January 15 / 2020
By: an exiled Uyghur, watching helplessly as the atrocities unfold in her homeland.
2019 has been a crucial year in the unfolding of the Uyghur crisis before the world. With more and more formerly detained Uyghurs and Kazakhs coming forward to recount their experiences in the “re-education” camps, we have come to realize the nature of the Chinese government’s “deradicalization campaign”.
In the past year, anyone who took this gross human rights violation seriously has managed to raise awareness in their own way to keep the issue in the spotlight. Social media played an important role in this. The most critical leak of the decade, 403 pages of Chinese government internal documents and memos, reveals how China’s mass detention camps work; Interviews with former detainees, technology used to achieve mass surveillance and multiple reports concerning the damage that has been done to different aspects of people’s lives.
Not long after the leak, US congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. Although this is merely symbolic, it is still seen as progress and a major victory by the many Uyghurs who have campaigned for it to happen. Just a few weeks after the passing of the Uyghur Act, Arsenal’s star midfielder Mesut Özil expressed his concerns about the oppression with his over 20 million followers on social media accounts. Inspired by Mesut, a new wave of human rights rallies took place in several cities in Turkey and Hong Kong. Just last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding that China shut down its mass detention camps in Xinjiang and called for European sanctions and the freezing of assets against the Chinese officials responsible. Just one day before this, in honour of the defence of human rights, the Sakharov Prize was awarded to Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist and rights activist who is currently serving a life sentence in prison in China on charges of separatism.
All these events are no doubt showing us the Uyghur crisis has come a long way. From the early days of struggling to raise awareness, now international organizations and governments are recognizing the grim reality. However, to date, the UN secretary-general has still not condemned China’s detention camps. Countries that were concerned with human rights have failed to come up with specific measures to counter China’s long term campaign to weaken international support for human rights. More than ever the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international order need to be strongly protected.