Apr 22, 2024 - World

Son of Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel brings focus on Uyghur persecution

People take part in a demonstration to protest against China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities, on the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, on October 01, 2021 in Washington.

People take part in a demonstration to protest against China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities, on the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the Communist China, in Washington. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Elisha Wiesel, son of the late-Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel, is joining forces with international human rights advocates to draw attention to the Chinese government's repression of ethnic Uyghurs.

Why it matters: Beijing is facing mounting international pressure over allegations of genocide and mass detention against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the country's northwest region of Xinjiang.

The big picture: Two U.S. House members last week urged the State Department to step up its diplomatic efforts to ensure companies that benefit from the forced labor of Uyghurs in China can't access global markets.

  • The U.S. also has sought to crack down on companies believed to be complicit in the Chinese government's human rights abuses toward Uyghur Muslims and other minorities.

Zoom in: Wiesel told Axios he spent last week in New York listening to Uyghur Muslim survivors of Chinese repression and was horrified by the stories.

  • From forced sterilization to physical intimidation to murder, Wiesel says the Chinese government is responsible for these horrific acts, and the Elie Wiesel Foundation wants to get these stories out.
  • He said the move is similar to the works of his father, who often tried to draw attention to genocide and repression in Rwanda and the former Soviet Union.
  • "My father had no problem finding the biggest bully on the planet and picking a fight with them. Today, I think the biggest bully on the planet is the Chinese Communist Party."

Background: The Chinese government has put more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs into mass internment camps in the country's northwest region, according to estimates by human rights groups.

  • The roundup is part of a sweeping campaign of repression that several governments have designated a genocide.
  • A 2020 BBC investigation showed how China used detention camps as tools of cultural genocide to guide Uyghurs away from Islam and their cultural identity toward Chinese Communist loyalty.

The intrigue: The Elie Wiesel Foundation says it will encourage Americans to contact their representatives about the repression of Uyghurs.

  • The group also wants consumers to recognize companies who stop doing business in China over allegations of using forced labor from Uyghurs.

Zumretay Arkin, World Uyghur Congress director of global advocacy, says having Elisha Wiesel help educate the world about Uyghurs gives human rights advocates hope.

  • "We think we are alone in this," Arkin said. "Then we realize that other people who went through these atrocities and who have committed their lives to the principles of 'never again' are now raising their voices."
  • "Standing in solidarity with the Uyghurs is really meaningful," Arkin said.

Go deeper: UN report finds "serious human rights violations" in Xinjiang

Go deeper