Open Letter on the Uyghurs
For the last several weeks the Uyghurs of Xinjiang have been the subject of increasing harassment of the central Chinese government. A background of key issues can be found at http://bit.ly/uyghur-primer. The death of over 160 people during a short period of time highlights a pattern of abuse against these people that we deplore in the modern period. We demand the following rights for the Uyghurs be recognized:
- The right to self-determination
The citizens of Xinjiang have a right to determine whether they wish to remain as part of China. If so, they are to be unconditionally accorded all rights that the central authority offers, including limited autonomy.
- Freedom of religion
Uyghurs must be allowed to practice their faith without interference from the state. Mosques must be opened. Religious leaders must be chosen by the people rather than appointed by the state. The state must stop hindering ritual observance, including the fast during Ramadan.
- Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Speech
The ability of Uyghurs to gather and express themselves must not be limited. There is no state in interest served by arbitrarily preventing gatherings of Uyghurs.
- Preservation of Cultural Identity
The movement of Han Chinese into Xinjiang is an attempt to dilute the Uyghur identity to the point that Xinjiang becomes ethnically Han. It is a less aggressive mode of ethnic cleansing, but the end result is the same, the forced loss of the cultural identity of a group of people. The Chinese government follows a similar pattern in Tibet, where it has received international condemnation. The cultural genocide must be stopped.
At a time in history when we expect and demand a basic adherence to human rights, we cannot ignore the plight of the Uyghurs. We must choose our battles for justice based on political convenience or relative ignorance. We must have the same standards for all governments for the idea of universal rights to be taken seriously.
"Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, …it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."
—Universal Declaration of Human Rights