By Jaya Pathak
“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in." This quote by Eliezer Yudkowsky, an American artificial intelligence researcher, has been more widely circulated on social media than ever before due to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests all around the world. Another event which has shown us how collective responsibility is a sum of each individual effort to take accountability for our words and actions is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 2020 has been a reminder that the world is a whole lot better if we all do our bit. So it is with this mindset, that we discuss the plight and genocide of the Uighur Muslim Turkic-speaking minority in China, and have a duty to ask the question on many people’s minds: Why have the leaders of our international community stayed silent for so long? Why are they not taking action?
The Uighurs are an ethnic group predominantly based in the Xinjiang region of Western China. With a deep-rooted history, they are recognised as native to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, however, the Chinese government has rejected calling Uighurs a Chinese indigenous group. The “autonomous” region is, in practical terms, not very autonomous at all. Since 2014, the Uighurs have been affected by restricted religious and cultural freedom, arbitrary detention and invasive surveillance at the hands of the Chinese government. Examples of what the Chinese government deemed inappropriate include owning books about Uighurs, growing a beard, having a prayer rug, and refraining from smoking or drinking alcohol. This knowledge alone is enough to be aware that the Communist Party of China (CPC) are actively trying to erase the Uighurs’ cultural identity.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch referred to the unlawful “political education” centres in Xinjiang that Uighurs had been detained in, calling for the Chinese government to immediately free Uighur people from detention. In 2018, a BBC exposé released further evidence through physical satellite imagery of the rapid expansion of these internment camps. Victims were interviewed and those fortunate enough to escape have been telling the world their stories in a bid to raise awareness about what is going on. Various organisations, including the World Uighur Congress, have been trying to lobby for support in holding the CPC to account and stopping this atrocity which is unfolding right before our eyes. The CPC hit back with an attempted cover-up, calling these camps “re-education camps”, where people incarcerated are undergoing “vocational training” as well as citing threats from “three evil forces” of terrorism, extremism and separatism. In 2019, there were reports of the CPC collecting DNA from Uighurs in order to create a database to track down those who were resisting detention in the camps. In 2020, we have received some of the most harrowing information yet- a shipment of products made from human hair thought to be from the Uighur people was seized from China, as well as drone footage of Uighur people being blindfolded and bound, standing in long lines before being made to board a train. If the previous information was not enough to make it explicit about what is going on in China, then this information is going above and beyond to do so. The Chinese government are committing genocide on the Uighur ethnic minority. It is genocide by every sense of the meaning.
As individuals who have seen this footage, and who have heard the eyewitness testimonies, we must support the Uighur community and do all we can to help. News outlets and journalists, especially here in the UK, have been working tirelessly to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and share the terror with the rest of us. More recently, Andrew Marr directly asked China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom about the shocking footage of bound Uighurs being forced onto a train, even showing the footage to the Ambassador. The Ambassador’s response was shameful, completely denying the truth that is so visible to everyone. Students, bloggers and internet influencers have been playing a part too, sharing useful resources for people to educate themselves with about the Uighur genocide, and organisations here in the UK, such as other genocide prevention charities or educational centres, have all come together to say enough is enough.
So where are our leaders? Our Prime Ministers, our Presidents, our Ambassadors, our MPs, our politicians... The list goes on, but far too many of them have sat silently on each report, each reveal and each discovery that has been made over the past 4 years in particular. Many of the politicians who have platforms for the very role of speaking out and representing the concerns of the people they represent have ignored call after call for action against the CPC from the Uighur communities and their allies. Many of the same leaders, who say “never again” when we discuss past genocides and human atrocities, have ignored the terrifying echoes of the past at a time when silence cannot be an option.
Every Holocaust Memorial Day, every Cambodian Genocide Memorial Day, every Srebrenica Memorial Day, and every other Memorial Day for genocides of the past, our world leaders express their commitment to ensuring that they do everything in their power to ensure that the past does not repeat itself. Yet the significant lack of action is magnified for everyone to see and their silence is deafening. They have not done enough, and they need to do more. Society has been calling out for justice for the Uighurs and to stop this genocide from continuing any further. Action needs to be taken at every possible second that it can, so that the international community, the United Nations, and so many more come together to stand up for what is right.
When actions are needed, moral condemnation is not enough. When the rest of society is coming together, each individual using their voice and their right of responsibility to say ‘enough is enough’ is not good enough for our leaders to not do the same. In a world where our leaders boast great rhetoric about “standing up” to tyranny, or “putting [their] foot down” when lines are crossed, little action is taken by the very people who should be taking action. Our leaders need to understand their sense of responsibility, the importance of their elected roles and how it contributes to the collective efforts of humanity to show some resolve and to be on the right side of history. It is with this hope that they understand how much power there is in unity so that the international community will be able to stand side by side with the Uighurs and hold the perpetrators of this genocide to account.
To see what is happening right before us, and to not say anything, is to be complicit. When generations look back at this time in history, it is with the hope that they can say that we did our best to change the course of history for the Uighurs. If there was a time to realise this, then surely it would be now, in 2020, after everything that has happened already?
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.