The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum expressed “grave concern” on Tuesday that the Chinese government “may be committing genocide” against members of its Uyghur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region, stating that “crimes against humanity are being committed” against the Muslim group.
“The Chinese government has done its best to keep information about crimes against the Uyghurs from seeing the light of day,” said USHMM Committee on Conscience Chairman Tom Bernstein.
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“The information that has come out so far, including documentation from courageous Uyghur activists, has been damning. 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,” Bernstein said.
According to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, Beijing’s “assault on the Uyghur community – marked by the incarceration of between one and three million people as well as abuses such as forced sterilization, torture, sexual violence, and forced labor – is alarming in scale and severity,” with the “damage inflicted upon yghur individuals, families, and their community” leaving “deep emotional scars.”
“The trauma from these atrocities will harm generations of Uyghurs,” she said. “The urgency of the situation facing the Uyghurs should be a wake up call to countries around the world to work together to protect the Uyghur population. Confronting the crimes of a powerful perpetrator who is using new technologies for persecution will be difficult, but that is precisely why genocide prevention requires a coordinated, global response. The Chinese government’s crimes cannot be allowed to continue.”
The USHMM, has previously accused China of “carrying out a policy of mass forced assimilation” but had stopped short of leveling a charge of genocide, stating that while the Communist Party intended to “erase the Uyghur culture and their ability to express their unique identity,” such actions fell short of “the current definition of genocide set out in the Genocide Convention.”
China is currently engaged in what it describes as a multi-year crackdown on religious extremism in the western region, banning beards and face veils and detaining Uyghurs for outward expressions of religion.
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Western politicians and activists have harshly criticized President Xi Jinping’s policies in Xinjiang. Last month, 43 countries, not including Israel, voiced concern in a statement about increasing "reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations," accusing China of detaining more than a million people in camps.
They said the abuse accusations included "reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children."
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and describes the camps as vocational training facilities.
Chinese birth control policies could cut between 2.6 to 4.5 million births of the Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in southern Xinjiang within 20 years, up to a third of the region’s projected minority population, according to a 2021 analysis by a German researcher.
“A number of non-lethal acts which may be constitutive of genocide if committed with the requisite intent have been documented as being committed by the Chinese authorities against the Uyghur community,” the USHMM said in a report detailing the reasons for its allegation of genocide which concludes that the Uyghurs are a protected group according to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“They include: causing serious bodily or mental harm; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group,” the report said.
While efforts to limit birth rates and the forcible removal of tens of thousands of Uyghur children from their parents – who are then “forbidden to speak the Uyghur language or practice Islam and are forced to learn Mandarin” – are part of a “long-existent policy of forced assimilation,” recent assaults on “Uyghur female reproductive capacity” are a sign that “the Chinese government’s conduct has moved beyond” such an approach and raise “legitimate questions about the existence of the intent to biologically destroy the group, in whole or in substantial part,” the USHMM said.
The museum called on the United States to publicly acknowledge and endorse its allegation of genocide and to center the Uyghur issue in talks with China and to do more to protect Uyghur refugees outside of China, who have reported continued harassment even after escaping persecution at home.
It also recommended levying “targeted sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for Uyghur policy, prohibiting the import into the United States of goods that were produced with forced labor in Xinjiang or other countries, and implementing other trade restrictions on China.”
In a tweet, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights in China on behalf of the United States, welcomed the report and its recommendations, including steps to “hold PRC officials & businesses accountable.”
Reuters contributed to this report.