The Uyghurs (/ˈwiːɡʊərz/; Uighur: ئۇيغۇرلار, Уйғурлар, IPA: [ujɣurˈlɑr]; simplified Chinese: 维吾尔; traditional Chinese: 維吾爾; pinyin: Wéiwú'ěr, [wěiǔàɚ]), alternatively spelled Uighurs, Uygurs or Uigurs, are a Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the East Turkistan, also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. They are considered to be one of China's 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. The Uyghurs are recognized by the Chinese government only as a regional minority within a multicultural nation.


The Uyghurs have traditionally inhabited a series of oases scattered across the Taklamakan Desert within the Tarim Basin. These oases have historically existed as independent states or were controlled by many civilizations including China, the Mongols, the Tibetans and various Turkic polities. The Uyghurs gradually started to become Islamized in the 10th century and most Uyghurs identified as Muslims by the 16th century. Islam has since played an important role in Uyghur culture and identity.

An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs still live in the Tarim Basin. The rest of Xinjiang's Uyghurs mostly live in Ürümqi, the capital city of Xinjiang UAR, which is located in the historical region of Dzungaria. The largest community of Uyghurs living in another region of China are the Uyghurs living in Taoyuan County, in North-Central Hunan. Significant diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in other Turkic countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turmenistan, and Turkey. Smaller communities live in the USA, Canada, Germany, UK, France, Austria, Norway, Swetzerland, Sweden, Holland, and in many other nations in Europe. Also other smaller communities live in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Australia, Russia and Japan.

Since 2015, it has been estimated that over a 3 million Uyghurs have been detained in Xinjiang re-education camps. The camps were established under General Secretary Xi Jinping's administration with the main goal of ensuring adherence to national ideology. The Chinese government maintains its actions in East Turkistan, AKA Xinjiang as justifiable responses to a threat of extremism due to the East Turkestan independence movement. Critics of China's treatment of Uyghurs have accused the Chinese government of propagating a policy of sinicization in Xinjiang in the 21st century, calling this policy an ethnocide or a cultural genocide of Uyghurs.



Uyghur genocide


Since 2014, the Chinese government, under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the administration of CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, has pursued a policy leading to more than one million Muslims (the majority of them Uyghurs) being held in secretive detention camps without any legal process in what has become the largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities since the Second World War. Critics of the policy have described it as the Sinicization of Xinjiang and have called it an ethnocide or cultural genocide, while many activists, independent NGOs, human rights experts, government officials, and the East Turkistan Government-in-Exile have called it a genocide.

In particular, critics have highlighted the concentration of Uyghurs in state-sponsored re-education camps, suppression of Uyghur religious practices, political indoctrination, severe ill-treatment, and testimonials of alleged human rights abuses including forced sterilization and contraception. Chinese government statistics show that from 2015 to 2018, birth rates in the mostly Uyghur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60%. In the same period, the birth rate of the whole country decreased by 9.69%, from 12.07 to 10.9 per 1,000 people. Chinese authorities acknowledged that birth rates dropped by almost a third in 2018 in Xinjiang, but denied reports of forced sterilization and genocide. Birth rates have continued to plummet in Xinjiang, falling nearly 24% in 2019 alone when compared to just 4.2% nationwide.

International reactions have been mixed, with 54 United Nations (UN) member states supporting China's policies in Xinjiang, which decreased to 45 in October 2020, and 39 countries condemning China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In July and August 2020, human rights groups have called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate Chinese officials over allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide.

In December 2020, the ICC declined to take investigative action against China, on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction over China with respect to the majority of the alleged crimes. The ICC also ruled in a separate assessment that transfers of Uyghurs to China from Cambodia and Tajikistan, both ICC members, did not constitute the crime against humanity of deportation.


Reactions by country/region on the Uyghur genocide


In July 2020, The Globe and Mail reported that human rights activists, including retired politician Irwin Cotler, were encouraging the Parliament of Canada to recognize the Chinese actions against Uyghurs as genocide and impose sanctions on the officials responsible.

On 21 October 2020, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights (SDIR) of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development condemned the persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang by the Government of China and concluded that the Chinese Communist Party's actions amount to the genocide of the Uyghurs per the Genocide Convention.



