Letter to US Senator Mitch McConnell concerning S. 178, the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019 or the UIGHUR Act of 2019

February 18, 2020 (sent by mail to Senator McConnell and reproduced here)

Dear Leader McConnell:

We strongly urge you to take immediate action to pass S. 178, the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019 or the UIGHUR Act of 2019. The ongoing human rights crisis in Xinjiang calls for an urgent and decisive response on the part of the United States government.

Beginning in spring 2017, the Chinese government began detaining tens of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region of Western China. Since that time, at least a million Xinjiang Muslims have been detained in government-run camps, which officials term “re-education facilities,” and which former detainees describe as concentration camps. Detainees are not formally charged with a crime. Reports indicate that behaviors like growing a beard, installing international phone messaging apps, or traveling abroad can serve as pretexts for detainment. Once detained, Uyghurs are subjected to intense “re-education,” or brainwashing. Reports indicate that detainees lack access to proper medical care, are often malnourished, and live in prison-style barracks. The minor children of detainees are sent to boarding schools and orphanages, where the state-run education system deprives them of their native language, cultural heritage, and family identity.

But the repression extends far beyond the re-education camps. The Muslim residents of Xinjiang now inhabit a surveillance state, in which every move is monitored using facial recognition technology and DNA databases illegally gathered under false pretenses. Many Xinjiang Muslims, including some released camp detainees, have been coerced into labor in factories and agriculture under low wages and dangerous conditions. Furthermore, there has been a massive increase in prison sentences for Uyghurs and other Muslims in China. All of this has created a chilling atmosphere in the region, as Uyghurs and their fellow Muslims are afraid to conduct their everyday lives, correspond with friends and family abroad, undertake ordinary religious observance, and participate in cultural self-expression.

This state of affairs represents an urgent human rights crisis. It also profoundly affects the activities of our scholarly organization, an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars committed to the free and open dissemination of knowledge in and about Central Eurasia, including Xinjiang. Hundreds of our scholarly colleagues in Xinjiang have been detained, and their current whereabouts and conditions remain unknown. These include Rahile Dawut, a well-known folklorist and ethnographer who has served on the board of CESS; Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur public intellectual, human rights advocate, and economist; and Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, a prominent literary scholar and professor at Xinjiang Pedagogical University, to name just a few of the most prominent detainees. Their detention is a loss both to our scholarly community and to the world’s cultural heritage.

The situation in Xinjiang has been an emergency for years. But several new developments make the crisis particularly urgent. In particular, the coronavirus threatens to devastate the population of China’s overcrowded detention camps, where detainees are often in poor health due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Furthermore, the Chinese government continues to expand its campaign of repression against Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities. Coerced labor under the guise of “poverty alleviation” has become a new weapon in the government’s arsenal of control. In the absence of decisive US legislation, many US-based corporations continue to engage in business transactions in Xinjiang, including direct involvement in the surveillance industry and supply chains that rely on forced labor. This presents risks to the United States’ moral stature and international reputation.

As concerned members of the board of the Central Eurasian Studies Society, an international, non-partisan organization promoting knowledge of the region, we thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent issue.


The Board of the Central Eurasian Studies Society