Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 4: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

21st Century Genocide Unchecked: Uyghur Muslim Crisis in China


According to Francesco Capotorti, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, a minority is:

“A group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, in a non-dominant position, whose members—being nationals of the State—possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language”.[1] 

Minorities, regardless of their nature exist in every inhabited land mass deemed as a nation in the world. Globalization, industrialization and colonialism among other elements have further ensured this. Minorities may either differ from the majority population greatly or very subtly. But whatever maybe the degree of distinction, it must not be the cause of disparity between the two populations in any sense. Further this uniqueness of the minority population must also not lead to their mistreatment, abuse and suppression. According to global estimation about 10 to 20 % of the world’s population account for minorities meaning 600 million to 1.2 billion[2]. Hence minority rights and their protection, promotion has been more important than ever. 

In this blog the author systematically dissects, comprehends and analyses the modern day ethnocide and genocide of a minority population in the Northwestern Xinjiang region of China, the Uyghurs. In this process she focuses on the origin, causes of these injustices and also evaluates a possible solution for the problem.


Genocide, ethnocide, minority, muslim, China, human rights.


India as a nation is known globally for its’ diverse and complex cultures. Much of this diversity is attributed to the protection and preservation of minority rights. The very spirit of existence and democratic ethos of the Indian constitution include justice, liberty and equality in every sense, particularly that of religious and linguistic minorities. Hence the constitution ensures that discrimination or abuse against the same does not go unpunished and unchecked. Among the various cultures that exist there is not one that a state or the constitution acknowledges as national, meaning that every single one of them is viewed unequivocally equal, in every respect. Besides, the constitution even provides for means of ensuring the protection of the minorities and their traditions whose welfare and rights might otherwise be impinged. Articles 12 to 35 and 36 to 51 focus on this with special emphasis for this population in articles 331, 333 334 336, 337 and 350(B). Article 26 particularly ensures the protection of religious freedom and religious rights of minorities.

However, several of these measures to enable the survival of minority communities has been possible due to a democratic system of government and a secular constitution. As against this is the plight of the Muslim minority Uyghur population in communist China. The pseudo-communist dictatorship regime has ensured little to no personal freedom and diversity. Chinese citizens do not currently have complete access to common search engines like Google, Yahoo and etc, but rather a modified and state controlled Chinese version of the same. Vital areas such as right to seek information and the right to protest have been severely curbed as seen in the case of the pro-democracy protests in Beijing and Hong-Kong. Hence this constant practice of absolute control, forceful integration and dissent suppression with no regard to the unique identity of minority communities has driven them to dwindling numbers and subjects them to several human rights abuses. This is particular seen in the case of the Uyghur population. According to a U.S. congressional advisory panel’s annual report, the treatment of Uyghur Muslims clearly amounts to “crimes against humanity.”


Essentially the Uighur or Uygur, Uyghur are a religious and linguistic minority ethnic group found in the Xinjiang region of Northwestern China in addition to being spread over several other countries globally. They are predominantly Islam with small percentages practicing Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism and speak the Turkic language of Uyghur. They are generally known to follow the Hanfi school of thought, considered one of the oldest and most liberal among the five main schools of thought in Sunni Islam. The fact that nearly 47 other ethnic minorities also harmoniously exist in Xinjiang with the Uyghur being the largest among them is a testimony to this. Genetically, they are a modern hybrid descendants of the indigenous Indo- European and Turkic tribes of Central Asia.[3] Due to their mixed racial and Islamic heritage Uyghurs have always felt and considered themselves closer to central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan among others, a few with whom they also share borders than China.[4] Most Uyghur even consider Uyghur as their native tongue and Mandarin as their second language similar to the secondary status accorded to Hindi by the Southern and Northeastern states in India.


