How Malaysia can help end crimes against Uyghurs

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February 23, 2023 | Malaysiakini | By Omer Kanat

In September 2018, when the world was beginning to grasp the horrific extent of China’s network of concentration camps in the Uyghur homeland, one leading politician from a Muslim-majority country spoke out. Anwar Ibrahim, now the Prime Minister of Malaysia, told Bloomberg the reason why governments in Muslim-majority states have not spoken out about the Uyghur issue is that, “They’re scared. Nobody wants to say anything.” 

Uyghurs are deeply appreciative of the support Malaysians from government, parliament, and civil society have shown towards Uyghurs during the darkest period of our history. We believe Malaysia can do more and further demonstrate its leadership in ending the Uyghur nightmare. 

Since Anwar Ibrahim’s statement in 2018, the world has further learned about China’s plans for the Uyghurs, which the United Nations has determined “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” In addition to mass arbitrary detention and imprisonment, China is engaging in a systematic campaign to eradicate Uyghur culture, religion, and language through policy and practice. Other abuses include widespread forced labor, enforced disappearances, and coercive birth prevention campaigns and policies.

It is widely understood in Malaysia that raising awareness about the Uyghur crisis is a means of resisting the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to promote its authoritarian values worldwide. The Chinese party-state’s vision of authoritarianism is characterized by a limited definition of freedom of speech, religion, and privacy, and the extrajudicial suppression of any individual or group that is perceived as a threat.

Malaysians have taken various actions to uphold their belief in the principles of freedom and justice, which they hold dear and are willing to protect. As Uyghurs, we suggest the following actions to put these values into practice. 

To combat the ongoing Islamophobia and atrocity crimes suffered by Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in our homeland, we ask that the government produce an internal report, to document the verified available evidence, as the basis of Malaysian state policy. 

To assist the victims of the atrocity crimes, we ask the Malaysian government to contact the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, to ask for information about the whereabouts and well-being of individuals who are missing, because their overseas relatives in the Asia-Pacific cannot contact them and do not know where they are. 

To give a voice to the survivors of unjust imprisonment, forced renunciation of their Islamic faith, and torture and sexual abuse, state officials could facilitate a visit to Malaysia by one or more concentration camp survivors to enable the general public to hear their direct eyewitness testimony.

To assist the Uyghur Muslim refugees in Southeast and Southwest Asia, the Malaysian government should consider granting work permits and student visas to those who have found haven in Malaysia, as well as supporting those Malaysian civil society organizations providing humanitarian aid to vulnerable Uyghurs. 

To help create a united voice of governments who are pledged to defend universal values, Malaysia could co-sponsor a private briefing in Geneva with like-minded members of the Human Rights Council, to agree to a formal consideration of the August 2022 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report mentioned above. 

Lastly, to help governments that are committed to combating Islamophobia wherever it occurs, Malaysia has the opportunity to convene a meeting of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Member States for the purpose of preparing a public statement of concern, and a formal letter of protest to the Government of China.

In Beijing, the projection of a positive image is crucial as it endeavors to expand its influence worldwide. Malaysia’s stance on reminding China that it cannot neglect the principles of justice and freedom in its pursuit of global power is a crucial step in resolving the Uyghur crisis. It is imperative for Malaysia, as well as other Muslim-majority nations and free societies worldwide, to implement safeguards to protect the rights of the Uyghur people.