China may be committing genocide against Uyghurs, warns US Holocaust Memorial Museum

·4-min read
Demonstrators supporting Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kongers take part in a protest against the Chinese Communist Party on 72nd National Day of the People’s Republic of China (AP)
Demonstrators supporting Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kongers take part in a protest against the Chinese Communist Party on 72nd National Day of the People’s Republic of China (AP)

China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population may have reached the level of genocide, according to a leading authority on the Holocaust and other mass atrocities.

A report released by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Centre for the Prevention of Genocide on Tuesday highlights graphic, harrowing accounts of several detainees in the country’s detention camps and lists a number of atrocities that have reportedly been committed against the Uyghur population in China.

Titled “To Make Us Slowly Disappear: The Chinese Government’s Assault on the Uyghurs”, the report detailed most of its evidence from leaked Chinese government documents.

The Uyghurs are a Muslim ethno-religious minority group in China. There are about 12 million Uyghurs who live in the north-western region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum said it was “gravely concerned that the Chinese government may be committing genocide against the Uyghurs,” the report said, adding that the “seriousness of the assault” on the minority Muslim community in the region demands urgent attention.

The report said that “there is now a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of forced sterilisation, sexual violence, enslavement, torture and forcible transfer are also being committed.”

It concludes that Beijing “had perpetrated the crimes against humanity of persecution and of imprisonment” against the Uyghurs.

The report is an update to the organisation’s March 2020 report, which had concluded that China’s Communist Party severely curtailed the physical liberty of the Uyghur population and perpetrated crimes against humanity on them.

A worker packages spools of cotton yarn at a Huafu Fashion plant, as seen during a government-organised trip for foreign journalists, in Aksu in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur (AP)
A worker packages spools of cotton yarn at a Huafu Fashion plant, as seen during a government-organised trip for foreign journalists, in Aksu in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur (AP)

The Holocaust Memorial Museum said it was concerned over the “persecutory nature” of violations by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“The impunity with which the Chinese government has been able to commit these crimes thus far cannot persist,” it said. “The future of a people may depend on swift, coordinated action by global actors.”

The report cited witness testimonies, publicly available information from dissidents and detailed accounts provided by human rights groups.

“Additional recently surfaced information signals that the Chinese government’s conduct has escalated beyond a policy of forced assimilation,” it said.

The report also pointed out how the Chinese government has allegedly attempted to establish control over Uyghur women by “deepening assault on Uyghur female reproductive capacity through forced sterilisation and forced intrauterine device (IUD) placement”.

It also highlighted “the separation of the sexes through mass detention and forcible transfer.”

A number of other atrocities against women were highlighted by the report, including the systematic use of sexual violence, including rape and abuse, as recounted by former female detainees.

The detainees talked about the use of rape, sexual abuse and torture of women in detention camps, which the Chinese government terms as “re-education camps”.

An ethnic minority worker operates cotton yarn machinery at Aksu Huafu textile limited company in Aksu, western China's Xinjiang (EPA)
An ethnic minority worker operates cotton yarn machinery at Aksu Huafu textile limited company in Aksu, western China's Xinjiang (EPA)

A female detainee, quoted by the report, recalled her suffering and said she was gangraped multiple times and given electric shocks to her genitalia. She said she witnessed the rapes of other women as well.

Another woman, detained in Xinjiang for the second time in March 2018, gave a harrowing account of her experience.

She said a policeman, in one instance, kicked her repeatedly on the head after which she was left to bleed. In another instance, the woman said she was taken to three policemen for questioning.

“The first time, I was raped by all three of them together. I remember it very clearly. I can’t cry and I can’t die… my soul and heart are dead,” she said.

Tom Bernstein, the chairman of the museum’s Committee on Conscience, said the Chinese government is doing its best to hide the information about these crimes.

“The Chinese government must halt its attacks on the Uyghur people and allow independent international monitors to investigate and ensure that the crimes have stopped,” he said.

Raising concern over the “alarming in scale and severity,” Naomi Kikoler, the director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Centre for the Prevention of Genocide, said trauma from these atrocities will harm generations of Uyghurs.

She said the 60-page report should serve as a wake-up call for the international community to boost pressure on Beijing to halt the repression in Xinjiang.

Over the past few years, China has repeatedly been accused of targeting Uyghurs within the country as well as outside. Beijing, however, has consistently denied the allegations.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Washington, said all minority and ethnic groups in China “live harmoniously together with equality, solidarity and mutual assistance,” reported South China Morning Post.

“There has never been any ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang,” he said. “We hope the relevant personnel can hold an objective and just position, stop making irresponsible remarks.”

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