The discord between the Uyghurs and the Chinese government dates back to the mid-fifties however the Turkic tribe kingdoms of central Asia whose descendants are the Uyghurs and several different Chinese dynasties have long been in war for many centuries. Communist statesman Mao Zedong promised the Uyghur of an independent or federated republic, like that of the Soviet Union but went back on his promise and created the Xinjiang region in 1955. Policies were launched to settle millions of Han Chinese in the region to significantly alter the demographic of the region. A 2000 survey showed that Han Chinese account for about 40% of the population. [5] Further in 1958, Zedong launched a collectivization programme which forced the Uyghur to abandon their customs, tradition and embrace a genralised Chinese culture. This programme also resulted in the massacre of thousands of Uyghur. An unaddressed unease and distrust continued for several decades with better economic and other opportunities presenting themselves only to the Han Chinese of the region. Later severe disapproval through several syringe attacks, protests, hijacks and bomb attacks were witnessed between the years 2009 to 2014 as a means of expressing revolt and dissent by the Uyghurs against governmental measures to ensure sinicization. Over the years China intensified its’ repressive policies on the Uyghur. According to experts “re-education camps” were started as early as 2014 and drastically grew in 2017. They are supposed “vocational training” camps but most escaped detainees describe tortures and harsh conditions. Besides, most persons in these camps have never been criminally charged which only further led to tensions between the community and the government.[6] Furthermore considering the 9/11 attack, China began its’ own ‘war on terror’ to curb any Uyghur revolt using it as a reason to extinguish the “extremist” religious mindset that it alleges that the Uyghur might be influenced by.[7]


The Chinese communist government has always views the unique identity of the Uyghur as straying away from the desired “Han Chinese” and as a threat to an easily controllable homogenous population it aims to create. Hence it has takes several steps to Sinicize the Uyghur through various policies and efforts that unsuccessfully conceal ethnocide and genocide. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that the US was acting against “horrific and systematic abuses” in Xinjiang. Rian Thum, a professor Loyola University in New Orleans, US states that China’s re-education system echoed some of the worst human rights violations in history.

According to the UNESCO “ethnocide means that an ethic group is denied the right to enjoy, develop and transmit its’ own culture and its’ own language, whether collectively or individually. This involves an extreme form of massive violation of human rights and, in particular, the right of ethnic groups to respect for their cultural identity.” The efforts taken by the Chinese state include measures such as banning abnormally long beards, veils, giving Islamic names to children, encouraging family planning activities despite previously exempting the rule for Uyghurs. [8] The government even went to the extent of launching “Project Beauty” in 2011, a five year, $8 million campaign to encourage Uygur women to “fashionably” show their hair and abandon scarfs and veils. [9] Building of places for religious activities, worship were also banned. Children have also been forced to learn Mandarin Chinese with little to no emphasise on Uyghur literature.[10] People have been prohibited from gathering for religious purposes and activities and undertaking fasting during Ramadan. However drastic human rights abuses and measures to sinicize began in 2014 with the establishment of “re-education” camps.

In 2017 nearly 1 to 3 million Uyghurs were arbitrarily detained with no criminal history. Chinese officials claim that these were mere “vocational training” camps but have denied entry or permission for inspection of these camps by foreign organisations, journalists, and governmental agencies.[11] As is seen in the case of an Australian news channels’ efforts to investigate the issue at Xinjiang. However, evidence summoned from different sources coupled with first-hand account of personal ordeal from survivors gives a glimpse into the dark reality. Cultural indoctrination, forced IUD’s and abortions, sterilizations, rape, organ harvesting, forced labour are a few crimes among the unspeakable list of horrors faced by the detainees. Recently Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he would not tolerate modern day slavery in the company’s supply chain indicating that Apple in the past mistakenly imported uniforms from company’s facing US sanctions over forced labour being used to make those uniforms at Xinjiang. Further China has also asked foreign ambassadors not to “interfere in the internal affairs of the country” as a defense against being questioned about the treatment of Uyghurs in the camps.