In addition to signing a joint statement regarding ethical violations affecting the Uyghur community in Xinjiang, countries such as Germany and Norway have taken further steps to express their opinions on this issue. Germany has specifically called on China to provide UN human rights access to the camps. Also, Norway has formed an anti-internment camp awareness group.

In December 2020, France said it will oppose the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between China and the European Union over the use of forced labour of Uyghurs.


United Kingdom

On 10 October 2020, Britain's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy suggested that Britain must oppose giving China a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in protest against its abuse of Uyghur Muslims. She added that the UN must be allowed to conduct an inquiry into possible crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

In December 2020 the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Ephraim Mirvis published an op-ed in The Guardian on the occasion of hanukkah in which he condemned the persecution of the Uyghurs and called for international action to address the "unfathomable mass atrocity" taking place in China. Mirvis is part of a wider Jewish protest movement which has sprung up in opposition to the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, protesters are largely motivated by memories of the holocaust and a desire to prevent a repeat of that horror.

In January 2021, foreign secretary Dominic Raab made a statement over China's human rights violations against Uyghurs, accusing China of "extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities, systematic restrictions on Uighur culture, education, and the practice of Islam, and the widespread use of forced labour."

In January 2021, The Guardian reported that the UK government "fended off an all-party effort to give the courts a chance to designate China guilty of genocide on the day that Blinken said China was intent on genocide in Xinjiang province."


New Zealand

In 2018, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue of Xinjiang while visiting Guangdong Party Secretary Leader Li Xi. Ardern also raised such concerns during China's periodic review at the UN in November 2018, to immediate pushback from China.

Ardern discussed Xinjiang privately with Xi Jinping during a 2019 visit to Beijing after the Christchurch mosque shootings. The New York Times accused New Zealand of tiptoeing around the issue for economic reasons as the country exports many products to China, including milk, meat, and wine.


United States


The United States Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in reaction to the re-education camps. A senior US diplomat called upon other countries to join the United States denunciations against the Chinese government's policies in Xinjiang. The Uyghur American Association has claimed that Beijing's military approach to terrorism in Xinjiang is state terrorism. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has issued statements about the conditions in Xinjiang writing in part:

The Chinese government's campaign against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang is multi-faceted and systematic. It is characterized by mass detention, forced labor, and discriminatory laws, and supported through high-tech manners of surveillance.

US Senators Menendez and Cornyn lead a bipartisan group that is pushing to appoint the CCP's crimeful actions occurring in Xinjiang through a way of a Senate resolution. This would make the United States Senate the first government to "officially recognize the situation as a genocide." Senators Cornyn, Merkley, Cardin, and Rubio signed a letter to request Mike Pompeo-the Secretary of State- issuing a genocide determination. National Review reports that "U.S. government genocide determinations are an incredibly tricky thing. They require solid evidence to meet the criteria set out under the 1948 Genocide Convention." When determinations are issued there isn't much change or an effect that they will bring in the short run. Although, "there's a strong, well-documented case for a determination in this case." On 19 January 2021, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that the United States Department of State had determined that "genocide and crimes against humanity" had been perpetrated by China against the Uyghurs, with Pompeo stating: "the People’s Republic of China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz… [i]n the anguished cries from Xinjiang, the U.S. hears the echoes of Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur." The announcement was made on the last day of the presidency of Donald Trump. At the time, the incoming Biden administration had, as the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign, already declared that such a determination should be made, and that America would continue to recognize the Xinjiang activity as a genocide.


NGO reactions

As of July 2020, Amnesty International has not taken a position on whether the Chinese government's treatment of Uyghurs constituted a genocide. Genocide Watch "considers the forced sterilizations and forcible transfer of children of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang to be acts of genocide" and subsequently issued a Genocide Emergency Alert in November 2020.

In January 2020, President Ghulam Osman Yaghma of the East Turkistan Government-in-Exile wrote that "the world is silently witnessing another Holocaust like genocide in East the President of East Turkistan Government-in-Exile, on behalf of East Turkistan and its people, we again call on the international community including world governments to acknowledge and recognize China's brutal Holocaust like the oppression of East Turkistan's people as a genocide."

In September 2020, nearly two dozen activist groups, including the Uyghur Human Rights Project, Genocide Watch, and the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, signed an open letter for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate whether crimes against humanity or genocide were taking place in Xinjiang.