Make an atrocity determination about China's treatment of Uighurs

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Washington Examiner on August 17, 2020.

When Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming was recently asked to explain footage from the Xinjiang region showing hundreds of restrained, blindfolded men waiting to be loaded onto a train, he awkwardly evaded the question. The reality is that these men were being transferred through China’s network of internment camps, where an estimated 1 to 3 million Uighur Muslims are currently detained due to their ethnic and religious identity.

New revelations of forced sterilizations indicate the situation is only getting worse. As evidence increasingly points to genocide in Xinjiang, it is time for the Trump administration to issue a determination on atrocity crimes committed against Uighurs and other ethnic minority Muslims.

As a category, atrocity crimes refer to the legally defined international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. China’s actions increasingly suggest they are guilty of the first two atrocity crimes.

Just last month, the Associated Press exposed the Chinese government’s concerted effort to cut birth rates among Uighurs. Xinjiang officials have required women to take pregnancy tests, forcibly sterilized them, and even forced women to have abortions — all part of a brutal campaign to limit the Uighur population. Unfortunately, the campaign has been successful. Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar decreased by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018.

Researcher Adrian Zenz found government directives instructing local Xinjiang officials to “contain illegal births and lower fertility levels,” provoking a large-scale search for families who had gone over the limit. Uighurs have been fined, detained, or imprisoned for having more than two children.

These new revelations should prompt the State Department to investigate whether Beijing’s systematic attempt to genetically reduce the Turkic Muslim population meets the definition of genocide under international law. Such an investigation is likely to find that it does.

The International Genocide Convention defines genocide as involving specific “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including the act of “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” The Chinese government’s aggressive campaign to limit the births of Uighurs and other ethnic Turkic Muslim is precisely a "measure intended to prevent births within" an "ethnic, racial or religious group," easily meeting the international definition of genocide.

Even before the extent of China’s effort to cut Uighur birth rates was revealed, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had already warned that China’s mass arbitrary detention and religious persecution of Uighurs constitute possible crimes against humanity.

In response to evidence of forced sterilizations, 78 members of Congress sent a letter to the Trump administration requesting “an official determination as to whether the Chinese government is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes, including genocide, against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities.” An atrocity determination is the secretary of state’s responsibility and is an appeal that should be taken seriously. The gravity of the crimes committed against Uighurs warrants a meaningful U.S. response.

An atrocity determination creates political and moral pressure — both in the U.S. and around the world — to confront the perpetrators and aid the victims. The U.S. has already demonstrated leadership on this issue by being the first country to pass legislation to address the Uighur crisis, the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Now it is time to rouse international action against China’s repression.

As evidence of the Chinese government’s horrific actions against Muslim ethnic minorities continues to mount, an atrocity determination will build momentum among U.S. and international leaders to address China’s campaign of oppression.

China is loading people from an ethnoreligious minority group onto trains and taking coercive measures to stop the growth of their population. Humanity has seen these types of actions before, as well as the tragic results of authoritarian regimes’ oppressive social control campaigns. It is often difficult to recognize genocide or other atrocity crimes before they are over. This time, the signs are clear, and we must do more to identify and stop these crimes against Uighurs before it is too late.