The Trump administration imposed sanctions on three senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party last week over the alleged treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority.
The U.S. State Department estimates at least 1 million Uighurs have been detained and forced to work in internment camps. There are also allegations that detained Uighurs are being forced to make products that U.S. consumers are buying, including 13 tons of human hair for weaves and wigs that were seized earlier this month.
Rushan Abbas, the leader of the group Campaign for Uighurs, has been vocal about Uighurs being imprisoned in camps and forced to perform labor. According to the organization’s numbers, around 3 million Uighurs are arbitrarily detained outside of China’s legal system.
In 2018, six days after she spoke about this issue at a think tank in Washington, D.C., she says her sister was abducted by the Chinese government in retaliation for her public activism.
Abbas hasn’t heard from her sister, a retired medical doctor, since September 2018. In June, Radio Free Asia confirmed her sister is in detention.
“Other than that, I still don't have any information on her whereabouts, and how is her health,” she says. “Nothing.”
Abbas also says her husband’s entire family has been missing since the spring of 2017.
The Chinese government has been persecuting Uighurs since the country’s occupation of Turkestan in 1949, she says. After the 9/11 attacks, Beijing rebranded its campaign against Uighurs as part of the global war on terror.
Plus, Uighurs’ homeland is at the center of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a long-term investment strategy aimed at developing infrastructure.
The sanctions put on the Chinese government officials and businesses were “essential” — but not enough, she says.
“We are trying to let the world know that signing up for the Belt and Road initiative right now is complicit with the Uighurs genocide,” she says. “So many companies are being complicit.”
A recent study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found Uighurs are being forced to work in factories for more than 80 global brands including Apple, BMW, The Gap, Huawei and Nike.
Doing business as usual with these companies is complicit in the use of forced labor, Abbas says.
The U.S. has grappled with boycotting Chinese goods over the last decade as Americans take a more critical view of human rights violations. But the U.S. economy is tied to Chinese goods.
To earn a passing grade on this “test for humanity,” Abbas says people need to use their platforms to speak up against the Chinese government’s mistreatment of Uighurs.
The Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act has been introduced by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. James McGovern to address this issue.
“[The bill] will address the direct complicity in the use of slave labor from my homeland,” she says. “Almost every single brand name, you know, if they are coming from China, if their supply chain is using Chinese factories, they are complicit with this genocide.”
This segment aired on July 15, 2020.