Report: China committing 'crimes against humanity' in Xinjiang

Xinjiang Jonathan_Densford/Shutterstock

An international human rights organization has declared that China’s actions in the province of Xinjiang amount to crimes against humanity. 

In a report released on Monday, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said that the Chinese government operates hundreds of detention camps in Xinjiang purportedly for anti-terrorism and for vocational purposes; former detainees have reported systemic torture and sexual assault in the camps. 

An estimated one million Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region have been detained in the camps, some for “crimes” such as wearing traditional Uyghur clothing. Human Rights Watch detailed the claims in its report “‘Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots’ China’s Crimes against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims.” 

The report’s title cites an August 10, 2017 quote from Maisumujiang Maimuer, a Chinese religious affairs official. 

In his commentary posted on Weibo, a Chinese social network, Maimuer stated the aim of regional officials, to “Break [Uyghur] lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins. Completely shovel up the roots of ‘two-faced people,’ dig them out, and vow to fight these two-faced people until the end.”

The Chinese government has been detaining and persecuting Uyghurs for years, the report stated, but the abuses and restrictions on religious and cultural practices have reached “unprecedented levels” in recent years for Uyghurs both inside and outside the network of camps. 

“In addition to mass detention and pervasive restrictions on practicing Islam, there is increasing evidence of forced labor, broad surveillance, and unlawful separation of children from their families,” Human Rights Watch said. There are also reports that Uyghur women have been forcibly sterilized, and that forced abortions on late-term Uyghur women are common. 

“It’s increasingly clear that Chinese government policies and practices against the Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang meet the standard for crimes against humanity under international criminal law,” Beth Van Schaack, a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Center for Human Rights & International Justice, said. 

“The government’s failure to stop these crimes, let alone punish those responsible, shows the need for strong and coordinated international action.”

The United States has used even stronger language to refer to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determining that it amounted to “genocide.” Current Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he agrees with that assessment. 

Human Rights Watch called for a United Nations “commission of inquiry,” or “COI,” to investigate the Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Xinjiang. They noted that China’s presence on the UN Security Council could hamper other international investigations. 

A UN investigation “should have a mandate to establish the facts, identify the perpetrators, and make recommendations to provide accountability,” the report said. 

The investigation “should be comprised of eminent persons, including experts in international human rights law, crimes against humanity, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and gender issues. This COI could be established through a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, though the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the UN secretary-general are also empowered to take such an action.” 

Alternatively, the report suggests that individual countries “should consider pursuing criminal cases under the concept of ‘universal jurisdiction,’ which refers to the ability of a country’s domestic judicial system to investigate and prosecute certain grave crimes, such as torture, even if they were not committed on its territory.” 

Human Rights Watch encouraged countries to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the abuses in Xinjiang, as well as trade restrictions on regional products made with forced labor. 

The United States recently imposed sanctions on Chinese officials connected to the abuses of the Uyghurs; China retaliated with sanctions against high-profile American politicians and members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who spoke out against the treatment of the Uyghurs. 

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