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How China’s Persecution of the Uyghurs is Changing Global Understandings of Genocide

Emily Prey

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The People’s Republic of China bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, according to a ground-breaking report published by the Newlines Institute of Strategy and Policy in Washington, D.C.

In 2014, the Chinese Government began a “re-education” effort in Xinjiang aimed primarily at the Uyghur minority in their so-called “war on terror”. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) greatly expanded the program in 2017, imprisoning over one million people in concentration camps and subjecting those who were not detained to forced labor, sexual abuse, and intense surveillance, among other violations. There have been alarming reports of horrific living conditions within the camps where detainees are subjected to systematic sexual assault and mass rape, coercive birth prevention procedures, sleep deprivation, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside of the camps, the CCP is attempting to “break their connections, lineage, and origins” by separating Uyghur children from their families and sending them to live in state-run orphanages. Families of detainees are paired with Han cadres as a part of the “Becoming Family” program. Under this program, cadres often sleep in the same bed as members of Uyghur households, where sexual abuse and rape have become common. According to explicit Government orders, the intent behind such measures targeting the Uyghurs is to “wipe them out completely…destroy them root and branch”.

The actions of the Chinese Government to repress the Uyghurs are all examples of genocidal acts under Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention – but what makes it a genocide per se is the intention behind the acts. The report lays the necessary legal groundwork for an understanding of the crime of genocide and concludes that China’s policies in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs violate the Genocide Convention. Historically, genocide has only been invoked by the U.S. State Department to describe episodes of mass killing, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Nazi Germany. But the State Department’s legal stance is very narrow and puts too much emphasis on the first category, mass killing, of genocide under Article II. In fact, there are five categories of genocide laid out by the Convention. Under Article IIgenocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article II states very clearly what genocide is under international law – what it is not is only mass slaughter, despite what some would have you believe. And frankly, it does not matter what the common understanding of the term genocide is, as genocide is a word laden with legal ramifications, chief among them the duty to prevent and punish by signatories to the Genocide Convention.

Read more in Praxis.