Britain’s parliament called on Wednesday for the government to take action to end what lawmakers described as genocide in China’s Xinjiang region, stepping up pressure on ministers to go further in their criticism of Beijing.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government again steered clear of declaring genocide over what it says are “industrial-scale” human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang. Ministers say any decision on declaring a genocide is up to the courts.
The Chinese Government has embarked on a systematic and intentional campaign to rewrite the cultural heritage of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). It’s seeking to erode and redefine the culture of the Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking communities—stripping away any Islamic, transnational or autonomous elements—in order to render those indigenous cultural traditions subservient to the ‘Chinese nation’.
Using satellite imagery, we estimate that approximately 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang (65% of the total) have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies, mostly since 2017. An estimated 8,500 have been demolished outright, and, for the most part, the land on which those razed mosques once sat remains vacant. A further 30% of important Islamic sacred sites (shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage routes, including many protected under Chinese law) have been demolished across Xinjiang, mostly since 2017, and an additional 28% have been damaged or altered in some way.
Alongside other coercive efforts to re-engineer Uyghur social and cultural life by transforming or eliminating Uyghurs’ language, music, homes and even diets,1 the Chinese Government’s policies are actively erasing and altering key elements of their tangible cultural heritage.
Since 2014, the Chinese government has started building a massive network of internment camps or “modern high-tech surveillance prisons” across the Uyghur Autonomous Region, and media reported that some of the camps could host up to 10 thousand detainees.1 According to various estimated sources, up to three million Uyghurs and other Turkic people of Chinese citizens were kept illegally in these camps, which was claimed by Chinese authority as “Vocational Education Training Centres” with Chinese characteristics. The existence of such internment camps was first revealed by the Western academics, media, and Human Rights organizations in early spring 2017.
There is no dispute about the urgency of the “Uyghur crisis” today in China. It’s arguably one of the most severe crimes that a country has been openly committing a kind of slow-motion “genocide” against a specific ethnicity on a massive scale since the Second World War.