Lawmakers and the White House condemned atrocities committed against ethnic and religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang following the release of a U.N. report on human rights in the region.
“The conclusion that [CCP] authorities’ mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and others may have committed crimes against humanity corroborates what human rights advocates and members of the Uyghur diaspora have documented for years,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who chair and co-chair the committee.
The report follows years of investigations into alleged mass arbitrary detention, surveillance, torture, rape, and forced sterilizations in Xinjiang.
Merkley and McGovern used the opportunity to call on the international community to push back against the CCP’s excesses and to provide assistance to those fleeing China.
“We call on all countries to heed the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to refrain from returning Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities to China and to instead provide humanitarian assistance to these persecuted individuals,” the two said.
“And we urge other governments to implement policies and legislation similar to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in order to protect consumers and prevent businesses from being complicit in activities that abet atrocities. There is no time to waste.”
‘Crimes Against Humanity’Xinjiang is China’s westernmost and geographically largest region. It shares borders with Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Xinjiang is also the ancestral homeland of many predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China.
In 2017, numerous allegations of forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions among those minority communities began to sweep through the international community, according to the report.
The U.N. report found that the scale and brutality of the detentions, framed by CCP authorities as compulsory reeducation camps or “vocational skills education centers,” likely qualified as a crime against humanity.
A Mechanism for RepressionThe report found that the forced disappearances and reeducation programs were part of the CCP’s broader “Strike Hard” campaign, which aimed to curb the risks posed by Islamic extremism.
The CCP used the fear of Islamic extremism following a terrorist attack to fuel the effort, the report found. According to a CCP white paper quoted in the report, communist authorities went so far as to claim that extremists had launched “thousands of terrorist attacks” in Xinjiang from 1990 to 2016.
The CCP thus enacted its Counterterrorism Law, which classified any act that created “social panic” to be an act of terrorism.
The CCP white paper quoted in the report further said that the regime had arrested nearly 13,000 people and “punished” more than 30,000 others for “religious extremism” between 2014 and 2019.
The report said, however, that the real number of detainees could be more than a million and that the so-called “education centers” that were created for non-violent offenders were often used to detain people based on their ethnic, religious, or cultural background.
This, the report said, was likely a direct violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which bars arbitrary detention.
“Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies,” according to the report.
Torture and GenocideThe report found that “10-20 percent of the adult‘ ethnic population’” in the region were subjected to some form of detention between 2017 and 2018. Many, it said, were tortured through beating, electrocution, starvation, and sleep deprivation.
Others were prohibited from speaking their native language, forced to only speak Mandarin and to recite “red songs” and other communist propaganda.
Moreover, the report found that detained women were frequently forced to have abortions and be sterilized as part of an apparent effort to destroy the non-Chinese population in the region.
The United States has long recognized that aspect of the campaign as a genocide. However, the U.N. report does not mention genocide, opting to say that the CCP may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
“Unfortunately, [this report] did exactly what we expected: downplay the severity of the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes,” Rubio said.
“Everyone in the world, except apparently people at the United Nations, knows the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.”
The report did note that from 1953 to the present, the number of Uyghurs in Xinjiang had fallen from 75 percent of the total population to 45 percent. Meanwhile, ethnic Han in the region skyrocketed from 7 percent to 42 percent.
The report found this dramatic shift to be at least partially caused by the “Hanification” policies of the CCP, through which the regime allegedly aims to systematically compel non-Han peoples to adopt the Han culture and the Mandarin language.
Moreover, the report found that from 2017 to 2019, the birth rate in Xinjiang plummeted by 48.7 percent.
“The report deepens our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is perpetrating,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a Sep. 1 press conference.
“We will continue to work closely with partners and the international community to hold China accountable. And we will call on China to immediately cease committing these atrocities, release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet, and across China.”