Brian Hickey- 04/08/2021
Numerous reports have documented state atrocities against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. The devastating reports of forced labor, rape, forced sterilizations, and forced abortions in concentration camps easily provoke anger and sadness about how atrocities like this continue to occur worldwide. An essential step in understanding these atrocities and taking action against them is labeling them according to established international norms. Consequently, actions against Uighurs by the Chinese state have now been designated a genocide, including by the U.S. government.
Genocide committed against millions of Jews during World War II produced the term “Never again” that referred broadly to the international community’s effort to prevent genocide. It was understood to mean that other countries would not remain bystanders when genocide occurred against a population. “Never again” thus became a rallying cry for the world to prevent regimes or groups from inflicting suffering like the atrocities Jews suffered by Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the cry “Never again” has not prevented genocides from occurring. Still, accurate designations of the actions can help ensure that the international community fosters global attention and action to stop the abuses.
The U.S. State Department has made declarations of genocide in five situations in the last thirty years, including Bosnia in 1993, Rwanda in 1994, Iraq in 1995, Darfur in 2004, the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017, and now the Uighur Muslims in China. A declaration of genocide by the U.S. government is critical when atrocities are ongoing because it can organize support worldwide to stop the atrocities. It also acknowledges victims’ suffering and establishes a need for accountability for how the genocide happened. United Nations Member States in 1948 established a needed definition of genocide, which gives criteria on when particular situations deserve the term.
How does the definition of genocide apply to the Chinese state’s current persecution of Uighur Muslims? A necessary component for a declaration of genocide is an actor’s intent to destroy a particular group. Reports of the Chinese state’s systematic use of forced sterilizations, abortion, family separation, and internment against Uighur Muslims clarify its intent to destroy the Uighur people biologically. Additionally, the reports of forced labor, rape, and torture, among other abuses, constitute another component needed in measuring genocide, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” Separating Uighur children from their parents through mass internment and “reeducation” programs fits another component of “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Atrocities against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region necessitates a designation of genocide because it fits the definition established by United Nations Member States in 1948. Such a designation can now secure widespread support to help stop these atrocities and bring to light Uighur suffering on a mass scale. The U.S. government’s accurate identification of genocide can help fulfill the call for “Never again,” but not without subsequent action from other state and non-state actors.
-Brian Hickey is an Associate Director in the Office for Human Dignity at the Diocese of Joliet. He can be contacted at email@example.com