Restoring Freedom and Independence to East Turkistan and its People

THE LIBERAL JOURNAL: Explained- Why Uyghur Muslims are trapped inside Chinese camps

The below article was published by The Liberal Journal, photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

When the world pushes you to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray – Rumi”  

Based on the accounts of the survived, bought down to their knees, through inhumane treatments, but more fierce than earlier enough to record their voices. According to the report of Amnesty International, by 108 interviews of which 55 camp survivors and several government cadres, around 1 million Uyghur community and other minorities in Xinjiang are believed to be held in internment or ‘re-education’ camps. The cruel orders and torture or ill-treatment took place as the results of daily life in the camps. There occur Human Rights issues, as the new research has revealed that the Uyghur labour is evasively being trafficked in supply chains relied on by major multinational brands, driving more global attention to Xinjiang. And Supply chain touchpoints in Xinjiang are entirely off-limits. 

Also, research by Adrian Zenz, revealed that the Chinese birth control policies, has always been tough, and the case with Uyghur Muslims is that it has been more intense with intrusive birth prevention strategies, as China eases its policies towards birth for Han Chinese, especially in Xinjiang. Between 2017 to 2019, already a 48.7% drop in the birth rate of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang as was analysed using a previously unreported cache of research produced by Chinese academics and officials on Beijing’s intent. Beijing as always has come out in open to speak only to deny the allegations. But this research and analysis have shown the intent behind the Chinese long term plan towards the Uyghurs and other minorities but the former does not show the latter’s long term population targets. The decline in numbers is extreme than seen in any other part of the world in the past 71 years of UN fertility data collection. 

The controversial issue over this matter is that, is China being soft towards its labelled terrorists, saying that the camps were “vocational training centres” designed to fight terrorism and combat Islamic Extremism? Since the 2001 September attacks and Xinjiang attacks, The People’s Republic of China has strengthened its efforts in bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism efforts, the cause of which some Uyghur separatist movements have been labelled as terrorist groups by the United Nations and US Department of State. It is important to note that there have been reports noting that thousands of Uyghurs have been noticed as fighting for ISIS in Syria. According to the lawyers interviewed by human rights groups, detainees in Xinjiang are not allowed to plead “not guilty” on terrorism charges. But the involvement of Uyghurs could have been due to the strict disputes with the Chinese. It again matters the path taken. Every government has the rights to take action against the terrorists in its region and that adheres to international law, but with respect to Xinjiang, it is solely based on the religion and culture of Uyghurs and the minority population. 

The Human Rights laws that prohibit the act of China – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR)’ Article 1 ensures the cultural rights of all the people. Article 2 prohibits discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property or birth or another status. Article 15 ensures the cultural freedom of the people. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination also provides that everyone has a right to freedom of thought conscience and religion. 

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Nations Human Rights, a UN body, speaks“More than a dozen pages of fundamental and longstanding recommendations show that China’s compliance with the UN review has been at best superficial.” Said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights watch. “China has shown no willingness to adopt the independent experts’ recommendations to eradicate torture and ill-treatment in detention. In doing so, the Chinese government rejects the core purpose of UN reviews, and deepens the pain of torture survivors.” There is also a breach of Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, which offers similar protection. 

The International Court of Justice has also stated that “the prohibition of genocide is a peremptory norm of the international law(jus cogens) and as a consequence, no derogation from it is allowed, every country is bound by it.”Oft-ambiguous wording of China’s constitution provides for religious freedoms: Article 36 expressly states that “No state organ, public organisation, or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion.”

US Global Magnitsky Act, is the bill formerly known as Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of  Law Accountability Act of 2012, since 2016, it applies “globally, and authorises the US government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, it freezes their assets, and ban them from entering the US.” Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act is a United States federal law that states  that it is “An act to condemn gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and calling for an end  to arbitrary detention torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.” Requiring various federal US government bodies to report on human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese government.  Australian Strategic Policy Institute report speaks of the Uyghurs and the forced labour. Despite this, Do the laws aim to make Islamic religion Chinese in Character? If the situation of Xinjiang has such cruel character, according to the international convention that china is a part of, or the Chinese national and state laws. Which takes precedence over the other? Irrespective, does it not speak the same?

As equivocal as Chinese culture is, and ever-changing, its laws need to follow the same trend. Article 36 of China’s constitution states that ‘no state organ, public organisation or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion, but a further proviso, has been shrewdly incorporated, which states that the state only protects normal religious practices that do not ‘disrupt public order, harm the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system of the state.’ But the reason for demolishing the buildings, mosques, sacred burial grounds, and other religious, cultural, and historical sites, claiming that the buildings were poorly constructed and unsafe, that speak of Uyghur’s heritage for Han Chinese tourists modern tastes is unknown. China’s constitution protects “places of scenic and historical interest valuable cultural monuments and relics, and other important items of China’s historical and cultural heritage” – a provision that seems to apply only to Han Chinese culture. Is it cause the tradition that the Chinese are talking of related to theirs more important than Uyghurs? Or has China muddled itself with the Chinese tradition or the maps of the civilisation used for its expansionist policy in the name of the economy? Has China moved towards the west through the notion of capitalism? 

