A briefing on China’s genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang

By: Frances McDonough 

Earlier this month, the Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy concluded in a report that the Chinese government “bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the 1948 Genocide Convention.” The report is the first independent legal analysis of China’s mistreatment against the Uyghur population. Extensively citing leaked communications, witness testimonies, and open-source information gathering, the comprehensive verdict follows recent public denunciations from several governments, including the U.S.Canada, and the Netherlands

The Uyghur people are an ethnically-Turkish Muslim minority residing primarily in China’s Northwest Xinjiang region and numbering roughly 12 million in total. However, since 2014, almost 2 million Uyghurs have been held by the Chinese government in over 380 “re-education” camps located throughout Xinjiang. Although Chinese officials claim these camps are used for anti-extremist purposes, international experts liken them more to concentration camps intended to systematically erase Uyghur culture. 

According to this most recent report, detainees are banned from practicing Islam or studying Uyghur history and literature as they become unwillingly indoctrinated by the Chinese Communist Party. Uyghur men, women, and children in these camps are forced to learn Mandarin and allegedly face torture at the hands of guards should they refuse or be unable to do so.  

Going beyond indoctrination, previous reports revealed horrific details regarding China’s efforts to curb the Uyghur population as a whole. Children are regularly separated from families never to be seen again, Uyghur women face massive forced abortion and sterilization campaigns (as well as mass rape), and detainees are subjected to such frequent psychological and physical deprivation that suicide has become widespread (although the death toll within the camps is officially listed as “unknown”). 

In assessing claims of genocide against China, Yonah Diamond, one of over 50 experts who worked on the Newslines Institute report, noted a “common public misunderstanding” which narrowly equates the term “genocide” to mass murder. Instead, Diamond argues that to qualify as genocide, there simply must be “enough evidence to show that there is intent to destroy the group,” something he regards as indisputable considering the evidence analyzed in this case.  

Although the Chinese government continues to adamantly deny allegations, calling it “the lie of the century,” the report has sparked further public outrage which activists hope will prompt serious international repercussions in the near future. After the Biden administration imposed a preliminary set of sanctions against two Chinese officials in connection to the human rights abuses, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated, “[the U.S.] will continue to stand with our allies… in calling for an immediate end to [China’s] crimes and for justice for the many victims.” 

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