UN documents Uyghur forced labor, torture

September 10, 2022

From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Bob McGuire

As we go to press, the UN High Commission on Human Rights issued an Aug. 31 report on China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, especially since 2017. The report is based on public records and leaked official documents and corroborated by the voices of victims of the genocide, a word the report avoids. Evidence which has surfaced in spite of official obfuscation points to genocide that is focused on Uyghurs but targets Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Huis as well.

Detainee in a Xinjiang Re-education Camp located in Lop County listening to “de-radicalization” talks. Photo: Wikipedia.

The pretext for China’s campaign against Uyghurs was “Countering Religious Extremism.” The UN report does not mention that this campaign was in reaction to Arab Spring and the freedom movements across the Middle East—from Tunisia to Egypt to Syria and beyond. China under Xi Jinping moved to repress the possibility of revolution in Xinjiang just as they had done in suppressing independent trade unions or popular bloggers.


Under the “anti-terrorism law system” the report states, “acts of legitimate protest, dissent and other human rights activities or of genuine religious activity fall within terrorism.” The 15 primary expressions of extremification, according China, were not just religious symbols like beards or scarves and closing a restaurant for Ramadan, but began with resisting official policy and using social media for propaganda.

Official retribution was spelled out as harsh punishment for serious acts but with “compassion and leniency” leading to education and rehabilitation for minor cases. The “minor cases” were major for the Chinese economy: they filled work camps with forced labor, contributing an oversized proportion of exports. It was the same principle as in the Black Codes of former Confederate states after the U.S. Civil War, when minor infractions re-enslaved freedmen for labor on plantations and mines.


An important part of international labor solidarity is a variety of campaigns to prohibit imports from China made with slave labor. The UN report detailed how even beyond the actual walled camps, the “Vocational Education and Training Centers,” many Uyghurs perform forced labor in what look like “free” factories.

The population of Xinjiang was 75% Uyghur and 7% Han Chinese in 1953. It is now just 45% Uyghur, while 42% are Han settled there to undermine Uyghur control. The birth rate in heavily Uyghur areas has plunged nearly 60% since 2010. More chilling, the rate of sterilizations in Xinjiang is 7.5 times higher than for China as a whole. Projecting this to just the Uyghur population likely means a rate of sterilization nearly twice that high.

The UN report shows that China doesn’t always shroud the forced labor camps in secrecy. It also brags in public about the camps being tools for lowering unemployment and erasing poverty. This is a reminder that steady work imposed on laborers is another word for enslavement. With his mind on a new society, Karl Marx spelled out freely associated laborers as what is needed to end the enslavement of capitalism, private or state-run.

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