Uyghur Advocacy Group Calls for the Stop of Guided Tours in Xinjiang
South and East Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
Washington-based human rights activist group Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), has released a report calling for the stop of guided tours offered by Western travel agencies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) claiming that they implicitly contribute to the ongoing state-led repression against the Uyghur minority residing in the region. According to a statement filed on August 30, the executive director of UHRP, Omer Kanat stated that travel companies have no business conducting guided tours to sites of ongoing atrocities. Furthermore, he referred to the cases of Rwanda, and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or Darfur stating that no one would arrange guided tours in those areas in the midst of ongoing atrocities and that the same mentality should be applied in the case of Xinjiang (Gerin, 2019).
Human rights organizations, the U.S. government, and several Western parliaments have declared the Chinese government’s actions toward the Uyghurs as genocide or crimes against humanity. A 2022 report issued by the U.N.’s human rights office said the abuses may constitute crimes against humanity. The actions include heavy surveillance, mass detentions of an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in camps and prisons, torture, forced sterilizations of women, forced labor, repression of religious belief and expression, and destruction of cultural heritage (Gerin, 2019).
UHRP’s report titled ‘‘Genocide Tours: International Travel Companies in East Turkistan’’ identified seven travel companies which are based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which were planning guided tours in Urumqi, Turpan, and Kashgar. Additionally, those tours include visits to Uyghur homes while the families are incapable of refusing indicating an environment of state control. Namely, the firms identified are Abercrombie & Kent, Bamboo Travel, Geographical Expeditions, Goway Travel, Intrepid Travel, Laurus Travel, and Wild Frontiers, which is also doing business under the name Myths and Mountains (Uyghur Human Rights Project, 2023).
The UHRP calls for an end to Xinjiang tours and for businesses to adhere to internal, industry, and global environmental, social, and governance, norms in the report’s seven recommendations for travel agencies and their respective trade associations. The group also urged that the businesses agree to comply with the Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics’ provisions through an annual evaluation of operations. This convention derives from the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET) which was the first non-legally binding set of international provisions aiming for sustainable and responsible tourism. The Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics is the continuation of the GCET, which took a legally binding form and contains international human rights norms for the travel industry. Article 7, Tourism, a user of cultural resources and a contributor to their enhancement, and Article 8, Tourism, a beneficial activity for host countries and communities are the most relevant to the protection of Uyghur communities from the destruction of tangible and intangible culture (Uyghur Human Rights Project, 2023).
Gerin, R. (2023, September 5). Stop tourism of Xinjiang, Uyghur advocacy group says. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/xinjiang-tourism-09052023165918.html
Uyghur Human Rights Project. (2023, August 30). Genocide Tours: International travel companies in East Turkistan - Uyghur Human Rights Project. https://uhrp.org/report/genocide-tours-international-travel-companies-in-east-turkistan