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.

Even on the other side of the globe, students can still play a part in spreading awareness

In 2019, controversy surrounding a now-former McMaster Students Union club known as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association arose. 

The controversy began when activists came to the McMaster University campus to give a speech regarding the Uyghur Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China. McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and McMaster Muslim Students’ Association invited Rukiye Turdush, an Uyghur activist, to McMaster in February 2019.

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is a region in western China populated by a great number of Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities. Since 2017, reports of disappearances of Uyghur Muslims began and there were suspicions about those people being taken away to internment camps.

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism.

Turdush's speech sparked fury amongst some Chinese students, particularly because Turdush is considered a separatist. Several Chinese students filmed the presentation. The Washington Post directly translated group chat messages, letters, and conducted interviews with three event attendees. The Washington Post's translation confirms that some Chinese students contacted the Chinese Embassy. However, these students were acting independently and not acting on behalf of the CSSA.

Other screenshots, also translated by the Washington Post, showed that the Chinese Consulate of Toronto instructed those students to see whether university officials attended Turdush’s talk and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk.

A statement signed by various McMaster Chinese clubs and organizations, including the CSSA, further evidenced that the students had contacted the Chinese Consulate of Toronto.

Here is the statement that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at McMaster University issued after a Uighur young woman gave a talk there about the cultural genocide against Uighurs in China. H/t @ShengXue_ca for posting the original statement. My translation follows: pic.twitter.com/XSj5RT9jeL

— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) February 14, 2019

 

In September 2019, a report was submitted to the Student Representative Assembly in favour of revoking the CSSA of their club status due to a violation of Clubs Operating Policy, committing a Class C Offence under 5.1.3.

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status. Further, 5.1.4 stated that “Class C Offences will always result in a punitive sanction.”

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status.

The club was de-ratified by the MSU, stripping the club of its official club status.

In a second attempt to host a panel discussion at the university, Turdush and other experts were invited to campus once again on Sept. 27, 2019. Sara Emira is one of the students who attended the second panel. 

Emira shared that during the panel, one of the presenters, Olsi Jazexhi, recounted his experience of being invited by China to visit the camps. Jazexhi had originally believed that Western media coverage of the camps and the cruelty happening inside were untrue. However, Jazexhi was shocked by what he found during his trip to China.

“Reports that China was building internment camps and persecuting the Uyghurs seemed unbelievable . . . I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview.

"I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview

In September 2020, reports showed that China built nearly 400 internment camps. China continues to insist that the camps are meant to educate Uyghur people and that it is not a prison. While on a tour of a camp, BBC reporter, John Sudworth, spoke to a staff member.

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” asked Sudworth. 

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” said Sudworth. 

In response, the staff member said that he doesn’t know of any prison that would allow people to paint and that the camps are in fact a training centre.

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.”

In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.” In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

The subcommittee on international human rights said that they have heard from witnesses who survived the camps in China describe their experience as psychologically, physically and sexually abusive. Witnesses said they were subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the Chinese culture. 

In thinking about ways students at McMaster and in Canada, in general, can play a role in the discussion of this situation, Emira noted that it is important to begin with raising awareness and educating people.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

Aside from spreading awareness, Emira suggested that in general, people can help shed light on the Uyghur culture and keep their identity alive. 

For example, Emira shared that there are activists such as Subhi Bora who run campaigns to educate others on the Uyghur culture and help preserve Uyghur traditions. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Subhi (@subhi.bora)

“[A]s you can imagine, this is a group that wasn't really known before. News of the camps started to kind of gain traction, so I think it's definitely important to do that and to also acknowledge that there are definitely refugees here as well from these Uyghur camps and a lot of them are running small businesses and things as well. So it would be nice to see people support them financially and have these conversations with them. Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

"Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

Correction: Dec. 7, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the McMaster CSSA was de-ratified "due to failure to report ties to external organizations". The CSSA was de-ratified due to Clubs Status Operating Policy 5.1.3 for committing a Class C Offence, action(s) which endanger the safety or security of any person or property. 

 

Photo c/o Kyle West

By Nicholas Marshall, Contributor

This article has been edited as of Oct. 5, 2019

In February 2019, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the Muslim Students Association hosted an event called “The Genocide of Uyghur Muslims — Talk by Uyghur Survivor”. During this event, activist Rukiye Turdush spoke about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.

MMPJ co-presidents Batool and Elaaf, who requested to have their last names omitted from this article, explained that the event was meant to be a vehicle through which Turdush could share her experiences. Batool added that the event was also meant to raise awareness for the severe human rights abuses happening against Muslims in China.

