Questions and Answers (Q&A)

Who are the Uyghurs?

Uyghurs are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people of Central Asia, with a distinct civilizational heritage encompassing the Uyghur language, religious practice, arts, literature, architecture, medicine, cuisine, and cultural traditions.

Where do Uyghurs live?

The Uyghur homeland is known by local people as East Turkistan, an area of Central Asia designated by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1955, which the Chinese government controls through what many scholars recognize as a settler-colonial occupation.There are also longstanding Uyghur communities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and a global Uyghur diaspora living in Turkey, Europe, North America, Australia, and elsewhere around the world.

What is the original name of Xinjiang?

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is the given Mandarin Chinese name for the historic area of East Turkistan, which the Chinese Communist Party designated in 1955. Xinjiang is a colonial name and literally translates to “new frontier,” and the preferred decolonized term to refer to the region is “East Turkistan.”

Are Uyghurs Muslim?

Islam has been practiced in the Uyghur homeland for over 1,000 years. Uyghurs have typically practiced a form of Sunni Islam. In spite of many restrictions, a majority of Uyghurs consider Islam as an integral part of their cultural identity. Some lead more religious lives and others more secular ones.

What is the government of China doing to the Uyghurs?

Since 2017, the government of China has carried out genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people, arbitrarily detaining an estimated 1.8–3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in camps with hundreds of thousands more imprisoned. 

Uyghurs have been subject to atrocity crimes that include arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, forced labor, torture, sexual violence, coercive birth prevention campaigns, and the widespread destruction of cultural and religious sites.

What has happened in the “re-education” camps?

Although access to information is limited, many detainees who have escaped China after detention in internment camps, have described harsh conditions including abuse, torture, forced sterilization, and sexual violence, inlcuding rape. Research from the Uyghur Human Rights Project has found that detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and renounce Islam and other cultural pratices.

A UN report released in August 2022, citing testimony from 26 individuals who were detained, found “patterns of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” between 2017 and 2019.

Why is the government of China targeting and detaining Uyghurs?

Top officials in China, including Xi Jinping and Chen Quanguo, have made it clear that they regard all Uyghurs, and Uyghur identity itself, as a problem for the Chinese state. According to leaked government documents, they have instituted a “no mercy” policy towards Uyghurs and ordered officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” demonstrating the indiscriminate nature of persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.

What has the global response been to the treatment of Uyghurs?

Some parts of the international community have expressed concern or condemnation over the treatment of Uyghurs. A report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples, within the context of other restrictions, “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

The U.S. State Department determined in January 2021 that this treatment amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity, and parliaments in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and the European Parliament have all passed motions or resolutions condemning the atrocity crimes.

The Uyghur Tribunal also found in December 2021 that genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed against Uyghurs. A study conducted by 40 independent legal experts and researchers found in March 2021 that the Chinese government was committing “each and every act” prohibited by the 1948 Convention on Genocide.

For more information on the global response, see the UHRP reference guide, International Responses to the Uyghur Crisis.

How can I help Uyghurs?

There are many things that can be done to help Uyghurs. These include writing to your local representative to inform them of the issue and advocate for policy responses, including sanctions on perpetrators and humanitarian support for Uyghur refugees; endorsing a campaign to end Uyghur forced labor; signing petitions to show your support for Uyghurs in need; or volunteering or donating to Uyghur organizations like the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

See the UHRP Take Action page for eight things you can do to help Uyghurs in a time of genocide.