Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent
Tuesday March 09 2021, 5.00pm, The Times
China’s campaign of persecution against its Uighur ethnic minority has violated every article in the UN genocide convention, a landmark independent review has found.
The report by more than 50 international law experts, which runs to 25,000 pages, is the first legal non-governmental examination of a swelling body of evidence over Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. It adds that the government under President Xi bears responsibility for an “ongoing genocide”.
Under the UN Genocide Convention, a party can be found to commit genocide if they carry out any of five acts, including murder, displacement and birth suppression, with “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The report by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a non-partisan think tank based in the US, found China had committed all five under a campaign orchestrated by President Xi. “The intent to destroy the Uighurs as a group is derived from objective proof, consisting of comprehensive state policy and practice, which Xi Jinping, the highest authority in China, set in motion,” the report said.
The five acts of genocide are killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Up to two million Uighurs are believed to be held in a vast network of 1,400 internment camps across Xinjiang. China claims the “re-education camps” are part of a counter-extremism campaign after a series of attacks across Xinjiang and other parts of China, attributed to Uighur separatists. On Sunday, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said genocide claims “could not be more preposterous”.
The review cites as evidence repeated reports of targeted imprisonment, systematic torture and sexual abuse, and an unknown number of deaths, with camps, cultural brainwashing, forced sterilisation, family separation, enforced labour and the removal of Uighur children from their families to state boarding schools. Suicides had become “pervasive” in the camps, it said.
“The persons and entities perpetrating the above-indicated acts of genocide are all state agents or organs — acting under the effective control of the state — manifesting an intent to destroy the Uighurs as a group within the meaning of article II of the Genocide convention,” the report said.
China is one of 152 countries to have signed the 1948 Genocide Convention, the life’s work of Rafael Lemkin, a Polish Jew inspired to enshrine the destruction of a people as a particular crime in international law after learning of the Armenian Genocide.
Under the convention, all signatories have a responsibility to act. “China’s obligations . . . to prevent, punish and not commit genocide are erga omnes, or owed to the international community as a whole,” the report said.
The US became the first government to ascribe the crime of genocide to the Chinese Communist Party in January, placing pressure on other countries to follow. Canada and the Netherlands did so declaring China guilty of genocide and urging the International Olympic Committee to strip Beijing of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
In Britain, a row erupted in parliament after Lords and MPs, including Conservative backbenchers, tried to pass an amendment forbidding the government to strike a trade agreement with a government guilty of genocide. Part of the row centred on what authority could make that judgment.
Lawyers for Uighur exiles filed a genocide complaint against China with the International Criminal Court last year, despite Beijing not being a member of the tribunal. The ICC has yet to rule on whether to open an investigation.
The Newlines Institute’s report draws on thousands of testimonies from Uighur exiles and Chinese government documents, many of them collected by Adrian Zenz, a German researcher with the US-based Victims of Communism Foundation.
He has drawn Beijing’s ire for his revelations, including a detailed study last year on the forced sterilisation of Uighur women. In December he published an analysis of Chinese state documents that estimated 500,000 Muslims were forced to pick cotton.
On Monday, the Xinjiang Communist Party website reported Zenz was being sued by Chinese firms for loss of earnings due to sanctions against cotton products from Xinjiang. The report was picked up by Xinhua, the state press agency, and the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s English language media outlet. Zenz dismissed the lawsuit threat as “part of a well-prepared propaganda offensive”.