The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights shines light on the Uyghur population in China

Academics, journalists, and survivors speak about the Uyghur genocide at an online panel hosted by Concordia

China is believed to have imprisoned more than two million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in interment camps, where they face a cultural genocide. The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights, a research institute at Concordia, held an online panel on Nov. 12 discussing the situation and what can be done.

The panel had guest speakers like Mihrigul Tursun, a camp survivor.

Tursun explained that in 2015, while she was returning to China from Egypt with her newborn children to spend time with her family, she was arrested at the Beijing airport. She was separated from her children and put in one of the internment camps, where she was stripped of her clothes, her head was shaved, and she was forced to use a number as her name.

She talked about how she was tortured, given mystery injections, and taught to worship the Chinese government. When she was released for the first time, she was informed that one of her sons had died from mysterious circumstances.

From 2015 to 2018, she was in the camps three separate times for a total of 11 months. Her time outside the camps was spent stuck in her hometown as the Chinese government had blacklisted her, taking away her ID so she couldn’t travel. She was also unable to contact anyone without the government’s permission.

Tursun stated that she was able to escape China with the help of the Egyptian Embassy in Beijing, as her children were Egyptian citizens. She now lives in America with her family, actively speaking out against what is happening to her people.

Tursun explained during the panel that she has not heard from her family since she escaped.

“I lost contact with my father, mother, sister, brother, all my family.” She said that all she has been able to find out is that five of her family members have died already, and she doesn’t know if the rest are alive or not.

“I hope the Chinese [government will] stop and give back our homeland,” Tursun said.

The Uyghurs are mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity, the majority of them living in the Xinjiang province of China, where they number around 11 million people. Over the years, China has slowly been taking away the rights of the Uyghurs, outlawing their cultural activities and making the region a police state with police checkpoints and cameras that scan individual faces.

Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian politician and one of the guest speaks at the panel, expressed how he sees the Uyghur camps as the most pressing human rights issue of our time, and is the largest mass incarceration since the holocaust.

Very little information is known about the camps, estimates of the population of these camps vary from one million to 3 million people. According to an article in The Guardian, there are more than 380 suspected camps.

“Nobody could say that we didn’t know [about the holocaust], but we did not act,” said Cotler. “Just as in regards to the plight and pain of the Uyghurs, nobody can say that we did not know.”

“The intent is not necessarily to physically exterminate the entirety of the Uyghur people, but to break their collective identity,” said Sean Roberts, the director of the International Development Studies program at the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and a speaker at the panel.

He explained that what is happening to the Uyghurs, while still a genocide, is drastically diffrent from what happened during the holocaust.

“These actions [of the Chinese government] are not inspired by eugenics, but by profit, development and settlement,” said Roberts.

According to Dr. Kimberly Manning, principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia and speaker at the panel, the idea for said panel came from local Uyghur activists in Montreal. There are over 2,000 Uyghurs living in Canada, with a majority in Toronto and Montreal.

Garnett Genuis, a member of the Conservative Party of Canada and speaker at the panel, said the best way for Canada to make an impact is to boycott and sanction China, yet this will be difficult as Canada heavily relies on China, such as for PPE masks. 

According to a New York Times article, some Chinese companies are using Uyghur labour camps to manufacture single use masks. 

Genuis stated that the best way to influence the Canadian government to make more decisive actions against China is to get in contact with members of parliament and challenge them to act. 


Still from Concordia’s online panel

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