Uyghur Camps . . . What Really is Happening?

By John Dunnam

History/Relevant Background:


The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, also known as Xinjiang Providence, is China’s largest region.[1] Although the area has experienced intermittent autonomy, the Chinese Communist Party regained control of the area in 1949.[2] The region is home to ten million Muslim Chinese—Uyghurs.[3] The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority group living in the Xinjiang region.[4]  Uyghurs practice Islam, speak a language related to Turkish, and culturally align closely with Central Asian nations.[5] While they have their own culture and language, they are being persecuted in China based on their religious beliefs.[6]


Once the Chinese Communist Party regained control of the Xinjiang region, Han Chinese were encouraged to move to the region and settle.[7] Conflict between the Chinese and the Uyghurs have been ongoing and violent.[8] In 1997, thirty alleged Uyghur separatists were executed, resulting in conflicting accounts as to why.[9] From the early 2000s to present day, there have been many conflicting reports from both the Chinese government and Uyghurs as to who has caused violent attacks.[10] The Chinese government has blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Xinjiang.[11] Additionally, blaming the Uyghurs for attempting to establish an independent state from China,[12] using the prevention of terrorism as logic for their increasing detention of Uyghurs.[13]


Current issue/Analysis:


In August 2016, Chen Quanguo, former party chief of Tibet, was placed as party chief in the Xinjiang region by the current president, Xi Jinping.[14] Chen is known for his work in Tibet where he increased policing to quiet the Buddhist protests in the region.[15] President Xi has not publicly endorsed the internment camps, but he has ordered policy shifts to assimilate ethnic minorities with “economic incentives and state-organized ethnic intermingling.”[16]  Within three weeks of being the party chief in Xinjiang, Chen authorized a “remobilization plan to ramp up security” for a multiyear offensive attack.[17] In March 2017, “deradicalization rules” were issued by the regional government, which were never enacted as law by the national parliament, but allowed for the expanding of the internment camp.[18] During 2017, the Xinjiang regional government, the 13th People’s Congress of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, issued a special announcement for the regulation and removal of extremism.[19] These regulations and rules are an attempt to rid the Xinjiang region of Islamic faith and gives police the ability to stop and detain Uyghurs to prevent Islamic extremism.[20] According to a Maya Wang, a senior Chinese researcher for the Human Rights Watch, under the Current Chinese constitution the Xinjiang government did not have the authority to detain Uyghurs without due process and by doing so the education centers “remain arbitrary and abusive, and no tweaks in . . . regional rules can change that.”[21]


Currently, the Chinese government has maintained its defense that Uyghurs are not being arbitrarily detained, but that they are trying to remove religious extremism in the area.[22] In the Xinjiang region, authorities have “officially legalized so-called re-education camps for people accused of religious extremism, a little more than a month after denying such centers exist.”[23] Additionally, since the expansion of the internment camps and surveillance, Beijing has directed 8.4 billion dollars in funds for security, which is double the amount of last year.[24]


In August of 2018, “a UN Human rights panel cited ‘credible reports’ that more than one million people were being held in counter-extremism [centers] in Xinjiang.”[25] Although the Chinese government denied these internment camps originally, they did acknowledge that Uyghurs, who were religious extremists, were attending re-education and resettlement programs.[26] Religious extremist has a broad definition in China, including serious offenses and minor offenses, such as persuading people to quit drinking alcohol, grow a beard, or pray in a public place.[27] Currently, there are more than one million Uyghurs locked away and forced to be in internment camps.[28] While being locked up in these internment camps away from their families, Uyghurs are required to “listen to lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write 'self-criticism essays’” with the goal of removing devotion to the Islamic faith.[29] Not only are they forced to follow these orders throughout the day, but the Chinese government is using scare tactics to break up families and force relatives and friends to report on one another.[30] It has been reported that Chinese authorities are gathering information on individuals’ DNA through hair and blood testing.[31]


