Category : News
Author: Jamie Ensor

A Uighur human rights activist has claimed Donald Trump leaving the White House has left her community "fearful" and written about her desire to see countries take a "hard line" against China. 

Rahima Mahmut is a UK-based Uighur activist and translator who works with the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and World Uyghur Congress. 

It's been nearly four years since she has had contact with any of her family living in Xinjiang, a western part of China notorious for reported human rights breaches against the Uighur Muslim people.

Countless reports have emerged in recent years of Uighurs in the region being subjected to torture and brainwashing in concentration camps as authorities rally against the faith. 

While former detainees have spoken out about the practices and leaked documents have revealed the Chinese Government protocols, Beijing has denied anything inappropriate is going on. Instead, it says the camps are used for vocational education and counter-terrorism operations. 

Writing for The Independent in a piece headlined 'With Donald Trump going, who in the free world will stand up for Uighurs now?', Mahmut says she frequently hears stories of people who have left the area, which she says is a "one giant prison". 

"Everyone is watched, all the time. Thousands upon thousands have been sent to the so-called 're-education camps'. In the name of deradicalisation, they are brainwashed, enslaved and humiliated. They are denied their faith and culture, and torn from their families," Mahmut writes.

The activist notes it is a "matter of severe trauma" the international community hasn't taken hard action against China. 

A large number of countries have made statements expressing concern towards the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. For example, New Zealand Prime Minister raised human rights issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping in China last year and Aotearoa has co-signed several statements on the issue, including in October.

Yet Mahmut says "besides endless statements, very little has been done to help us".

She spotlight's Trump's administration, however, as being different. 

"Many of us are fearful now that Donald Trump is leaving the White House. To most onlookers this will seem like heresy, but you have to try to put yourself in our shoes. For years nobody stood up for us. 

"The Obama administration: nothing. The David Cameron government: nothing. Angela Merkel: nothing. Theresa May: nothing. Trump? Under Trump, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, pursued an aggressive line on China, which gave us hope. 

"For the first time, our oppressors were being sanctioned, and real action was being taken to prevent companies sourcing goods made with Uighur slave labour."

Trump's administration took a number of trade actions against China in response to events in Xinjiang. Among them was the decision to restrict the ability of some Chinese companies to access American technology and imposing visa restrictions on officials linked to Xinjiang. 

Mahmut writes that some believe this "aggressive stance" could be replicated under the incoming Joe Biden Administration. But Uighurs around the world, she says, fear talk of "engagement" with China over the issue doesn't go far enough. 

She says that dealing with the reality of China's policy "means the world taking a hard line" on it. That includes tough sanctions against those involved with human rights abuses and financial institutions linked to them as well as "active measures to counter Beijing's increasingly slick propaganda machine".

Despite Trump's trade sanctions being praised, it has been reported that the US President held off sanctioning officials while the US was in the middle of a trade deal with China. 

Former US National Security Adviser and now Trump-critic John Bolton also wrote in a book this year that Trump told China's Xi that he should go ahead with building camps in Xinjiang as that was the "right thing to do". Trump has said that is "not true".

In July, the New Zealand Jewish Council and the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand wrote to Jacinda Ardern and then-Foreign Minister Winston Peters, asking the Government to take strong action against China over the abuses, such as possibly via sanctions. 

New Zealand Labour MP Louisa Wall was a signatory of a letter from the IPAC to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in November "urging her to accept a complaint alleging genocide against Uighurs by China". National's Simon O'Connor is also a co-chair of IPAC.

Note from Nighthawk.NZ:

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