A new report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) released on February 9, 2023, The Complicity of Heritage: Cultural Heritage and Genocide in the Uyghur Region, highlights how China’s actions in East Turkistan constitute what the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls “strategic cultural cleansing”: the deliberate targeting of individuals and groups based on their cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation, combined with the intentional and systematic destruction of their cultural heritage.
“Across the world, heritage is used as a soft tool of governance to control history and people’s sense of identity. But when heritage is used in tandem with the hard modes of governance currently in play in the Uyghur region—one that states and international bodies have designated a form of genocide—then the heritage system itself is complicit in those acts of genocide,” says Professor Rachel Harris, a co-author of the report.
“This report is critical to the international community’s understanding of recognizing genocide. The Chinese state’s erasure of Uyghur cultural practices and rewriting of Uyghur history has long been documented. Instead of protecting the bearers of this heritage, agencies such as UNESCO, have been complicit in approving its destruction by Chinese authorities. I urge concerned governments, through the United Nations, to act now before our culture and history become the property of our persecutors,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat.