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UN Accuses China of Uighur Rights Abuses


The UN accused China of serious human rights violations that may amount to “crimes against humanity” in a report examining a crackdown on Uighurs and other ethnic groups.


GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the leak about?
  2. Who are Uyghurs?
  3. About China’s Treatment of Uyghurs
  4. What was the build-up to the Uighur crackdown?

What is the leak about?

  • After initially denying their existence, Beijing has claimed the facilities are vocational training schools, attended voluntarily and aimed at stamping out religious extremism.
  • But the leaked documents give an insight into how leaders saw the minority population as a security threat.
  • Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.

Who are Uyghurs?

  • Uyghurs are predominately Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslims who live primarily in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. Islam came to the region in the 10th century. Prior to Islam, the Uyghurs embraced Buddhism, Shamanism, and Manicheism.
  • Uyghurs embraced Islam in 934 during the Karahanid Kingdom. Kashgar, the capital of the Kingdom, quickly became one of the major learning centers of Islam.
  • Art, the sciences, music and literature flourished as Islamic religious institutions nurtured the pursuit of an advanced culture. In this period, hundreds of world-renowned Uyghur scholars emerged.
  • Uyghurs played an important role in cultural exchanges between the East and West and developed a unique culture and civilization of their own based on Islam.

About China’s Treatment of Uyghurs

  • The Hui Muslim 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) governed the southern region of East Turkestan (named Xinjiang by the Chinese government) in 1934–1937. The administration that was set up was colonial in nature, importing Han cooks and baths, changing the Uyghur language-only street names and signs to Chinese, as well as switching carpet patterns in state-owned carpet factories from Uyghur to Han.
  • Strict surveillance and mass detentions of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang re-education camps is a part of the ongoing sinicization policy by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since 2015, it has been estimated that over a million Uyghurs have been detained in these camps. The camps were established under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s administration with the main goal of ensuring adherence to national ideology.
  • Critics of China’s treatment of Uyghurs have accused the Chinese government of propagating a policy of sinicization in Xinjiang in the 21st century, calling this policy a cultural genocide, or ethnocide, of Uyghurs.

Where is Xinjiang?

  • China’s largest region, Xinjiang, is located in its northwest.
  • It is autonomous, just as Tibet, which theoretically gives it some self-governing abilities. But in reality, the central government imposes significant limitations on both.
  • About a fifth of the cotton produced worldwide is produced in this primarily desert area.
  • It is also abundant in oil and natural gas, and Beijing views it as a key trading route due to its proximity to Central Asia and Europe.

What was the build-up to the Uighur crackdown?

  • Beginning in the 1990s, anti-Han and separatist sentiment increased in Xinjiang, occasionally erupting in violence.
  • Around 200 people lost their lives in fighting in Xinjiang in 2009, which the Chinese blamed on Uighurs seeking their own state.
  • A vast network of monitoring has been installed throughout Xinjiang, including police, checkpoints, and cameras that can scan anything from licence plates to specific faces.
  • Police are reportedly also using a mobile app to track citizen behaviour, including how much power people are consuming and how frequently they use their front door, according to Human Rights Watch.
  • There have been more crackdowns after President Xi Jinping’s directive in 2017 requiring that all religions in China have a Chinese focus.
Chinese narrative
  • According to China, the crackdown is required to stop terrorism and eradicate Islamist extremism, and the prisoner re-education camps are a useful instrument in the country’s war on terrorism.
  • It believes that Uighur extremists are planning bombings, sabotage, and civil disturbances as part of a violent drive for an independent state.
  • China denies reports that it is using mass sterilisations to lower the Uighur population and calls claims of forced labour “totally false.”


November 2023