An independent panel set up in Britain to examine China’s crackdown against Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups ruled on Thursday (Dec 9) that the Chinese government’s actions in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region constituted genocide.
In a judgement released after months of hearings, the Uygur Tribunal pointed specifically to alleged actions by the Chinese government to lower the Uygur population in Xinjiang through forced sterilisations and abortions.
The tribunal also determined that an orchestrated effort to boost populations of Han Chinese, the country’s largest ethnic group, in the region and a forced out-migration of Uygurs for labour purposes contributed to a genocidal campaign.
Such acts would lead to a “partial destruction of the Uygurs”, the tribunal found, though it left unresolved whether there was specific intent to do so by the Chinese government.
Article II(d) of the United Nations Genocide Convention offers one example of genocide as the imposition of “measures intended to prevent births within a group”.
The ruling by the non-governmental group adds to a growing chorus of criticism of Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang , where the government is accused of detaining Uygurs en masse and subjecting them to forced labour and political indoctrination.
China denies all allegations of human rights abuses, and has framed its actions in Xinjiang as steps to counter extremism and fight poverty.
Beyond the genocide determination, the panel, which has no powers of sanction or enforcement, also charged that torture and crimes against humanity carried out by Chinese authorities had been established “beyond reasonable doubt”, and accused top leadership in Beijing of authorising the crackdown.
“The Tribunal is satisfied that President Xi Jinping, [Xinjiang party chief] Chen Quanguo and other very senior officials in the PRC and CCP bear primary responsibility for acts that have occurred in Xinjiang,” said Geoffrey Nice, a prominent human rights barrister and convenor of the tribunal.
Nice, who led the war crimes prosecution against former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, set up the panel last year at the request of the World Uygur Congress (WUC), a Germany-based advocacy group.
The Chinese foreign ministry quickly blasted the body over Thursday’s determination, charging that the “final ruling by such a machine churning out lies is nothing but a political farce staged by a handful of contemptible individuals.”
Without responding to specific accusations laid out in the judgement, the ministry said: “Lies cannot cover up facts and truth, cheat the international community, still less stop the historical trend of stability, development and prosperity in China’s Xinjiang.”
In hearings beginning in June, the inquiry heard testimony from scores of experts and witnesses, including Uygurs with direct experience of alleged abuse or whose relatives have been detained.
The tribunal said it had seen no evidence of mass killings, and acknowledged that its “genocide” determination based on birth control would be at odds with popular understandings of the word.
It also offered no recommendations on the basis of its determination, but it expected that the conclusion could form the basis of sanctions by governments against the Chinese government and advocacy by rights groups.
While the US and others have enacted sanctions against Chinese entities, those measures have not made explicit linkages to determinations of genocide, despite findings by the US government and multiple legislatures around the world that genocide has taken place in Xinjiang.
Following the release of the tribunal’s ruling, British lawmakers demanded in a press conference that the UK government officially recognise China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide and put forth a plan to punish Beijing accordingly.
“This is a rare moment of accountability for the families of victims and the survivors of the PRC regime’s cruelty,” said Nusrat Ghani, a conservative MP who was among a group of lawmakers sanctioned by Beijing in March over their criticism of Beijing’s actions.
Thursday’s findings came as a growing number of countries have decided not to send officials to the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in Beijing, citing China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
On Thursday, Kosovo became the latest government to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Games, joining the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Lithuania.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.