The People’s Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic state founded jointly by the people of its ethnic groups. As of now, there are 56 ethnic groups identified and confirmed by the Central Government. As the majority of the population belongs to Han ethnic group, China’s other 55 ethnic groups are customarily referred to as the national minorities. 

Considering the geography of the ethnic groups which live together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. Either minority people can be found living in concentrated communities in areas inhabited mainly by the Hans or the other way round and the distribution pattern is caused by the influence of  China’s long history of development as ethnic groups migrated and mingled. As per China’s say, minority people live in every province, autonomous region and municipality directly under the Central government, and in most county-level units two or more ethnic groups live together. Speaking of Adherence to Equality and Unity, China speaks of equality and unity among ethnic groups, Protection of Personal Freedom, Participation in State affairs administration on an equal footing, Opposing Ethnic discrimination or oppression in any form, Respecting and protecting the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities and use and development of spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities. 

In the Xinjiang region, located on the Silk Road, The Uyghurs played an important role in “cultural exchanges between the East and the West, and developed a unique culture and civilisation of their own.” says Bhattacharya in her writing. They may have been Buddhists in the 15th century and later converted to Islam in the 8th century AD with the advent of Arabs. But in the present world, it is fundamental to maintain cultures and not force one’s culture on the other.

Speaking of language, according to China’s website, all ethnic groups have “the freedom and right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.” It is about the usage of language in judicial, political, administrative, social and educational fields. It adds, “In all political activities of the state, … documents in Mongolian, Tibetan,’ Uygur’, Kazak, Korean, Yi, and others and language interpretation to or from these languages are provided.” It is important to note in its own words is that “In the 1950s, China organised specialists to make investigations of the spoken or written languages of ethnic minorities, and established special organisations involved in work connected with the  spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities as well as institutions to research these languages, to train specialists in these languages, help minority people, create, improve or reform their written languages, and promote the use of spoken or written languages of ethnic minorities in every field.” But in the present situation, there will be a long-lasting effect of loss of culture. The men, women are being punished for speaking their native languages instead of Mandarin Chinese. And the children are being sent off to other homes, who will face a different culture altogether and the language to be spoken. 

With respect to religion and ethnicity, the 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang Ethnic Equality and Unity, reaffirming that “development and progress in Xinjiang mark the successful implementation of China’s system of ethnic regional autonomy.” The reluctance of the Chinese government in understanding the situation of the ethnic groups, and their relation to them seems perplexing. But the knowledge of the historical underpinnings of contemporary Chinese nationalism, it is that it links neiluan (domestic disturbance) with waihuan (external threat or foreign aggression) contributing to politicisation and securitisation of the Xinjiang, creating an impasse. But according to the Uyghurs, who have gained their short-lived independence twice in the context of the Chinese Civil War. One from 1931 to 1934 with the establishment of “Turkish-Islamic Republic of East Turkestan” and another from 1944 to 1949 with the creation of the “East Turkestan Republic”, producing a kind of protonation identity. 

The Chinese state in its quest for national identity and political integration, which is a continuation of Chinese imperial policy, and conceptualisation of the Chinese state as a civilisation and not a nation, has sought to uphold assimilative policies that not only seek to submerge the local identities into Chinese identity but also in the process threatens the local identities into extinction, says Abanti Bhattacharya in her writing “Conceptualising Uyghur Separatism in Chinese Nationalism”. The cultural notion of the state determined the imaginary boundary of the Chinese state. For a non-Han to become Chinese it essentially meant to accept the Chinese culture. But since Chinese culture is a Chinese state, then conversions increase their political state. It is questionable as to how people who accepted Chinese culture was regarded as a part and were hence called Chinese. Chinese culture behaves like propagation and professing of a religion, which is the reason for threat to the other communities and religion. The Chinese integral states or the autonomous region of China to be exact, is self-proclaimed autonomy under China or China proclaimed? Hence, the negotiations which precede actions, are missed. 

Separatism is the “advocacy of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental, or gender separation from the larger group.” In this case, it is ethnic separatism. According to Uyghurs, who have a government in exile supporting the “restoration of East Turkistan’s independence”, the East Turkistan Government in Exile does not consider themselves as “separatists” as according to them, “you can’t separate from something you don’t belong to.” But the half of the Muslim majority countries, on the other hand, are not condemning China’s human rights records, including Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia amongst others, according to the Chinese government. It shows the level of influence and power that China has, according to Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the DC-based Centre for Global policy. China considers separatists as terrorists, as the line between the dulled cause of the terrorist attacks, when China became an international signatory against terrorism, and the commotion that happened in Xinjiang. 

The indistinct culture, talks of autonomy system emphasised superficially on language and folklore rather than on the ‘deeper strings of ethnic identity like religions and historical traditions.” And the ethnic groups are negotiated and shaped in relation to changing social, political and economic contexts. 

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