According to the chairman of the Xinjiang government Shorat Zakir, an ethnic Uyghur himself, the camps were a “‘humane’ and lawful shield against terrorism,” where Uyghurs can learn Mandarin, job training, and teachings on how to be a law-abiding citizen.[32]  Additionally, Zakir claims that the internment camps deal with people “suspected of wrongdoing that fell short of . . . criminal convictions.”[33] While China continues to promote a fantasized version of the internment camps to the outside world, many in the United States and the United Nations (UN) do not believe them.[34] Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, and U.S. Representative Chris Smith wrote a letter to the Commissioner, urging the United States to issue sanctions on China for human rights violations in Xinjiang.[35] The letter specifically addresses sanctions of Chen and other officials for “human rights abuses, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.”[36]


 This Act authorizes the President to “impose U.S. entry and property sanctions against any foreign person” who is responsible or authorizes the torture, killing, or other “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”[37]  According to reports, Uyghurs can be stopped by police at any time, children are being sent to orphanages, women being forced to marry Han Chinese, and some individuals are worked to death in the internment camps.[38] The persecution of Uyghurs because of their religious preferences and the atrocities taking place in the internment camps violates the United Nations recognized human rights; however, China’s denial has kept them from being sanctioned.[39] China has refused to allow the UN to conduct a “free investigation” in the region,[40] but why? Do they have something hide? These are the types of questions the world should continue to ask itself, why let the inhumane treatment of an ethnic group go without consequence?




While China denies the fact that there is inhumane treatment of Uyghurs, the conflicting reports are enough to cause the world to take a closer look into the atrocities that are taking place.[41] Action must occur to prevent the further persecution of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Region.[42] As the days pass families are broken up, Uyghurs are persecuted, and the world revolves with these unjust actions continuing. Something must be done. 

[1] Xinjiang territory profile, BBC (Oct. 12, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Gene Bunin, ‘We’re a people destroyed’: why Uighur Muslims across China are living in fear. The Guardian (Aug. 7, 2018),

[4] Id.

[5] Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs, Bbc (Sept. 12, 2018),

[6] Gulnaz Uighur, I’m a Uyghur Muslim who fled China’s brutal crackdown – it’s time the world showed us some support, Independent (Sept. 12, 2018),

[7] Ben Westcott & Yong Xiong, China legalizes Xinjiang ‘re-educaiton camps’ after denying they exist, Cnn (Oct. 11, 2018),

[8] Xinjiang profile – full overview, Bbc (Nov. 17 2016),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Westcott & Xiong supra note 7. 

[13] Bunin supra note 3; see also BBC supra note 5.

[14] Chris Buckley, The Leaders Who Unleashed China’s Mass Detention of Muslims, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018),

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Autonomous Region People’s Congress, Announcement of Standing Committee of the 13th People’s Autonomous Region, National News ( Last Updated Oct. 9, 2018),

[20] Rian Thum, China Locks Up Ethnic Minorities in Camps. It Says So Itself., N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2018),

[21] Westcott & Xiong, supra note 7.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Buckley, supra note 14.

[25] BBC, supra note 1.

[26] Id.

[27] Buckley, supra note 14.

[28] Uighur, supra note 6.

[29] Chris Buckley, China Is Detaining Muslims in Vast Numbers. The Goal: ‘Transformation.’, N.Y. Times (Sept. 8, 2018),

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Buckley, supra note 14.

[33] Id.

[34] Chris Buckley, China Beaks Silence on Muslim Detention Camps, Calling them ‘Humane’, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018),; see also Westcott & Xiong, supra note 7.   

[35] Marco Rubio & Chris Smith, Chairs Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging Administration to Sanction Chinese Officials Complicit in Xinjian Abuses, Cong. Exec. Comm. on China (Aug. 29,2018),

[36] Id.

[37] S. 284, 114th Cong.§ 3.

[38] Uighur supra note 6; see also Buckley supra note 29.

[39] Uighur supra note 6; see also Thum supra note 20.

[40] Uighur supra note 6.

[41] Westcott & Xiong supra note 7; see also Bunin supra note 3.

[42] Rubio & Smith supra note 35; see also Uighur supra note 6.