The plight of the Uyghurs must be recognized as genocide by the international community and students have a responsibility to advocate for their human rights

cw: genocide

What is happening to the Uyghurs? Depending on who you ask, you will receive helpfully pedantic descriptions such as: “education,” “vocational training,” “repression,” “violent suppression,” “cultural genocide,” “postmodern genocide” and “demographic genocide.” The first two, offered as explanations by the Chinese state are fictitious to the point of absurdity. Similarly, the finger-wagging condemnations of “repression” and even “violent suppression,” while ostensibly denouncing the treatment of Uyghurs evade more significant criticisms.

Rather incomprehensibly, most accusations of genocide invariably insert a qualifier — “demographic,” “cultural” and “postmodern” — perhaps to make the charges more palatable, less alarming and less meaningful.  The fundamental question remains: is this a genocide, in the true sense of the word?

Unfortunately, previous experiences with the matter furnish us with the answer. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was signed by China in 1948, lists the actions that qualify as genocidal when they are inflicted with the intent to destroy, entirely or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. One such condition is the infliction of severe physical or mental harm on members of the group.

Since 2014, the Chinese government has routinely and arbitrarily imprisoned Uyghurs in “re-education camps” — essentially concentration camps where detainees are tortured, starved and beaten, subjected to waterboarding and electric shocks and psychologically tortured. Testimony from escaped detainees and their families can hardly fail to convince even the most dispassionate judge that such actions constitute serious physical and mental harm. This is genocide.

Under said UN convention, that should be enough to constitute genocide. However, we are fortunate enough to be supplied with enough evidence so as to be excessive in our exposition. Another condition for genocide is the undertaking of activities to prevent births within the group.

An investigation by the Associated Press revealed that Uyghur women were: forcibly implanted with an intrauterine device; underwent unwanted sterilization, abortions and pregnancy checks; were force-fed birth control pills and injected with unknown fluids; had their children removed and placed in orphanages; and were sent to camps for giving birth to multiple children.

Between 2015 and 2018, the birth rate in some ethnically Uyghur areas had plummeted more than 60 per cent. To all appearances, these actions can only be aimed at dramatically decreasing the Uyghur birth rate and ultimately reducing the size of the group until it is easily assimilable. This is genocide.

This is not to say that the charges of, say, cultural genocide are any less morally repugnant; they are simply not enough. An article first published in the Financial Times argues that our society has “fetishized” genocide as the ultimate, virtually uncommittable horror — historical memory has set the bar too high. Such a view of genocide makes possible only retrospective acknowledgment, thereby obstructing efforts at prevention.

Shall we then settle for milder, qualified accusations and hope for an equally mild response? Certainly not. What is needed now is the civic and political courage to stand behind that coda to one of humanity’s greatest failings, “Never Again,” and ensure that the genocide of the Uyghurs is recognized, terminated and prosecuted. 

University students have a long and venerable tradition as progressive champions of human rights. From the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley campus to climate change advocacy, university students have a unique cohesion and shared experience that makes organization and protest against injustices a successful weapon of change.

As the Canadian government moves towards recognizing the Chinese government’s policy as genocide, the McMaster University student body, along with other groups in Canada, have the responsibility to advocate for oppressed peoples around the globe. Letter writing campaigns, opinion pieces, protests, raising social awareness — these are all actions we can and must undertake to stop the Uyghur genocide and ensure that the “Never Again” does not happen again.

Photo C/O Tamas Munkacsi

By J., Contributor  

If you need any additional proof that the McMaster Students Union made the correct decision to revoke MSU club status for the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association, then look no further than Mac CSSA’s own lawyer.

On Nov. 3, Mac CSSA made an appeal to reverse the SRA’s de-ratification of their club, during which Mac CSSA’s lawyer revealed that “Chinese consulate officials have attended informal Mac CSSA events” and “those visits by officials were solely for the purpose of just explaining consular services … like if there’s an emergency event, contact us [the Chinese consulate]”.

This may seem benign, until you consider why Mac CSSA was de-ratified in the first place. According to Mac CSSA’s public statement, they reported Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush to the Chinese consulate after she gave a speech on campus that criticized China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims. Alarmingly, Mac CSSA later argued that Turdush’s talk was considered an “emergency event” due to “thousands of Chinese students at McMaster experiencing immense emotional distress” as a result of Turdush’s speech.

Mac CSSA does not represent all Chinese students, and their response is actually quite insulting to the Chinese students at McMaster, myself included, who instead condemn the concentration camps in Xinjiang. Additionally, I cannot imagine the emotional distress that Uyghur students at McMaster must be experiencing, as they risk potentially being reported to the genocidal regime currently destroying their people, should they dare respond to the Chinese nationalists who openly defend a government that commits genocide against Uyghur Muslims.

However, more importantly, the statements from Mac CSSA’s lawyer are clear evidence that Chinese government officials — while on McMaster’s campus — instructed students to inform them of emergency events, with an “emergency event” loosely defined to cover whatever causes “distress”, which apparently can include criticism of the Chinese government.

The reporting of Turdush’s talk to the consulate shows how these Chinese diplomats’ instructions have been successfully heeded. Given that consular officials hold an extraordinary position of power, their alleged dissemination of such instructions on campus is deeply problematic, regardless of how “informal” these visits are.

Currently, universities around the world are trying to fend off increasing interference from the Chinese government. Australia is formally investigating such interference amidst incidents which include a Chinese diplomat inciting death threats against a democracy activist at the University of Queensland. Meanwhile, the United States recently required that Chinese diplomats notify U.S. authorities prior to visiting universities. Similarly, we must also firmly respond to such intrusions on our campus, while also remaining measured.

This is not the time to vilify Chinese students at McMaster. Already, the McMaster Chinese Students Association has received crude comments on their Facebook page, even though McMaster CSA is completely unrelated to Mac CSSA. Homogenizing Chinese students at McMaster in any capacity is extremely dangerous, as it plays directly into the propaganda line of the Chinese Communist Party: that all Chinese people are united behind the CCP. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Likewise, it is equally dehumanizing to dismiss legitimate criticism as racist or anti-Chinese, as that erases the real and valid experiences of minorities who have been oppressed by the CCP. For example, last week’s article, “CSSA-gate at McMaster: The scars of exclusion”, declared that the “real test for racism, in my view, is ... in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable”. My response: tell that to the Uyghurs who are suffering in concentration camps for the high crime of not being sufficiently Han Chinese, or the visible minority students who, after Mac CSSA’s actions, became fearful of openly criticizing the Chinese government. 

I am Chinese too, and I am proud of my heritage — but I refuse to parrot the nationalism that leads some to defend the Chinese government in oppressing my people and in inflicting horrific suffering upon millions from Xinjiang to Hong Kong. That is also why I am alarmed to see Chinese diplomats interfering in campus politics by instructing students to report on vaguely-defined “emergency” events.

Moving forward, we must improve efforts to support, integrate and include students who come from countries where liberal democracy is not the norm, and where basic rights — such as those of expression, assembly and press — are alien concepts. We must also remain wary of Chinese government attempts to monitor and control students on campus, whether through diplomats or proxy organizations. 

Finally, we must remember that Chinese government interference on campus is a political problem, not a racial one. After all, ethnic Chinese voices are among those most critical of Chinese Communist Party oppression, as we are one of its main victims.


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