12 Jul 2019

Text & Translation: Corinna


About nine million Uighurs live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in north-western China. The Uighurs belong to the Turkic peoples and form a Muslim minority in China. They have been fighting for their cultural and social identity for centuries. In Xinjiang, also called East Turkistan by the Uighurs, tensions, (Islamist) attacks, (peaceful) insurrections and separatist movements repeatedly occur.

Photo: David Stanley/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#cultural genocide

China is accused by the international community of committing cultural genocide against the Uighurs. Cultural genocide is when the victims are slowly and seemingly imperceptibly wiped out by, for example, destroying their livelihood, prohibiting the practice of their culture, language and religion, and depriving them of the opportunity to feed and administer themselves. Cultural destruction pursues the elimination of all institutions and characteristics of a group. This goal is often achieved by banning traditional practices such as art, literature and music, eliminating language, destroying religious institutions and attacking the intellectual elite of the group. National cultural assets, libraries, archives, museums, galleries, etc. are closed, confiscated or destroyed.

# Politics of oppression

China is pursuing an aggressive anti-terrorist policy against the Uighurs as a preventive measure against terrorism, religious extremism and separatism. The Chinese government is responding to the Uighur independence movement with massive reprisals. Since 2016 surveillance measures have been severely tightened. An enormous surveillance and police machinery has been created in the region: cars are monitored via GPS, there are roadblocks, mobile phones and the messenger service “Wechat” are routinely checked, there are cameras on every corner and the DNA data as well as biometric data of the Uighurs, such as blood group, fingerprints, iris scan and facial photos, are stored in a huge database.

The possession of the Quran is prohibited, Muslim children under the age of 18 are not allowed in the mosque, and the possession of a prayer rug is considered a sign of religious extremism. The use of Muslim symbols is forbidden to the Uighurs. In 2009, the historic old town of Kashgar, more than 2.000 years old, was almost completely demolished within a few months. The Uighur capital is considered to be the most important Islamic city in Central Asia in terms of cultural history.

In schools only Chinese is taught; the Uighur language and culture are suppressed. Uighurs are also disadvantaged on the labour market. Economic and political offices and positions are occupied almost exclusively by ethnic Han Chinese. This leads not only to a high unemployment rate among the ethnic minority, but also to tensions.

Photo: David Stanley/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#Xinjang as a massive internment camp

The United Nations estimates that approximately one million Uighurs are currently imprisoned and that the autonomous region of Xinjiang functions as a massive internment camp. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are about 100 labour camps where the Uighurs are imprisoned, abused and tortured without any legal basis. In these camps they are forced to learn Chinese, to memorize propaganda material, to sing the Chinese national anthem and to renounce their religion. Those who are not convincing will be punished with beatings or food deprivation. The Chinese government justifies this as a necessary means for peace and security. The camps are officially only education and training centres. 


# Deutschlandfunk (2018) „Politische Umerziehungslager in Xinjiang“ von Axel Dorloff. Available at: https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/uiguren-in-china-politische-umerziehungslager-in-xinjiang.724.de.html?dram%3Aarticle_id=428050 (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# DW.COM (2018) „HRW: China für Uiguren-Unterdrückung strafen“. Available at: https://www.dw.com/de/hrw-china-f%C3%BCr-uiguren-unterdr%C3%BCckung-strafen/a-45425700 (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (2009) „Menschenrechtsreport Nr. 60: Rettet Kashgar! Schatz der Seidenstraße in Gefahr – Chinas Behörden lassen Altstadt Kashgars niederreißen.“ Available at: https://www.gfbv.de/fileadmin/redaktion/Reporte_Memoranden/2009/Rettet_kashgar-MenschenrechtsreportNr.60.pdf (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# Human Rights Watch (2018) “World Report 2018” Available at: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/china-and-tibet#7934d0 (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# New York Times (2018) “U.N. Panel Confronts China Over Reports That It Holds a Million Uighurs in Camps” von Nick Cumming-Bruce. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/world/asia/china-xinjiang-un-uighurs.html (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# Süddeutsche Zeitung (2018) „Internierungslager für eine Million Uiguren“ von Christoph Giesen und Kai Strittmatter. Available at: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/china-internierungslager-fuer-eine-million-uiguren-1.4122300 (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# World Uyghur Congress (2018) “Parallel Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for the People’s Republic of China (PRC)”. Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/CHN/INT_CERD_NGO_CHN_31745_E.pdf (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# World Uyghur Congress (2018) “UN Human Rights Council Oral Statement on Uyghur ‘Re-Education’ Camps”. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRHvQFGdw3o (Accessed 21.10.2018)

# Zeit Online (2018) „Vereinte Nationen: China rechtfertigt Unterdrückung der Uiguren“. Available at: https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2018-08/vereinte-nationen-uiguren-internierung-china-reaktion (Accessed 21.10.2018)

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