After years of silence and virtual ignorance, voices are finally rising to denounce the tragedy of the Uyghurs, this Muslim minority persecuted by the Chinese regime. That, in particular, of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who condemned forcefully, Tuesday in the National Assembly, the violations of human rights in the region of Xinjiang, pronouncing the words of “camps of ‘internment’, ‘forced labor’, ‘forced sterilizations’. The head of French diplomacy asks China to “allow access to international observers in this area”. Beijing immediately evoked “lies” and warned France against any attempt “to interfere”. In the language of the communist authorities, it is true, “internment camp” is pronounced “vocational training center” and human rights must give way to the fight against “terrorism and separatism”.
What’s going on in Xinjiang, home to 12 million Chinese Uyghurs (along with a minority of 1.5 million Kazakhs)? If the Sinologists were (pleasantly) surprised by the sudden French firmness, the atrocities – genocide, some say – have been going on for years. The Uyghurs are a people with a strong cultural identity, speaking a language close to Turkish, mostly Sunni Muslims.
As it did in Tibet, the regime encouraged another Chinese ethnic group, the Han, to settle in this immense semi-desert region, and tensions have increased over the years. Attacks attributed by Beijing to “Islamist separatists” took place in 2010, providing the pretext for a police grid of the region, drones and advanced technologies in support. The current number one in Xinjiang is the former governor of Tibet, an ex-military veteran of repression.
Forced sterilizations, “re-education” camps
Since 2016, the situation has descended into daily horror. While China has given up on the one-child policy, Uyghur women are forcibly sterilized, an action aimed at the extinction of a people and constituting one of the “official” criteria for genocide.
At least a million Uyghurs are believed to be interned in political re-education camps, as in the days of the sinister Cultural Revolution. The detainees sometimes work there for subcontractors of Western companies, rumors – unconfirmed – even affirming that masks used in France could have been made by Uyghurs …
The province is off limits to international observers except for propaganda visits. But testimonies from Uyghurs refugees in Europe raised the alarm, as well as the recent report by a German researcher, Adrian Zenz, for an American Foundation, triggering a new mobilization. On social networks, but also in the chancelleries in London and Washington, which have, for the moment, only initiated sanctions (US President Donald Trump is, of course, already engaged in an arm wrestling with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping ). If the pressure mounts all over the world, perhaps Beijing will reconsider its persecution policy …