Stand with Uyghur Muslims

Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

Missing persons. Desecration of religious monuments. Experimentation on children. Brainwashing. These are all warning signs of minority persecution that the 1930s and 40s taught us to look for.

But this isn’t Nazi Germany. This is modern-day China, and Uyghur Muslims are the target.

For several years, China has been interning Uyghur people in camps with the purpose of ‘re-education,’ claiming that the camps were schools. More recently, however, it has become evident that these camps are a clear violation of human rights, and the detainment of the Uyghur Muslims is involuntary and inhumane.

CNN estimates that as many as two million Uyghur Muslims are currently detained in camps in Western China. The conditions are awful, and brainwashing is rampant, says BBC. And while the Chinese government claims these camps are schools, their policies indicate otherwise. A leaked Chinese memo urged camp staff to promote heavy security, controlling every aspect of detainees’ lives. 

Recent evidence has even shown that the Chinese government could be illegally harvesting detainees’ organs for transplants. China’s transplant market produces about $1 billion a year, says NBC, and much of that is illegal.

And yet, while several countries have issued statements against the Chinese internment camps, not one of them has actually taken real action against China.

These camps are a clear violation of human rights in so many ways. So why is no one doing anything about it?

In July, 22 countries, including the US and several other global powers, wrote a letter condemning the interning of Uyghur Muslims. They urged China to stop these practices.

But this letter was not addressed to China. Instead, it was intended for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Its authors begged her to take action, but their efforts did not have any direct consequences on China.

Since China became a modern global power with the rise of the Communist Party in the twentieth century, other global powers have been reluctant to take a stand against them. It’s true that China has a massive influence on the global economy; without them, many countries would lose their main trading asset and with it a whole lot of money.

Large countries that rely heavily on China for trade often tiptoe around Chinese issues, no matter how pressing. China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, for example, so while Taiwan functions as an independent country, only 14 out of 193 countries in the UN recognize it as one. The same goes for the concentration camps: nations don’t want to get on China’s bad side.

But the US could take that risk. Because of the sheer size of our economy and military, we have the power to stand up to China. And if we take our stand, others will be quick to follow. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to know when to intervene in foreign affairs. We have a complicated history with foreign involvement; often, it goes well, sometimes not. But it’s undeniable that freedom of speech and freedom to practice your religion are not only American rights, but human rights, and the United States has established itself as a leader in defending them.

If the US were to take drastic action such as suspending Chinese investments and trade, other countries would follow. And if the whole world stands up to China, China will have no choice but to eliminate the concentration camps.

About two million people are currently in captivity, and no country is doing anything concrete to stop it. By taking action, the US would lead other countries to do the same. 

This is no longer a question of maintaining impeccable relations with China. It is a question of whether we’ll be on the right side of history. More importantly, it’s a question of maintaining basic human rights and justice for an unfairly oppressed minority group, the Uyghur Muslims.