The genocide of the Uighur people

Tom Spencer

July 15, 2020

The majority Islamic Xinjiang has long been culturally separate from China. When the region was absorbed into the new People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, it presented difficulties for Mao’s establishment. The PRC sought to deal with this through the mass migration of Han Chinese people to Xinjiang alongside the cultural suppression of the Uighur people, which unsurprisingly brought about disorder in the region.

A dispute in 2009 between Han Chinese and Uighur workers in a toy factory led to over 100 deaths. Following this, several terrorist attacks conducted by Uighur separatists were committed against Han Chinese people. It is these attacks that the Chinese Communist party (CCP) have been using as their excuse for human rights abuses in the region. However, when one analyses the specific practices that have been going on, it is evident that this goes far beyond counterterrorism.

The “Strike Hard against Violent Terrorism” campaign forcibly encamped at least 1,000,000 Uighur people. CCP propaganda calls them “education” camps. In reality, there is no ability for any to refuse their imprisonment and they have to stay until the state determines them to be “educated”. Such propaganda mirrors eerily the Nazi description of their concentration camps in the 1930s.

The legislation that allowed for this practice was expanded in April 2017. It now includes anyone who has a long beard, wears a face veil, does not watch state TV or radio, refuses to abide by family planning policies, or gives their child an overly religious name (eg Muhammad). Anyone committing these “crimes” is classified as an extremist and thrown into camps.

Victim testimonies makes the whole situation even more horrifying. A Washington Post story from October 2019 reported that: “they were forced to undergo abortions in China’s Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, others … had contraceptive devices implanted against their will while in detention. One reported being raped. Many said they were subjected to sexual humiliation, incidents that included being filmed in the shower and having their intimate parts rubbed with chile paste.”

The CCP are systemically implementing policies designed to humiliate and destroy the Uighur people. Indeed, a recent report by Adrian Zenz, an expert in Chinese studies at Victims of Communism, revealed that as a result of CCP policies, growth in Uighur birth rates have fallen by 84 per cent – in part due to the sterilisation of up to 34 per cent of childbearing married Uighur women. This meant that in 2018, 80 per cent of the country’s IUD placements were performed in Xinjiang, despite it only making up just over one per cent of the population.

Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) recognises “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” as a key indicator of genocide.

So, what does this mean?

All signatories of the CPPCG are required to prevent and punish all acts of genocide. Therefore, the United Kingdom, and all the other signatories, has a legal duty to punish those responsible. In practice, it is exceptionally difficult to do this, as was demonstrated at the Nuremberg Trials.

But one option to be explored is the use of the International Criminal Court. Since 2002, when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute genocide, the ICC has been empowered to intervene.

Indeed, on 7 July, a group of exiled Uighurs submitted evidence to the ICC, calling for a recognition of genocide. Represented by an experienced London-based legal team, they have included a list of 30 people they deem to be responsible.

And while it is likely to be months before the chief prosecutor of the ICC responds to the filing, this is a step in the right direction and it suggests that the international tide is turning against the Chinese regime.

The UK government, too, is beginning to consider policies to combat this genocide, albeit at a slow pace. Earlier this month, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, reiterated that the UK co-signed a statement at the UN Human Rights Council detailing concerns about the situation in Xinjiang, and he signalled that Chinese officials responsible for these crimes may be subject to Magnitsky sanctions in future.

Only time will tell if legal repercussions are likely, but what’s increasingly clear is that the West is waking up to its responsibilities. We simply cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust – the Uighur people need our help now.


Written by Tom Spencer

Tom Spencer is the Chief Organiser of the London Neoliberals and a Young Voices UK contributor.


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