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Uyghurs, a 21st century genocide

The systematic repression of the Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities is a terrible page in the history of our times, which unfortunately does not find adequate space in the news, remaining a totally unknown issue for most people.

The Uyghurs are an Islamic Turkic-speaking ethnic group living mainly in the Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the north-west China, but also present with large communities outside the country.

In the last century, this ethnic group's autonomist tendencies led to the creation of the first and second East Turkestan Republics, the latter of which became part of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

With the arrival of the 2000s and the intensification of episodes of Islamic terrorism around the world, the Chinese government has strongly tightened the measures of repression of the Uyghur minority, justifying this attitude with the need to ensure security for the country. This is a false pretext that China has brought before the international community as a banner, hiding behind it the desire to gradually dismantle the Uyghur community, in a process of sinicization aimed at affirming the primacy of the Han ethnic majority. And this pretext seems to have proved credible in the eyes of many UN member countries, the majority of which continues to support the repressive policies implemented in China, considering them a guarantee of security against the spread of Islamic extremism. On the other hand, very few countries have recognised the repression of the Uyghurs in China as “genocide”, and among them we can mention the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Lithuania, and France.

The repression of the Uyghurs is carried out on two levels: demographic and cultural. In other words, the Chinese government's aim is to reduce the number of Uyghurs and destroy their cultural and religious identity.

Among the best-known ways of implementing this process of containment and repression are the so-called “re-education camps”, active since 2014, where between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs are arbitrarily confined out of a total population of around 11 million. Human rights are trampled on a daily basis in these camps. Physical and psychological torture is perpetrated as punishment for committing the “crime” of belonging to an ethnic minority. People in the camps are also forced into hard labour and indoctrinated into the diktats of the Chinese authorities. Women are often subjected to sexual violence and to the barbaric practice of compulsory sterilisation (in recent years, Xinjiang has seen a significant drop in the birth rate, which is considerably higher than the national rate).

Even outside the camps, however, life is far from easy in Xinjiang. One only thinks of the continuous surveillance of the inhabitants of this region. Sophisticated facial recognition technologies are used to identify and control Uyghurs on the basis of particular biometric characteristics. This is a real manhunt that leaves little room for a free and dignified life. In Xinjiang, it has also been made compulsory to install special GPS devices in cars to enable the authorities to monitor their exact position at all times.

In recent months, the Uyghur issue hit the headlines because of the upcoming Winter Olympics which will be held in Beijing in February. A political clash is taking place around this event, due to China's human rights violations against the Uyghur minority. There has been no lack of countries that have decided to diplomatically boycott the Olympic Games. Among them are the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. This strong decision demonstrates the willingness of part of the international community to denounce the abuses taking place in Xinjiang. The voice of these countries was also joined by that of the Global Imams Council, the largest transnational non-governmental body of Muslim leaders from all Islamic denominations and schools of thought, which banned Muslim athletes from taking part in the Olympics as a sign of protest against a regime, described as "tyrannical and oppressive", which is responsible for the "genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Uyghurs".

It is hoped that the Uyghur issue will increasingly arouse the interest of the international community, and that it will awaken the conscience of those who have the power to intervene effectively in defence of the dignity of a minority that is the victim of unacceptable outrages, so that those responsible for them do not go unpunished.

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