Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

When we look back in revulsion at the atrocities of the past such as the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the Balkans or Rwanda we consider these events to be a product of ignorance and barbarity of their times. In all these scenarios, one group of human beings was persecuted by another simply due to a perceived ‘difference’. Yet if as we are taught in school, ‘never again’ – why are we not doing more to help when it is happening again? Why are we turning a blind eye to the systematic persecution and genocide that is taking place right now?

I am referring to the atrocity of what is happening to Uyghur Muslims in China – detention camps where human beings are being tortured, raped, brainwashed and killed because of “difference”, in an attempt to wipe out their very existence.

We may be in the middle of a pandemic, and while it is understandable that governments and the public are dealing with a lot internally, this atrocity is not a recent one. It has been three years since first reports of the camps and their acknowledgement by the United Nations. The issue has been covered by numerous Western media networks, and there is a mountain of evidence to support their existence – yet still nothing seems to have been done.

In August 2018, the United Nations reported that at least one million Uyghur Muslims had been held in “re-education centres”. That was two years ago; now it is likely that there are millions more.

The Chinese government defend the building of detention centres arguing that they are used for ‘voluntary re-education purposes to counter extremism’. This excuse conjures up similar justifications, for example with the Nazi treatment of Jews or Mao and Pol Pot’s “re-education” of the intellectual elite. Indeed, an attempt by twenty two countries who urged the Chinese government to halt its actions was  at urging hindered by a letter from 37 countries, led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, who defended the Chinese government’s actions as necessary to counter extremism. Of course, the threat of radical extremism continues to be a very real threat in our world today, but evidence from within the camps challenges the Chinese Government’s statement. A video was leaked by a young Uyghur man, who filmed himself in his room, handcuffed to his bed, with a loudspeaker in the background repeating the statement that ‘East Turkestan’ (the native home of Uyghurs) has never existed.

The name ‘East Turkestan’ is inherently political and reflects the historical debate over the region’s struggles between its place in the world, and issues over independence. This video undermines the government’s claim that these camps are voluntary, through the shocking reveal of the handcuffs, and instead reveals a prison which involves a retelling of history to suit a certain narrative.

Moreover, the recent emergence of the use of eugenics, through the enforcement of birth control on Uyghur women in order to limit the Uyghur Muslim population growth, is highly disturbing. A report from the Associated Press indicates that Uyghur Muslim women are being forced to have pregnancy tests regularly, and are subject to sterilisation, IUDs and abortions. The BBC strikingly have further uncovered evidence that population growth rates dropped in the two largest Uyghur areas by 87% between 2015 and 2018, and further in 2019.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that what is going on in China is a systematic persecution of Uyghur Muslims, involving an imposition of involuntary incarceration and indoctrination.

Determined attempts to raise awareness have been taken already: Maajid Nawaz, a British radio presenter and founder of a counter-extremism think tank, went on a five-day hunger strike to get a petition signed for the matter to be discussed in parliament.

However, it is not enough for us to condemn; it is the duty of our Government in the UK, and other United Nations, to act and intervene. We have already wasted three years; we cannot let this continue.