Senior Catholic clergy from Southeast Asia have joined British religious leaders in a global call for an investigation and accountability for China’s mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The call to investigate “potential genocide” was endorsed by 76 figures, including Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Myanmar’s Yangon; Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia; the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams; and the Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of London Archbishop Angaelos.
“As religious leaders and leaders of belief-based communities, we come together to affirm human dignity for all by highlighting one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China,” read the Aug. 9 statement.
China’s three-year-old system of internment camps, believed to have held as many as 1.8 million people, “calls into question most seriously the willingness of the international community to defend universal human rights for everyone,” said the public letter.
Beijing describes the three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers” aimed at teaching job skills and steering Uyghurs away from Islamic extremism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and international media outlets, however, shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
The latest UK-led effort—spearheaded by Stop Uyghur Genocide, the World Uyghur Congress, the Coalition for Genocide Response, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews—focuses both on the camp system and everyday abuses of religious freedom in the XUAR.
“At least one million Uyghur and other Muslims in China are incarcerated in prison camps facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labor and forced organ extraction,” said the statement.
“Outside the camps, basic religious freedom is denied. Mosques are destroyed, children are separated from their families, and acts as simple as owning a Holy Quran, praying or fasting can result in arrest,” it added.
It said recent revelations of a campaign of forced sterilization and birth prevention targeting Uyghur women of childbearing age in several Uyghur-populated area – an action which “could elevate this to the level of genocide” under international law.
“The clear aim of the Chinese authorities is to eradicate the Uyghur identity,” said the open letter, which was signed by senior British Rabbis and Buddhist leaders, Muslim faith leaders, the representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe and the chief executive of Humanists UK.
“We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution,” it said.
“We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity,” the message concluded.
Benedict Rogers, an activist at CSW specializing in Asia and one of the organizers of the public letter, said the horror of the Uyghurs’ plight drew a broad-based coalition of support for the effort.
“Especially in recent weeks and months more and more evidence and information has been is coming out that has been so shocking and that really points to certainly very, very serious atrocity crimes and very, very probably genocide,” he told RFA, noting that genocide charges require a formal legal determination.
“What is happening to the Uyghurs is one of the 21st century’s most egregious atrocity crimes,” said Rogers.
Sanctions and boycotts
Rahima Mahmut, UK representative for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress advocacy group, told RFA that the WUC had launched the “Stop Uyghur Genocide” campaign to raise awareness of abuses in the XUAR and promote specific actions from Britain and the international community.
“First, we ask the UN to urgently visit East Turkestan and independently investigate China’s atrocity crimes,” she said, using the Uyghurs preferred name for their homeland in Central Asia.
“We urge the Western countries to have a unified policy approach to tackle China’s atrocity crimes and take necessary punitive measures,” Mahmut said.
The campaign wants Britain to “make the determination of genocide” in the XUAR, independently investigate atrocities, and enact policy responses including government sanctions Chinese officials and companies, like those enacted recently by the United States under Global Magnitsky laws, she said.
“Foreign companies and institutions that are aiding and abetting China’s crimes against humanity should be sanctioned,” said Mahmut, adding that all products made or tainted with Uyghur forced labor should face a boycott.
Last month, the United States leveled sanctions against several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for rights violations in Xinjiang, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, in the first time Washington had sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo.
Washington also sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp and top XPCC officials “for their connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
China’s Foreign Ministry responded with retaliatory sanctions targeting several republican lawmakers, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China advisory panel.
Reported by Nuriman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Paul Eckert.