SEATTLE – In mid-January of 2019, the House and the Senate rallied at the injustice of a singular humanitarian crisis halfway across the world and introducing S.178, otherwise known as the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy of Act of 2019 is a bold condemnation of the human rights violations against the ethnic Turkic Muslims (Uyghur) living in Xinjiang. The Act calls for an end to the detaining, torture and harassment of the Uyghur communities in China. Specifically, the act proposes that the U.S. redirects resources to address the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in China.
The ethnic discrimination of Chinese Muslims is not a new problem. Recent decades have seen the People’s Republic of China systematically target ethnic minorities, regularly denying Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, religion and fair trial. The regional Chinese government in Xinjiang has been severely repressing these ethnic minorities by using a pretext of terrorism to excuse gross human rights violations. In particular, the “Strike Hard Against Violent Extremism” campaign has included high-tech surveillance, non-consensual collection of DNA” databases, and samples from children, facial and voice recognition software in conjunction with “predictive policing” and restrictions on where the Uyghur people can live within the Xinjiang region. There is also chilling evidence of Chinese authorities sending Muslim minorities to “political reeducation” camps.
“We’re a people destroyed,” says one Uyghur, as reported by Gene Bunin, a reporter for The Guardian who spent 18 months in China to report on the quiet ethnic cleansing. Millions of Chinese Muslims are living in fear. Over the course of a year, China has become a police-state against its own citizens, using “transformation through education” as a thinly-veiled excuse for disappearing thousands of Uyghur into concentration camps. Many in those camps never return home, as they “die after prolonged heavy labor”.
The crisis is great, so it is somewhat alarming that such a restrictive and outright genocidal regime has had such success in the Xinjiang region for over a year. However, further reports from journalists claim that authorities have used intimidation tactics to keep the Orwellian tactics quiet. Last February, four Uyghur journalists working in America learned that authorities had detained relatives living in Xinjiang to concentration camps to “punish them for their coverage”. It isn’t surprising that Uyghur citizens are afraid to speak honestly about the situation.
Moreover, officials in Xinjiang have claimed that global concern for the treatment of the Uyghur people is “unjustified”. Ailiti Saliyev, Xinjiang’s deputy foreign publicity director, even claimed that “the happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang.”
The Uyghur People and Poverty
With the increased rate of poverty among the Uyghurs in China, the so-called happiness of these people is doubtful. In China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, nearly 704,000 residents in Hotan county live below China’s poverty line. This accounts for 27 percent of impoverished Uyghurs in the entirety of Xinjiang.
According to Uyghur living in the region, the high rate of poverty among their ethnic minority is due to the local government’s failure to grant land to growing families. People living in Xinjiang rely heavily on agriculture to support themselves. However, when Xinjiang officials fail to distribute land to citizens, Uyghurs have less to eat and less to sell, which means they cannot save money, pay for electricity or pay for medical care.
The Uyghur people are suffering through one of the worst human rights violations of the century and China is not blind to how badly such revelations have been received.
Three-Year Poverty Relief Plan
One day after the United States introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019, the People’s Republic of China unveiled a three-year poverty relief plan to specifically target counties in the Xinjiang region. These anti-poverty measures will seek to lift 400,000 Xinjiang people out of poverty in 2019 alone.
Although lifting people out of poverty is an important step, it is unclear as to how Chinese officials plan to rectify the human rights crimes against the Uyghur people, if at all. The fact remains that the regional government in Xinjiang reports to the main government in Shanghai, so it is unlikely that the Chinese president and other higher officials are ignorant of the treatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China.
Perhaps pressure from the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 will continue to pressure the Chinese government into restoring the rights and freedoms of ethnic minorities in China as intended. Or perhaps U.S. officials will have to do more than simply pass a bill of condemnation to correct these gross human violations.
– Rachel Kingsley