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US Holocaust Museum adds China to list of case studies over mass internment of Uyghurs

Exterior of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Washington Monument in the background has scaffolding to repair damage of August 23 2011 earthquake. (Phil Kalina/Flickr)
April 26, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHHM) on Thursday added China to its list of 15 country case studies for Beijing’s mass internment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), saying the three-year-old camp system represented “crimes against humanity.”

The museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide added China as an “area of focus” to its list of nations that include “historical cases of genocide and other atrocities, places where mass atrocities are currently underway or populations are under threat, and areas where early warning signs call for concern and preventive action.”

In particular, the center highlighted the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held since April 2017.

Also cited by the center was the government’s use of “sophisticated social and technological surveillance systems in order to control everyday aspects of Uyghur life.”

“The Chinese government is systematically persecuting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity,” the center says in its case study.

“There is a reasonable basis to believe that the government of China is committing crimes against humanity … The massive surveillance and detention infrastructure China has constructed poses a significant threat to the Uyghur people, whose ability to express through cultural and religious practice their unique identity is seriously infringed.”

China joins Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Myanmar, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe on the center’s list of perpetrators.

In March, Naomi Kikoler, the center’s director, noted that crimes against humanity were born out of the experiences of the Holocaust and were first prosecuted at Nuremberg through a series of military tribunals held after World War II in 1945-46 by the Allied forces under international law and the laws of war.

“Every government has committed to protect their populations from crimes against humanity,” she said at the time.

“In this case, there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Chinese government is failing in this regard, and they are committing the crimes against humanity of persecution and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty.”

Holding China to account

While Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps in the XUAR, China last year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities.

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service on Thursday, U.S.-based Uyghur attorney Nury Turkel welcomed the center’s designation.

“USHMM’s decision to add China to the list of country case studies is a testimony to the fact of the severity of the atrocities that the Chinese Communist Party has committed against the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples,” Turkel said.

“Those officials and entities in China that are responsible for the crimes against the Uyghurs must be held to account,” he added.

“The international communities must come together to formulate and implement policies to stop China from continuing to engage in genocidal policies against the Uyghur people. We should not allow the Chinese Communist Party to test the conscience of the international community.”