Detainees have also been forced to drink alcohol, consume pork and were prevented from washing their hands and feet as all these practices reflected their Islamic commitment. Omir Bekali, a Kazakh national says he was subject to a number of tortures such as solitary confinement, starvation for 24 hours when he resisted. Detainees were also made to chant “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!” before meals.[12] Various survivors, particularly women, who have spoken up against abuses are all now asylum seekers in neighbouring countries such as Kazakhstan and the US, Australia, etc. Gulzira Mogdyn and Rakhima Senbay have opened up about being forced to undergo abortions and receive IUD’s respectively. Their report also reveals sexual humiliation involving smearing of chili paste over the genital of female detainees and a former guard testifying through a written statement to officers sexually assaulting female detainees some as young as 14. Any such resulting pregnancies were again aborted while the she was still in camps explains Ruqiye Perhat as in her own case. Survivor Mihrigul Tursun, 29 testified before the US Congressional Executive Commission on China about her experience in the Xinjiang camp where she recalls being electrocuted and forced to chant slogans in praise of the Chinese Communist party. Hence it is observed that the abuses of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government satisfies all the five criminal activities that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines as those that constitute genocide.


The global response and measures towards the crisis has overall been quite lukewarm with only as many as 23 countries, all predominantly European and super-powers openly condemning China’s genocide of the Uyghurs at the UN General Assembly’s third Committee held in October of 2019. 2/3 of the world, largely Asia and the Middle East continues to remain silent of the entire crisis for various reasons. Fifty other countries, predominantly Muslim themselves have failed to defend their fellow Muslim Uyghur’s cause and have backed China and its’ record for meeting human right’s standards, all of whom are known to be heavily economically dependent on China along with having their own history of human rights abuses.[13] The strong economic restraint which prevents these countries from voicing open condemnation, includes huge loans borrowed and other unfavourable economic relations with China. These countries hence fear the strain of their already difficult economic equations with the country, a major global manufacturer and exporter of various products and raw materials.

The other concern is the lack of solidarity among China’s Asiatic neighbours regarding the issue. Except Japan none of the other Asian countries or their governments have openly acknowledged the genocide or voiced their condemnation, including India. This further extenuates China’s actions in terms of its’ global impact whatever the economic and geo-political reasons for the no-comment status maybe.


The first most important object to better help the situation is to increase the global concern and outrage over the issue. This means that the numerous countries that remain silent must strategically and impactfully question and condemn the genocide, together, as strength in numbers will enable even the economically and politically weaker nations to involve themselves. This process requires to be carried out through global organisations and forums like the UN, World Organisation Against Torture, Amnesty International and among others.

The second most important measure would be for India to acknowledge and condemn the crisis through official statements from the government as well as at the UN. This will ensure to embolden the countries watch of China and also send a strong rebuttal message about the recent skirmishes at the border. Further the country can also sanction China and increase the export taxes in certain areas in alliance with other countries already undertaking this such as the US for both privacy issues and snooping concerns that Chinese apps and software programmes pose for all the countries that use them.


This present day systematic genocide requires to be stopped and punished. The existence and continuation of such a blatant human rights abuse is a show of failure on the part of the international community to act, after nearly 75 years of the most horrific and traumatising massacre ever witnessed in the history of post-industrialised mankind perpetrated by the state itself. However, to meet this goal, the entire global community needs to unify itself and jointly condemn the issue. This includes those nations that choose to defend China. Strategic economic and geo-political policies are also required to pressurize and strain the Chinese government to acknowledge and own up to its’ abuse of a abused minority population and also ensure the protection and promotion of the fundamental and religious rights of the Uyghurs from here on to the world. 


[1]E/CN.4/Sub.2/384/Rev.1, para. 568.
[3] https://east-turkistan.net/about-the-uyghurs/
[4] https://www.bbc.com/new/world-asia-china-26414014
[5] https://www.bbc.com/new/world-asia-china-26414014
[6] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
[7] https://east-turkistan.net/about-the-uyghurs/
[8] https://www.reuters.com/article/china-xinjiang-int-idUSKBN1710DD
[9] https://foreinpolicy.com/2015/02/05/chinas-ban-on-islamic-veils-is-destined-to-fail/
[10] https://www.economist.com/china/2015/06/27/tongue-tied?zid=306&ah=1b164dbd43b0cb27ba0d4c3b12a5e227
[11] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
[12] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-re-education-muslims-ramadan-xinjiang-eat-pork-alcohol-communist-xi-jinping-a8357966.html
[13] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/30/countries-blast-china-un-over-xinjiang-abuses

Author: R. Nirmmita Mano, School of Excellence in Law, Tamil Nadu. 

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