The Internment Camps of Xianjing
Over and over, in cases of human rights violations, we have found ourselves uttering the words “never again.” Never again, we have told ourselves, would we allow innocent people to be oppressed, and systematically targeted by a government solely because of their identities. Yet, since 2014, China has implemented Xinjiang re-education camps (referred to by the government of the People’s Republic of China as Vocational Education and Training Centers.) These are concentration camps that have been operated by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional government for the purpose of interning Uyghur Muslims, a minority Turkic ethnic group. According to the U.S. Government, about 10% of the Uyghur population of Xinjiang is currently imprisoned in these camps.
The Chinese Communist Party says that these centers are a crucial part of the effort to counter terror, extremism, and separatism. It has been said that the centers are maintained to counter “thoughts of terrorism,” according to Bu’ayixiemu Abulizi, director of the Moyu County Vocational Education and Training Center in Xinjiang. He says that the goal of the camps is “to prevent terrorism thoughts from happening,” so that the government can prevent “riots and other issues.”
The flimsy explanations and justifications for these camps provided by Xinjiang government officials have acknowledged the fact that they simply target all members of a certain religion that they have associated with terrorism. The belief is that all members from this religion are terrorists, so even from a young age, they must remove these “terrorism thoughts” by training them to reject their own religion by means of torture. Essentially, what is happening at these camps is a forced culture shift, regardless of what means it may take to force people to abandon their own religion and life.
Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, accused China last year of turning Xinjiang into “something resembling a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone.”
“They’re really about crushing, to some degree, the Muslim culture, the Uighur culture – getting people to feel much more bonded to the Communist Party than to their own religious beliefs,” said Wilder, who is also the managing director of the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University in Washington. “This is trying to fundamentally change the hearts and minds of these people. It’s about enforcing allegiance.”
The treatment of these prisoners, although very secretive, has begun to seep through into mainstream western media from accounts of those who have managed to escape the camps. Although the government continues to refute these claims, survivors have shared stories of sexual abuse, violence, and mistreatment of prisoners, citing various forms of violence.
One of the most astounding parts of the story is the lack of coverage that the issue has received. With such drastic circumstances, one would think that such a significant problem would be treated with more urgency, but there has not been large media coverage of the issue, especially within the Western world. Foreign powers cannot continue to turn a blind eye, as this will allow the situation to worsen, as we have seen in history.