Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Does genocide have a color, in U.S. consciousness and policy? Consider the various victims

The U.S. increased the quota for Ukrainian refugees to 100,000 and has fast-tracked their admission. But no Uyghurs have been admitted to the U.S. since 2019.

Ethnic Uyghurs displaying banners and holding East Turkestan flags during a protest against China near the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last month.
Ethnic Uyghurs displaying banners and holding East Turkestan flags during a protest against China near the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last month.
REUTERS/Umit Bektas

I was recently interviewed about the war in Ukraine and President Biden’s label of “genocide,” which I support.

I was then asked about the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Why did the United States engage in former Yugoslavia but do nothing about Rwanda, where nearly a million people were slaughtered in a hundred days? Those genocides both occurred in the 1990s, and the American responses could not have been more different.

Article continues after advertisement

I hesitated. It’s painful to talk about the fundamental bias to our geopolitics. We see the opening of hearts, homes and wallets, of military arsenals and aid budgets for Ukraine and Ukrainians — but what about the Uyghurs in China? The Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh? The millions at risk in Ethiopia, Syria, Darfur, Yemen and Afghanistan?

The victims have something in common: They are not white.

A Uyghur friend of mine sent me a poignant note.

“If the world was as united for the Uyghurs as they are for the Ukrainians, the Uyghur genocide would have stopped. I am amazed how the global community has come together for Ukrainians but ignores the others. Not only the governments around the world but also civilians showed their humanity. Almost every celebrity in Hollywood is standing up for the Ukrainians, which makes me happy, but they choose sides. When it comes to the Uyghurs, they are all mute. So sad. The Uyghurs, Syrians, Yemenis, Rohinga are ignored. At least the world is standing up for Ukrainians, so we have not lost our humanity. This gives me some hope.”

Article continues after advertisement

A research team from World Without Genocide is speaking with Uyghurs in the U.S. diaspora. Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim people located largely in Xinjiang, a province in western China. Many have come to the U.S. fleeing a genocide perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP.

Since 2017, more than a million Uyghurs have been incarcerated in concentration-camp-like facilities. People are tortured and raped. Some detainees are released — only to be sent to prison for up to 20 years for alleged offenses such as reading a Koran. Their children have been forcibly taken from their homes and placed in “boarding schools.”

Women are sterilized at rates that show a fertility drop of 60 percent over the past few years. Men and women have had their bodily organs forcibly harvested. Uyghurs have been sent throughout China to be used as slave labor in factories making goods for Abercrombie, Gap, and more than 80 other international companies.

What has been the global response? A few Chinese officials have been sanctioned. A U.S. bill has been passed to prevent importing goods made with slave labor — but the bill only applies to goods made in Xinjiang, while factories with forced labor exist across China.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and several countries label the CCP’s atrocities as genocide. A tribunal without any legal authority has declared that the CCP is perpetrating genocide. And that’s it.

By contrast, the United Nations censured Russia and removed Russia from the prestigious Human Rights Council. The U.N. has delivered millions of dollars of food, water and shelter to thousands of Ukrainians. Nations around the world have sent billions of dollars of weapons and humanitarian aid. Both President and Dr. Biden have visited Ukraine. The U.S. increased the quota for Ukrainian refugees to 100,000 and has fast-tracked their admission.

Ellen J. Kennedy
Ellen J. Kennedy
But the U.S. has done nothing to help the Uyghurs. NO Uyghurs have been admitted since 2019. Many of the 10,000 Uyghurs in the U.S. have been waiting years for their asylum applications to be processed.

The Uyghurs we have spoken to have loved ones in China who are in fear for their lives. Uyghurs in the U.S. who speak out against the persecution facing their parents and siblings in China are harassed by the long arm of the CCP in what is called transnational repression. One Uyghur woman said to me, “They are hostaging our loved ones’ lives.”

The Uyghurs need more than hope.

We could increase the quota for Uyghur admissions and fast-track their asylum applications.

The suffering of the Uyghurs deserves our attention as much as the suffering of the Ukrainians.

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide, a human rights organization located at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and an adjunct professor of law.