First Independent Probe of Xinjiang ‘Genocide’ Finds Evidence of ‘Intent to Destroy’ Uyghurs

Experts say evidence shows the Chinese government violated every act in the Genocide Convention.
2021.03.09
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First Independent Probe of Xinjiang ‘Genocide’ Finds Evidence of ‘Intent to Destroy’ Uyghurs A facility believed to be an internment camp located north of Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 2, 2019.
AFP

China has demonstrated “intent to destroy” the Uyghur ethnic minority, and therefore bears state responsibility for committing genocide, according to the findings of the first independent report to investigate claims of abuses in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The report, entitled “The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China’s Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention” and published Tuesday by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, is based on the analysis of more than 50 global experts on human rights and international law who examined evidence from state documents, witness testimony, and open-source research to make their determination.

It notes that under Article II of the United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), the commission requires “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [a protected group],” but doesn't require explicit statements of intent to prove.

“Intent can be inferred from a collection of objective facts that are attributable to the State, 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,” the report says.

Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have extralegally held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since 2017, under the guise of a “de-extremification” plan that followed a number of what the report termed “high-level statements of intent” three years earlier.

Tuesday’s report counts the mass internment campaign, as well as other state policies such as government-mandated homestays, a mass birth-prevention strategy, the forcible transfer of Uyghur children to state-run facilities, the eradication of Uyghur identity, and the selectively targeting of intellectuals and other leader as evidence of intent to destroy the ethnic group.

“China’s policies and practices targeting Uyghurs in the region must be viewed in their totality, which amounts to an intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group, in whole or in substantial part, as such,” the report said.

While the commission of any one of the Genocide Convention’s enumerated acts with the requisite intent can constitute genocide, the experts unanimously found that “the evidence presented in this report supports a finding of genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of each and every act prohibited in Article II” of the convention.

Specifically, they found evidence of the acts of killing members of the group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As a highly centralized state, where the individuals and entities responsible for such acts are all state agents or organs, “China bears State responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs, in breach of the Genocide Convention,” the report said.

Tuesday’s report follows Washington’s January designation of the situation in the XUAR as constituting genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as the passing of similar motions in the Dutch and Canadian parliaments last month.

Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment—including systematic rape—and political indoctrination.

The flag of the People's Republic of China flies at Beijing's mission at the UN Headquarters in New York, in a file photo. AFP

Onus on state parties to convention

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Azeem Ibrahim, director of special initiatives at Newlines, a Washington-based think tank, and co-author of the report, noted the unanimous decision by the experts enlisted to investigate the evidence, which he called unsurprising.

He said that while China does not recognize the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, it is a state party to the Genocide Convention as a member of the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council.

“So, the onus then falls upon the [more than 150] other state parties to the Genocide Convention … [who] now have to take action against China because of this,” he said, citing their obligations under Article I of the convention.

“The genocide convention is … not a mechanism for academic discussion on whether an incident is genocidal or not, as much as a mechanism to prevent genocide. So, the onus is now on other countries to step in and stop this genocide with the tools that are at their disposal.”

Ibrahim said there is no longer time for nations that are unsure how to respond to call for debates, inquiries and court decisions over what is happening in the XUAR.

“These are all mechanisms designed to waste time to buy time and essentially to obfuscate and not deal with the issue at hand,” he said.

“The reality is that the countries under the Genocide Convention are now obligated to take action. There is absolutely no passivity permitted. Countries have to take significant action against China under the Genocide Convention.”

Tuesday’s report was welcomed by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) advocacy group, which called on governments to “act without delay on their obligations under Article I of the Convention, in which the signatories undertake ‘to prevent and to punish’ the crime of genocide.”

“The finding of genocide by legal experts will materially bolster growing international momentum to recognize the heinous atrocity crimes and take immediate action,” the group said in a statement.

Louisa Greve, director of advocacy for UHRP, told RFA Uyghurs and those who monitor events in the XUAR “have known for a long time that it’s clear what the government’s intent is.”

“But the report confirms that under international law, it is not necessary to find a statement of intent by government leaders; rather it is enough to find a pattern to consider in its totality—government action, general plans, and the overall effect of government acts and policies,” she said.

“The second thing that’s most important is the finding that the Chinese government has violated each and every act enumerated in the Genocide Convention—each and every one. And again, Uyghurs have known this for a long time, but now legal experts have looked at the evidence and agree.”

Greve also called on governments to act on their obligations under the convention.

“It's too late to prevent, but they must punish. This is the only way to uphold international human rights standards,” she said. “It is the only way to put pressure on the Chinese government to end its genocidal policies.”

Adrian Zenz (R) speaks with RFA's Alim Seytoff (L) during an interview in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. RFA

Threat of lawsuit

Also on Tuesday, China’s government threatened a civil lawsuit against one of the experts cited in the report on genocide—German researcher Adrian Zenz, who last week published a study which found that labor transfers within the XUAR and to other parts of China meet the definition of forced labor and could be classified as crimes against humanity in an international court of law.

Zenz, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, had also published a June 2020 report that linked decreases in the birthrate and natural population growth rate in the XUAR in 2018 to forced sterilization and concluded that such measures amount to genocide under United Nations definitions.

When Zenz’s study came out, official Chinese media vilified him and said Beijing is “considering suing” him for libel, while the foreign ministry denounced him.

Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Zenz noted that such a legal action “would be difficult to enforce internationally” and suggested that it was more of a symbolic threat.

“But still, it just shows that the Chinese state is really trying—they are really sort of pushed in a corner when it comes to Xinjiang,” he said.

“The most interesting aspect of their report on the lawsuit, I think, is the admission that there have been major economic losses to companies as a result of sanctions and Western companies changing their sourcing away from Xinjiang supply chains [linked to forced labor].”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration slapped sanctions on several top Chinese officials and entities deemed responsible for the situation in the XUAR, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington has sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA). The legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress, and highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them.

Another proposed bill—Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—was reintroduced in February in the House of Representatives. The act, which was passed by the House last year but never brought to the floor by the Senate, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.

Zenz said the threat of a lawsuit suggests that the sanctions are having an impact and that “companies in Xinjiang cannot just continue business as usual on the back of this oppression.”

“I think maybe Chinese companies are getting angry … with the government, saying, ‘look, now we are worse off than before,’” he said.

“So, maybe it's also trying to appease the domestic audience and to create more propaganda for the Chinese audience … but it could also be an attempt to intimidate against any further reporting on Xinjiang.”

The Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs advocacy group condemned what it called an “astoundingly preposterous move” against Zenz but noted that it matched consistent responses from the Chinese Communist Party “to bully and threaten any who oppose them.”

“It’s time for us to make clear that the Chinese regime cannot continue to face no consequences for its crimes, indeed, we must push back on their targeted harassment, lies, and genocide,” said CFU executive director Rushan Abbas, adding that her group plans to consult with lawyers and experts “to explore civil and criminal avenues for justice against the Chinese Communist Party and its enablers.”

Reported by Adile Ablet and Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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