Open Letter Calls for Investigation into Mistreatment of Uyghurs

Since 2017, says the letter, about 80,000 Uyghur people have been in “conditions that strongly indicate forced labour.”

Uyghurs learn gardening at reeducation camp vocational skills training center in Moyu County, Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang on April 29, 2019.
Uyghurs learn gardening at reeducation camp vocational skills training center in Moyu County, Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang on April 29, 2019. (photo: Azamat Imanaliev / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Fifty human rights professionals and organizations have signed an open letter calling for an investigation into crimes against humanity and potential genocide of the Uyghur people in China.

The letter, published Jan. 14, was spearheaded by the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“The international community has the responsibility to respond to these crimes and protect Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples through diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means,” said the letter. “The atrocities being perpetrated are no less egregious if they are found to constitute one international crime or another.”

The letter claims that the Chinese government, using programs they say are for the prevention of religious and political extremism, has “intensified widespread and systematic policies to repress Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples on the basis of their religious and ethnic identities.”

Over 1 million people have been in “arbitrary detention” in camps due to their religion or ethnicity, says the letter, along with being subjected to “a widespread program of political indoctrination, enforced disappearances, destruction of cultural sites, forced labour, disproportionate rates of prison incarceration, and coercive birth prevention campaigns and policies.”

Since 2017, says the letter, about 80,000 Uyghur people have been in “conditions that strongly indicate forced labour.”

The letter also points to evidence that the Chinese government is taking steps to reduce birth rates among Uyghur women, including the use of forced abortions and sterilizations. Despite being less than 2% of China’s population, 80% of IUD placements in 2018 were in Uyghur women.

“These measures meet the threshold of acts constitutive of genocide, core international crimes under the Genocide Convention, which prohibits ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births’ among an ethnic or religious group,” said the letter.

“We also believe that the Chinese government may be perpetrating the following acts prohibited under the Genocide Convention: causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

There have been many reports of Uyghur children being removed from their families, the letter states.

The 50 signatories of the letter are encouraging countries to “convene a special session at the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations taking place in the Uyghur Region and develop strategies to end these violations”’; implement new diplomatic and bilateral efforts to prevent further genocidal activity; and “independently investigate and make appropriate legal determinations regarding the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim-majority peoples in China.”

“It is our collective responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide,” says the letter.

“We must act now to prevent further atrocities against this long-persecuted group.”