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Watchdog accuses China of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang

Uyghur protesters (Malcolm Brown/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says China’s communist government is committing crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim people in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

The Chinese leadership is responsible for widespread and systematic policies of mass incarceration, torture, and cultural persecution, among other offenses, HRW said in a report published on April 19, urging coordinated international action to impose sanctions on those responsible, advance accountability, and press the Chinese government to reverse course.

The United States has used the word genocide to describe the treatment of the Uyghurs.

China denies genocide. It has described Xinjiang as an internal matter and rejected abuse allegations. Beijing claims internment camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight Islamic extremism.

The report, titled “Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots”: China’s Crimes Against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims, documents a wide array of human rights violations such as: mass arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, mass surveillance, cultural and religious erasure, separation of families, forced returns to China, forced labor, and sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights.

“Acts of torture include interrogation in ‘tiger chairs’ using electroshock and other violent means of interrogation, and beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, sexual violence, and deprivation of food or water that are arbitrarily inflicted on detainees,” the report says.

The abuses are “part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a population,” says the report put together with assistance from Stanford Law School’s Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic.

“Chinese authorities have systematically persecuted Turkic Muslims — their lives, their religion, their culture,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based HRW.

“Beijing has said it’s providing ‘vocational training’ and ‘deradicalization,’ but that rhetoric can’t obscure a grim reality of crimes against humanity,” Richardson said.

The report lists a number of acts that it says represent “cultural persecution,” such as: the razing of mosques and other religiously or culturally important sites, the involuntary implantation of contraceptive devices in Turkic Muslim women, and the forced indoctrination of Turkic Muslims both inside and outside of camps.

The report notes that in recent years, the level of official oppression of Turkic Muslims has reached “unprecedented levels,” adding higher levels of forced labor, broad surveillance, and unlawful separation of children from their families to methods already in use like mass detention and restrictions on practicing Islam.

“It’s increasingly clear that Chinese government policies and practices against the Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang meet the standard for crimes against humanity under international criminal law,” said Beth Van Schaack, from the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice.

“The government’s failure to stop these crimes, let alone punish those responsible, shows the need for strong and coordinated international action,” Van Schaack said.

The authors of the report urge the UN Human Rights Council to establish a body invested with authority to probe allegations of crimes against humanity, identify officials responsible for abuses, and come up with ways to hold them accountable.

The report recommends imposing visa and travel bans as well as targeted sanctions on those responsible for crimes committed against people in Xinjiang, as well as trade restrictions and other moves to end the use of forced labor in China.

“It is increasingly clear that a coordinated global response is needed to end China’s crimes against humanity against Turkic Muslims,” Richardson said. “That China is a powerful state makes it all the more important for holding it accountable for its unrelenting abuses.”