunal, Mr. Kanat is baffled as to why officials from North America, Europe, and Australia continue to engage in diplomatic exchanges with China’s President Xi Jinping.
Kelley Currie, who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, told the audience she was concerned about recent events with China. America’s CEOs “filled the room in San Francisco last month, giving Xi Jinping standing ovations” after a speech he delivered at a high-profile dinner, Ambassador Currie explained. She described the appeals for increased American engagement with a “genocidal regime” as “morally bankrupt.”
The financial services industry, she explained, “were the first ones to race back to China” and “grovel” with Chinese officials to protect their assets after the recent thaw in ties. That seemed contradictory to her while the abuse and mistreatment of Uyghurs continue at the hands of China’s government, she remarked. “It’s time for all of us to demand an end to business as usual,” she said. “It’s time that our actions become commensurate with our words.”
The crackdown on the Uyghur population started nearly a decade ago. In only his second visit to Xinjiang earlier this year, President Xi urged officials in the region to conserve “hard won social stability” and deepen efforts in controlling “illegal religious activities,” reported the U.K.-based Guardian. During his visit, the president urged officials to “more deeply promote the Sinicisation of Islam and effectively control illegal religious activities,” reported the guardian.com.
“Xi and other senior officials categorically reject the accusations, which they say are part of a Western plot to smear China. Instead, they say the policy is an anti-extremism and poverty alleviation program. However, there is overwhelming evidence that Beijing’s policies frequently target benign and everyday acts of religious observance, including the wearing of beards or studying the Qur’an,” the Guardian noted in an August 2023 article.
Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) said she had family members who defected from North to South Korea and understood the pain of many of the Uyghurs in attendance worried about family in Xinjiang who “face genocide in modern-day concentration camps.” She said recognizing the genocide was only the start of the responsibilities of people in free countries, and said Congress had to act by passing bills like the Uyghur Policy Act (HR 4785).
That bill recognizes that “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to repress the distinct Islamic, Turkic identity of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China and other areas of their habitual residence.” The bill now has dozens of co-sponsors but has failed to pass previous congressional sessions.
Rep. Kim explained that the bill would also introduce a Uyghur language program at the Foreign Service Institute, which teaches American diplomats so that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and each American Consulate in China would have Uyghur speakers available.
While the government has done some things to help, the Trump administration, on its way out the door also declared that China is committing “genocide” against Uyghurs. Activists press for more to be done. President Joe Biden continued that assessment of China and it led to strained relations between Beijing and Washington over the past three years.
—Nisa Islam Muhammad, Staff Writer; Final Call staff contributed to this report.