It has already been a year since the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination said it had credible evidence that more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and minorities in China were being held in internment camps and forced into “political camps for indoctrination”, turning the Uighur autonomous region into a “no rights zone”.
As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week, UN chief António Guterres should denounce China’s crimes against Uighurs. On Tuesday, the US led more than 30 countries in condemning what it called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Muslims in Xinjiang. Assistant secretary of state John Sullivan said the UN and its member states had “a singular responsibility to speak up when survivor after survivor recounts the horrors of state repression”.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, almost all of the major independent media outlets, and many research organisations have published reports on mass detentions, the collection of DNA, surveillance, mosque demolishment, family separation and religious persecution that China has been launching against Uighur people as a part of campaign under the name of anti-extremism.
In a time when technology connects the world, Uighurs in China cannot use smartphones and computers safely because they have been forced to install spyware on their devices. Communication, over phone or through the internet, between Uighurs in the region and their family members abroad have been cut off. People have had their passports confiscated and cannot leave.
Millions of Uighur families are separated from each other and no family has been spared. One of the most heartbreaking campaigns of the Chinese government against Uighurs is the detention of Uighur children left behind when their parents have been detained. They are sent to state-run welfare institutions or boarding schools without their parents’ consent or access, according to a recent statement from Human Rights Watch.
Yes, hundreds of thousands of Uighur children cannot see their parents, including children in my own family. I lost contact with my nine-year-old daughter for almost three years when I left China in 2017 to study in Israel. I have not been able to speak to her or her mother, my wife, who was forced to divorce me in fear of persecution. I don’t know where they are or how they are doing now.
Last year, I spoke to media about what I went through as a Uighur and Chinese authorities sentenced my brother Adil to 10 years prison. They sentenced my mother to 15 years and my three cousins to up to 10 years – all in retaliation against me for speaking the truth. Eleven children in our family are now in state-run orphanages.
But the UN chief has not said anything publicly about the lives of millions of Uighurs in the camps, the secret prisons and the rights of more than 15 million people living in open prison under a 24-hour police state system.
It is a sham for UN chief to keep silent over the fate of the entire Uighur nation, on the brick of forceful assimilation, or the lives and rights of innocent people and children when the offender is a powerful and rich country like China. It should be kept in mind that the UN belongs to and serves all people around the world regardless of their race, ethnicity, and religion.
The UN chief should take actions to force the Chinese government to end the camps, release millions of detained Uighurs, end the separation of the children from their parents, stop demolishing mosques, give people back their passports and allow them to visit other countries, and provide compensation to the families of those who have died in the camps and prisons.
History will remember the atrocities happening against Uighurs and others in East Turkistan Uighur homeland as well as what countries and people, especially UN chief Guterres did to help.
Tahir Imin Uighurian is a political science scholar and activist based in Washington.