Beijing is tearing hundreds of thousands of Uighur women
from their homes, and yet the West's leaders are passing silently over this new
Chinese crime and attending the Olympic Games instead.
Nicolas Sarkozy, it now transpires, will attend the opening of the Olympic
Games in Beijing. Ordinary Europeans had, like Americans, protested in large
numbers against China's crackdown in Tibet when the Olympic torch passed
through their streets earlier this year. Sarkozy had been one of the few
national leaders to criticise China loudly, and one of the few to raise the
possibility that he might boycott the Games. It seems his words will not be
followed by action.
Sarkozy and other European leaders should now explain
to the Tibetans how they can countenance attending games organised by a
regime that is repressing their rights. But the Tibetans are not the only
nationality that deserves an explanation: so too do the Uighurs, the Turkic
Muslim population of Xinjiang.
The Uighurs are relatively
little-known, but aspects of their history will be familiar to any European
who knows something of Tibet. Seized by the Chinese communist government in
1949, after five years as an independent state (the East Turkestan Republic),
Xinjiang has – like
Tibet – in past decades been subject to a massive influx of Han Chinese, a
deliberate attempt by Beijing to dilute the indigenous population, weaken the
Uighurs' distinctive culture, identity, religion and language and tie
Xinjiang more tightly to the rest of China. As in Tibet, China's sensitivity
to separatism in Xinjiang is acute. Sixty-five Uighurs are about to be tried
for "separatism" and face the death penalty. And, as in Tibet, the Chinese
authorities took extreme care to ensure that the Olympic torch relay passed
through Xinjiang with no public demonstrations.
But a new element, one not previously seen in China, is now adding
to human-rights observers' already deep worries: in a turn of events
that is paradoxical given the influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang,
the state is spurring – to use the mildest word possible – an exodus
of Uighurs from north-western China to work in factories in
This is not an exodus of choice and nor is it a mass
movement: it is coerced "transfer" – to use Beijing's own term – and solely
involves single, teenage Uighur women. Chinese authorities want "to
resettle" around 400,000 Uighur girls and young women in this manner as part
of their 11th Five-Year Plan. The policy began to be implemented in
June 2006. By March 2007, according to the Xinjiang Daily, there
had already been 240,000 transfers to China's eastern provinces.
Chinese government claims that the policy aims at "providing employment
opportunities and generating income" for the poor farming families who live
in Xinjiang, but there is no doubt that its agenda is political, its policy
selective and its methods coercive.
The true nature of the plan – and an
example of how Chinese official rhetoric moves seamlessly from faux
paternalism to overt coercion –
was demonstrated in a speech given by the head of the Communist Party in
Kashgar, Shi Dagang, in April 2007: "Transferring the rural labour force is
an all-inclusive and major policy, closely tied to the future development of
our region. Allowing the Uighurs to work elsewhere through various means is
an important step toward generating more income for the farmers and
developing the Uighur people. Whoever obstructs the Uighur public from
working in the exterior will become a criminal of Kashgar and a criminal of
the Uighur people."
There is no doubt that the crime here is Chinese
policy. In most instances, Uighur girls and their parents cannot refuse this
transfer. In order to "facilitate" large-scale transfers, Chinese officials
have admitted that they forced Uighurs to send their daughters to
China's eastern provinces because they would have been removed from
their posts if they had refused. Village officials have threatened
to confiscate farmers' land and destroy their homes. Farmers'
daughters have been threatened with the confiscation of their
resident registration cards and refusal to issue them marriage
certificates. Once in eastern China, the girls are denied the right to return
to their hometowns or to speak Uighur. (There working days are also
long and their payments irregular.)
Crimes that demand a
Such measures are human-rights abuses. We, at Human Rights
Without Frontiers, believe that the policy as a whole amounts to genocide.
The Chinese authorities are deliberately targeting Uighur women; no
Han Chinese girls are 'transferred'. The number of women affected –
over 240,000 already and 400,000 expected – is massive in absolute
terms and huge in relative terms: there are just nine million Uighurs
in Xinjiang. Beijing is quite clearly trying to change the
demographic make-up of Xinjiang by reducing the number of potential mothers
local Uighur community. In one generation alone – basing our calculation on a
continuation of the 'one family, one child' policy – there will be 400,000
fewer children of Uighur descent on both sides.
It is a moral duty of the
West and its leaders to respond to the cultural and demographic genocide
being perpetrated in the shadow of the Olympics. Instead, many leaders plan
to grandstand in the boxes reserved for dignitaries at the opening of the
Games. By doing so, they will be legitimising what they know to be a
repressive political regime that does not respect human rights, denies
freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of
religion and belief to its citizens. To that list of abuses they are
ignoring, they should add China's policies in Xinjiang.
human-rights reasons, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has
refused to attend. In so doing, he has sent a clear message to the moral
conscience of the world community: No ethics? No Olympics. Others, including
Nicolas Sarkozy (and Belgium's Prince Philippe), should heed that message –
and heed the fate of the young women of Xinjiang.
Willy Fautré is the
director of the Brussels office of Human Rights Without Frontiers.