The U.S. is gaining allies in its conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in northwestern China meets the United Nation’s definition of genocide. In early February, a group of prominent U.K. human rights organizations and experts in international law published a formal legal opinion that agrees with the U.S. stance on this issue.
A legal opinion recently published in the U.K. finds convincing evidence that China’s state-mandated treatment of the Uighur people shows an intent to annihilate the Muslim minority group. The report notes that there is credible indication that Chinese President Xi Jinping is closely involved in these crimes against humanity and would support a “plausible” case of genocide against him.
In the U.K., a legal opinion is a professional judgement by a Queen’s Council (QC) member. Though this does not serve as a formal statement from the U.K. government itself, it does provide a strong foundation for legal action and gives headway to pursue international consensus that China is committing genocide against the largely Muslim minority in China.
A legal opinion, commissioned by several human rights groups and written by senior barristers at the prestigious Essex Court Chambers in London, has concluded that there is a “very credible case” that the Uighur people are currently victims of genocide by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The report is thought to be the first formal legal assessment in the U.K. of China’s treatment of the Uighurs.
The 100-page report is based on “an exhaustive legal assessment over six months of publicly available evidence” from governments, international organizations, academic scholars, charities, and the media, as well as first-hand witness accounts from survivors, satellite imagery, and leaks of Chinese government papers.
The document reads: “On the basis of the evidence we have seen, this Opinion concludes that there is a very credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uighur people in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.”
Genocide is not just defined by the mass killing of a people group, but also includes causing bodily or mental harm, taking measures to prevent birth, creating life conditions that bring about destruction, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. These actions, in whole or in part, show an intention to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
Recently released reports from Uighur detainees of “re-education camps” have confirmed the most horrific allegations of the treatment of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in these state-mandated camps.
Tursunay Ziawudun, a survivor of these internment camps, recently shared what she witnessed while detained for nine months in confinement. Her testimony is wholly devastating. Ziawudun said that she experienced systematic gang-rape and sexual torture on several occasions. The horrors of her account also include electric shock, being bitten throughout her body, and severe beatings until she could no longer bear children. She was not alone in this abuse. Ziawudun also witnessed these attacks against most women in the camps, recalling that every night women were taken from their cells and sometimes they would not return. She explained that this repeated torture breaks everyone, noting that people either lose their mind or their spirit. “Their goal is to destroy everyone. They say people are released, but in my opinion everyone who leaves the camps is finished,” she stated.
Forced abortions, sterilizations, birth control injections, and surgical implementation of intra-uterine devices (IUDs) are also reported to be systematically used against the Uighur women by the CCP in an effort to prevent the procreation of their ethnic group. Data analysis shows that the natural population growth in Xinjiang declined by 84 percent between 2015 and 2018 and continues to decline. “This is part of a wider control campaign to subjugate the Uighurs,” claimed Dr. Adrian Zenz, a German researcher and China scholar who has been researching these issues and urging the U.N. to investigate.
Women of child-bearing age are not the only ones targeted in these acts of genocide. At present, according to a July 2020 article in Foreign Policy magazine, more than a million men and women “are detained in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labor factories in China. Detainees are subject to military-style discipline, thought transformation, and forced confessions. They are abused, tortured, raped, and even killed. Survivors report being subjected to electrocution, waterboarding, repeated beatings, stress positions, and injections of unknown substances. These mass detention camps are designed to cause serious physical, psychological harm and mentally break the Uighur people.”
Evidence also shows that China has been deliberately removing Uighur children from their families and building boarding schools to house and re-educate the children. In many cases, one or both parents are held in internment camps, which leaves their children in the custody of Chinese authorities.
These unspeakable actions against the Uighur people and other Muslim minority groups meets nearly every one of the UN’s definitions of genocide, according to the legal opinion.
China’s response to these reports claims that Uighurs are being held at “vocational training centers” and are being re-educated to combat violent religious extremism. Yet simple expressions of their faith such as praying or wearing a veil have been used as grounds to detain people. China has denied all allegations of genocide, dismissing the charges as “outrageous lies.”
Last month as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left office, his final official statement was to formally declare the treatment of the Uighur people in China as genocide.
Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken agrees with this designation, recently stating, “On the Uighurs I think we’re very much in agreement. And the forcing of men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
Blinken acknowledges that U.S. foreign policy with China and Russia “poses the most significant challenges.” He continues to assert that China is “falling short” on these human rights issues. President Biden also recently announced his intentions for America to “push back on China’s attack on human rights” and that the U.S. will be “standing up for democracy and human rights around the world.”
This also comes at a time when the new administration announced that the U.S. will be rejoining the U.N. Human Rights Council as an observer. Current members include China, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. “We know that the Council has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world. By being present at the table, we seek to reform it and ensure it can live up to that potential,” a State Department official said in announcing the decision.
The bar for proving genocide is high, but the documents, images, and witness testimony cited in the U.K.’s legal opinion and by the U.S. State Department leave little room for any conclusion but that the CCP is committing genocide against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. As more reports and first-hand accounts are surfacing with consistent evidence, it is becoming difficult for the international community to look away from these crimes.
It is not unknown that the CCP has long abused its political power against religious groups in China. The most difficult element in determining genocide is proving intent, but in the case of the Uighur people, the intent is clear. As Dr. Zenz said, “I think the evidence for systematically keeping parents and children apart is a clear indication that Xinjiang’s government is attempting to raise a new generation cut off from original roots, religious beliefs, and their own language.”
The U.K. legal opinion also claimed a plausible case could be made against President Xi Jinping and two senior Chinese officials as having personal responsibility for this genocide. It reads, “The evidence reviewed above suggests the close involvement of Xi Jinping, Chen Quanguo, and Zhu Hailun in initiating and implementing a range of measures which, taken together, target Uighurs with a severity and to the extent that one could infer an intent to destroy the group as such.”
The claims made in this thoroughly researched document provide a legal basis for seeking official international recognition of this issue. Hopefully, it is enough to inspire the international community to finally take strong action against the CCP for their crimes of genocide against the Uighur people.