Beijing has in recent years been accused of practicing collective punishment and broad crackdowns on the Uighur population in Xinjiang, which is numbered in total at 11 million (with some estimates of up to 15 million; China’s total Muslim population is at about 21 million). The minority ethnic group is also found in sizable numbers in neighboring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan.
The new UN statements come after a number of recent cases of prominent Uighur Chinese citizens and dissidents being “disappeared”.
According to Reuters:
A U.N. human rights panel said on Friday that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.
Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that another 2 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities are forced into so-called “political camps for indoctrination”.
The UN panel began its work Friday and is expected to go through Monday examining China’s human rights record. As Reuters also notes a Chinese delegation of about 50 officials present at the proceedings made no immediate comment.
Historically throughout parts of the 20th century, the strict Islamic strand of Wahhabi thought and practice has made deep inroads among the Uighurs, with a number of recent historical analysis papers documenting an uptick in Saudi money and influence in Xinjiang province in the 1990s — something which flies in the face of China’s official Communist party and ideology.
Commenting further on the UN meeting, the South China Morning Post highlighted Chinese officials’ silence concerning the growing accusations of mass Uighur internment:
Chinese delegation leader Yu Jianhua highlighted economic progress and rising living standards, among other things, but did not directly address the report on the Uygurs.
Monitoring groups say the Uygurs have been targeted in a surveillance and security campaign that has sent thousands into detention and indoctrination centers.
The initial UN statement issued from Geneva follows on the heels of a Friday New York Times report which details the case of 52-year old Uighur professor Rahile Dawut, who disappeared while traveling to Beijing sometime during or after last December. She hasn’t been heard from since.
Professor Dawut’s close friends and family members told the Times they believe she’s been secretly detained as part of the severe crackdown on the Muslim minority group. Dawut herself has become somewhat famous as an ethnographer known for chronicling the Uighur’s unique and varied historical traditions.
A fuller UN report and statements are expected next week, and it will be interesting to see both any concrete evidence that’s produced to back the significant charge of one million “disappeared” and interned persons, as well as the Chinese delegation’s response to the accusation.