According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Chinese government’s persecution of ethnic Uighurs—including their mass detention in internment camps—constitutes “crimes against humanity”.
The designation is important, according to one expert, as it opens an avenue for legal action in an international court of law.
Naomi Kikoler, the director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, said the situation in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) shows that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that China is responsible for crimes against humanity.”
Kikoler was speaking at an event on Thursday entitled “China’s Systematic Persecution of Uighurs”.
“It is important to recall that crimes against humanity were born out of the experience of the Holocaust and first were prosecuted at Nuremberg,” she said, referring to the series of military tribunals held after World War II in 1945-46 by the Allied forces under international law and the laws of war.
Kikoler cited “terrifying” reports of political indoctrination, torture, forced labour, and even deaths in custody by former detainees of the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where as many as 1.8 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harbouring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held since April 2017.
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 Uighurs, 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.
“Perpetrators usually find some rationale for their crimes,” Kikoler said at Thursday’s event.
“In this case, the Chinese government claims to be fighting terrorism or eradicating poverty—but these are goals that cannot possibly be reached by the systematic persecution of the Uyghur population.”
Kikoler was joined by U.S. Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts who, along with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC)—a U.S. congressional advisory panel which in its annual report released earlier this year also suggested that Beijing’s policies in the XUAR may meet the definition of “crimes against humanity.”
McGovern announced at Thursday’s event that he and Rubio plan to introduce legislation called the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which would prohibit imports from the XUAR to the U.S., based on reports that China is gradually moving detainees out of internment camps and into factories where they are made to work for little or no wages.
A report earlier this week by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that some of the detainees are being forced to produce goods for global retailers such as Apple, BMW, The Gap, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen.
On Friday, Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, deemed the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s designation of “historic significance.”
“We wholeheartedly welcome this designation and urge the international community to take necessary action for the protection of the Uighur people.”
Isa’s comments followed a series of tweets by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and one of the world’s foremost experts on mass incarcerations in the XUAR, calling the designation “a major step,” which “comes after careful legal vetting.”
“That means it is, at least theoretically, possible to bring this to an international legal body as a crime, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” he said. (Source: RFA)