It’s 2012, and it’s interesting in an unfortunate way that so many people around the world still have no self-determination, no way to choose their government or cultural affiliations. While discussing Tibet with a friend, I pointed out that Tibet isn’t alone in being oppressed by China: The Uighurs aren’t doing so well, either.
He said, ‘the who?’
The Uighurs are a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims living in a region between China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Over time, their region has been controlled by Turkic groups, Mongols, Chinese, and Russians. China has controlled it since my parents were young, and have been doing something we used to call ‘colonizing,’ but which now has updated names like ‘developing.’
Stories from the area pop up in the international news now and then. I think I started noticing more stories in 2009 when there was “unrest.” China and the Uighurs (bbc.co.uk, July 8, 2009) caught my eye in 2009, when the Chinese government tried to blame the unrest on Rebiya Kadeer, a mother of 11 who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution for engaging in commerce, and was later imprisoned for sending articles about the situation of Uighurs to her husband in the U.S. (She noted that she was in the same situation as the Dalai Lama, always being blamed…) In 2010 I read about activists going to jail for writing Uighur websites, and a journalist getting a 15 year term for speaking to foreign journalists (bbc.co.uk, July 30 2010)… Since then, there are periodic stories about “unrest,” and various accusations by Chinese state media of people who disagree with them being “terrorists.” It’s never clear what’s really going on, since the Chinese state media is not credible.
But here’s the thing: you never heard about any of these people prior to the “unrest,” did you? And when you read about the folks in other areas now controlled by China (or Russia, or any number of well armed powers), you never really hear about what they want, because they are under the thumb of someone can suppress it freely.
Human rights are only available to people living in countries where the governments are inclined to acknowledge those rights, or where pressure can be brought to bear to improve people’s plight somewhat: human rights are nowhere near universal. Not even now. Not even close.