The Turdush event came just a few months after reports were published of “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang region of north-western China, where Uyghur Muslims were being forced to abandon their religion and face abuse as detainees. In addition to reports of Mosque demolitions, the camps stand as a record of the Chinese Communist Party’s resistance against  heterodox opinions in China. 

On Feb. 13, McMaster’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association made a public statement accusing Turdush of inciting national hatred, stating that MACCSSA had contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto about Turdush’s speech. Having anticipated the subject matter of the Turdush event, a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. Student protestors filmed and protested against the Turdush event. Turdush herself was harassed. 

International CSSA organizations have either openly admitted or been proven to be affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Based on information that CSSAs at universities around the world have publicly released, the Chinese government has provided funding for individual CSSAs as incentive to populate overseas political events. For instance, the George Washington University CSSA received funding from the Chinese embassy in Washington as motivation for members to attend events welcoming President Xi Jinping to the city. 

On Sept. 22, a CSSA Evidence report was submitted to the SRA in favour of revoking the McMaster CSSA’s status. 

At this same meeting, SRA representative Simranjeet Singh delivered a presentation to the rest of the assembly called “Why We Should Revoke Club Status For The [MAC]CSSA”.

Singh’s presentation cited a 2018 report from the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report stated that CSSAs across the U.S. have governmental ties with Chinese embassies and consulates, noting that similar operations could be taking place in US-allied countries.

“The nature of the [CSSA] ties [with Chinese government] appears to involve direct subordination and political direction rather than mere affiliation or cooperation,” stated the Commission’s report.

When asked about their role in contacting the Chinese consulate following the MSA/MMPJ event, MACCSSA stated that they did not have an official relationship with the Chinese embassy. However, in a letter responding to questions from the SRA in July 2019, MACCSSA stated that they had cooperated with the Chinese embassy on issues related to cultural exchange and safety education for international students. 

The MACCSSA evidence report presented to the SRA took notice of this contradiction, alleging that the use of the word “official” was an attempt to obscure MACCSSA’s ties to the Chinese embassy. 

According to the report, MACCSSA’s failure to fully report any links outside of the MSU was in direct violation of an MSU club operating policy. The policy in question required clubs to disclose any affiliations with bodies outside of the MSU. 

As of June 19, 2019, this MSU policy now includes affiliations with political parties or governmental bodies, regardless of whether the non-MSU organization is Canadian or international.  

Singh cast MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government, which the SRA deemed to be a dangerous action, as a key detail in his decision to vote in favour of de-ratifying MACCSSA. According to Singh’s presentation to the SRA, contacting the Chinese government was an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that criticized the Chinese regime. 

During the Sept. 22 SRA meeting, a Chinese student’s testimony highlighted the lack of action from MSU representatives in response to MACCSSA’s reporting of student affairs to the Chinese government. 

“If you are privileged enough to not know what it feels like to live under an authoritarian regime — one where saying something critical of the ruling party is often enough to land you and your family in prison — then please, I implore you, please listen to those who do,” said the student.

Slides from Singh’s presentation warned: “Expert testimony, including from Human Rights Watch, has confirmed that students’ safety could have been endangered if the Chinese government … got info about them attending the MSA/MMPJ event.”

“That was enough grounds for us to decide that they are a threat to free expression on campus and may be a danger to students … We cannot normalize the extremist ideologies behind the CSSA’s actions,” said Singh. 

The SRA sided with Singh, voting to de-ratify MACCSSA and cut off the club’s access to MSU resources and services. 

Over seven months after Turdush’s initial talk, she returned to McMaster on Sept. 27 in response to an invitation from the MMPJ to speak about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. According to Batool, the event was a success, with over 100 spectators and no disruptions.

 

A previously published version of this article stated that MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government was considered an attempt by the SRA to intimidate students. This has since been corrected to state that it was considered an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that might disrupt the Chinese regime.

A previously published version of this article stated that WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose app used by members of the McMaster Chinese community. It has since been corrected to state that a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. 

A previously published version of this article stated that no evidence was provided to directly connect the CSSA with the Chinese Communist Party. This has since been removed, and evidence has been presented.

A previously published version of this article did not reference CSSA’s response to questions from the SRA. This has since been updated.

A previous version of this article stated that Turdush returned to McMaster seven months after the de-ratification. This has since been corrected to state that she returned after her initial talk.

This version of the article has been updated to differentiate between MACCSSA and CSSAs around the world.

 

 

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