The Chinese government bears “state responsibility” for committing genocide against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in breach of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, according to a new report based on an “extensive review” of the available evidence and the application of international law.
Published Tuesday by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, in cooperation with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, the report is the first independent expert effort to map the 1948 Genocide Convention against Beijing’s treatment of ethnic minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where reports of systematic human-rights atrocities, including extrajudicial incarceration, torture, sexual violence, and forced labor have emerged to growing international censure.
“For this purpose, dozens of experts in international law, genocide studies, Chinese ethnic policies and the region were invited to examine pro-bono all available evidence that could be collected and verified from public Chinese state communications, leaked Chinese state communications, eyewitness testimony and open-source research methods such as public satellite-image analysis, analysis of information circulating on the Chinese internet and any other available source,” Azeem Ibrahim, director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, wrote in the foreword of the report. “We believe the conclusions are clear and convincing.”
Under Article II of the Genocide Convention, the first human-rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the wake of the Second World War, the commission of genocide requires the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [a protected group].”
Intent can be inferred from a “collection of objective facts” that are attributable to party leaders, the study’s authors wrote, including official statements, a general plan, state policy and law, a pattern of conduct and repeated destructive acts, which “have a logical sequence and result—destruction of the group as such, in whole or in substantial part.” High-level documents, they noted, have directed officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” “wipe them out completely…destroy them root and branch” and “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.”
While President Xi Jinping has defended Beijing’s actions as a pre-emptive strike against “terrorism, infiltration and separatism,” officials have privately couched the mass detention of Uyghurs in dehumanizing terms such as “eliminating tumors.” The Chinese government has also established a system of institutionalized long-term forced Uyghur labor outside the internment camps, human-rights experts have said, routinely transferring detainees to cotton fields and factories adjacent to the camps or on the other side of the country.
“These forced labor programs can also be connected to internment, as satellite imagery has identified masses of people wearing identical uniforms transferred between the two sites,” the report’s authors wrote. Forced labor factories, whose construction “parallels the rapid expansion of internment camps,” have been verified on at least 135 of the Xinjiang detention sites, they said.
Further demonstrating an “intent to destroy the essential elements of Uyghur identity and communal bonds” are the highly securitized institutionalization of Uyghur infants and children, the destruction of sacred sites and the deliberate targeting of “guardians and transmitters of Uyghur identity,” the report noted.
At the same time, the Chinese government has directed officials to “carry out family planning sterilization,” “lower fertility levels” and ”leave no blind spots” as part of a well-documented, state-funded campaign to ensure that Uyghur women are “no longer baby-making machines,” a move the report said prevents the “regenerative capacity of the group and evincing an intent to biologically destroy the group as such.”
“The authorities systematically target Uyghurs of childbearing years, household heads, and community leaders for detention in unliveable conditions, impose birth-prevention measures on Uyghur women, separate Uyghur children from their parents and transfer Uyghurs on a mass scale into forced hard labor schemes in a manner that parallels the mass internment,” they wrote. “In sum, China is deliberately inflicting collective conditions calculated to terminate the survival of the Uyghurs as a group.”
Though the convention doesn’t lay out specific penalties or punishments for states or governments determined to have committed genocide, the report said the convention’s 151 signatories have a responsibility to act. “China’s obligations…to prevent, punish and not commit genocide are erga omnes, or owed to the international community as a whole,” the report’s authors wrote.
So far, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands have recognized China’s crackdown as genocide despite Beijing’s continued dismissal of such claims. A formal legal opinion published by U.K. barristers last month also determined that not only is there a “very credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide” but there is also a “plausible” case that personal responsibility for the genocide lies with President Xi and other senior Chinese officials.
The report follows the leak of a high-level document—the so-called “Nankai report”—affirming that Beijing’s forced-labor transfer of Uyghurs was designed, at least in part, to “crack open the solidified [Uyghur] society,” thin its numbers and assimilate its members into mainstream Han culture.