The Uyghur people have lived in the northwest corner of China, a region known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for generations. They have lived alongside members of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz communities, all of whom are ethnically Turkic and many of whom, like the Uyghurs, are Muslim.
Over the years, the Chinese government has tried to take over this land, handing economic power to those of the Han community, and eliminating any power the minority Muslim communities enjoyed. The Chinese government’s campaign of discrimination against these communities has a long history and began to escalate in 2012. Following the 9/11attacks in the U.S., China claimed that it too was a target for global terrorism. Between 2012-2017, China doubled its spending for domestic security nationwide, and tripled it in Xinjiang. Thus began a new and more concentrated campaign to crush Uyghur identity.
What • Eradicated Uyghur Identity
What • 2012 – Present
Location • Xinjiang Region of China
Estimated Dead • Unknown
Displaced Persons • More than one million as of 2021
Following an attack by a group of Uyghurs at a railway station in 2014 where 14 people were killed, the Chinese government launched a “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign. This was directed squarely at the Xinjiang’s Uyghur community and other Turkic Muslim populations. They became the focus of a mass government surveillance program, with state-of-the-art video and audio technology recording their every move and targeting anyone sharing messages, texts and other information that didn’t promote “ethnic unity.” Once on the government’s radar for these offenses, citizens were rounded up, arrested, harassed, or disappeared.
By 2016, China’s President Xi Jinping stepped up his clamp down and put Quanguo Chen in charge of “party security” in Xinjiang. Chen had already been Xi’s choice to control dissent in Tibet and elsewhere and was known for his ruthless tactics. Eleven million Uyghurs make up nearly 50% of the population of Xinjiang. According to Human Rights Watch, arrests in Xinjiang in 2017 accounted for 21.5% of all arrests in China, while the population of the region makes up only 1.5% of China’s population. The Chinese government has continued its program of arbitrary arrests, cultural and religious erasure, family separation, controlled movement, torture, forced disappearances, forced sterilization, forced labor and imprisonment.
By 2021, more than 90 new prison compounds were filled with an estimated one million-plus people—mostly Uyghurs as well as other predominately Muslim minorities from Xinjiang. Xi’s government calls these (re-)education and job training centers, but former prisoners, NGOs and other trained observers say these are basically concentration camps, where those being held are brainwashed, beaten, tortured, forcibly sterilized, some even killed as part of the government’s plan to systematically “cleanse” a population.
The Chinese government maintains it is merely fighting terrorism and extremism in the region, but the evidence is clear and growing that this is not the case. The international community has been slow to act, with no official investigations launched through the United Nations or International Criminal Court, but citizens and business owners around the world are starting to put financial pressure on the country.