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Politics & Security

China's Uyghur Genocide: Why is the UN Doing Nothing?

Afumetto Retepu, Chairman of the Japan Uyghur Association, calls for democracies to take concrete action against China instead of merely "expressing concern."

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A list of 2,884 detained by Beijing, compiled by the Japan Uyghur Association. Image partially edited. (From the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.)

Twenty-seven years ago, on February 5, 1997, a group of young Uyghurs staged a peaceful demonstration in the city of Ghulja (Yining in Chinese) to protest China's repressive policies. Armed Chinese police fired on the crowd to suppress the demonstration. There then followed a series of large-scale, indiscriminate arrests, with young Uyghur people disappearing from the streets of Ghulja. 

Afterward, there were many reports of detainees freezing to death, being tortured, or suffering mental problems after their release. This is what happened during and after the "Ghulja Incident." At that time, not only were methods of communication limited, but the Chinese government strictly controlled information about the event. 

Consequently, China was not subjected to severe sanctions by the international community. In fact, the very month following the incident, Japan resumed its grant aid to China, which had been frozen in principle due to China's nuclear testing.

After that, thanks to economic and technical assistance from developed countries, including Japan, China achieved dramatic economic growth. This allowed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to further consolidate its dictatorial rule. The international community should have paid proper attention to this incident and stopped lending China economic support. If it did, we might not have the colossal monster state threatening the international order we face today. 

Afumetto Retepu, the Chairman of the Japan Uyghur Association, and author of this article. (©Afumetto Retepu)

A Divided United Nations

Now, a quarter century later, in regard to the Uyghur issue, a standoff continues at the United Nations. On one side are democratic countries that share values regarding human rights. Countries on the other side have succumbed to the lure of Chinese money. 

In August 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHIR) released a report on this issue. It acknowledged that China's actions against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang "may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity." 

Nevertheless, in October of that same year, the UN Human Rights Council rejected a motion calling for discussion of the Uyghur human rights issue based on this report. The tremendous influence that China exerts on UN member states is clear. They were determined to ignore a report by an organ of the UN itself that is critical of Chinese human rights violations.

President Xi Jinping waving to the dressed up citizens of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, on July 13, 2022. (©Xinhua News Agency via Kyodo)

Stop the 'Charade'

Recently, our attention has focused on the OHCHR's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. The group regularly reviews the human rights situation in China. At its meeting held on January 23, representatives from more than 30 countries spoke about the Uyghur question. Among them, the United States condemned China's actions as genocide and Switzerland labeled them crimes against humanity.

In the end, the working group made more than 400 recommendations. However, the criticism of "genocide" was not included. Japan, which made no comment in the previous UPR, did include a mention this time. Nonetheless, these recommendations are non-binding.

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On January 23, the same day that the working group met, a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake occurred in Xinjiang. However, because communications were cut off, we have not even been able to confirm the safety of our families living in the Uyghur homeland. The CCP has even taken away our right to know whether our loved ones are alive or dead. 

It is time for the international community to abandon the charade of simply expressing concern about China's treatment of the Uyghur people. It must take concrete actions, such as imposing economic sanctions. 

About the Author

Afumetto Retepu was born in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China in 1977. He completed a master's degree at the University of Tokyo and is now a naturalized Japanese citizen.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Afumetto Retepu

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