On March 30, 2021, U.S. State Department published the 2020 Human Rights Report confirming its determination of the atrocities against the Uyghurs as genocide and crimes against humanity and providing further details concerning their findings.
The 2020 Human Rights Report provides a long list of human rights violations in China, including several specifically referring to the treatment of the Uyghurs:“arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other members of predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; (...) arbitrary interference with privacy; pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members, and censorship and site blocking; (...) severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; (...) forced sterilization and coerced abortions; forced labor and trafficking in persons.”
On March 31, 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying rejected these allegations providing counter-arguments. The statement gets it right that the determination of genocide should not be taken lightly. However, it erroneously concludes that: “No State, organization, or individual is qualified and entitled to arbitrarily determine that another country has committed genocide. In international relations, no country should use this accusation as a political label for rumor-mongering and malicious manipulation.” Indeed, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro clarified, the duty to prevent: “Arise[s] at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.” As such, States must conduct their monitoring, analysis and determination of at least the serious risk of genocide in order to engage their duties. This ultimately means that States need to engage with considerations surrounding the legal elements of genocide and/or risk factors. Indeed, some States conduct such an analysis and make the relevant determinations to inform their responses. This is to give effect to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
From the statement of the spokesperson, it is clear that the spokesperson means a court determination of genocide. However, currently, there is no international tribunal that will have the mandate to consider the case. This could be addressed by a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or China voluntarily accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC. These steps are highly unlikely.
In her statement, the spokesperson turned against the witnesses stating that: “The few so-called ‘witnesses’ are just ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ the US has used and trained.” This fails to recognize that there are thousands of testimonies collected from survivors and witnesses, and is yet another attempt to undermine their testimonies. On another occasion, “Chinese officials have named women, disclosed what they say is private medical data and information on the women’s fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. The officials said the information was evidence of bad character, invalidating the women’s accounts of abuse in Xinjiang.”
As it stands, the issue of the genocide against the Uyghurs will not resolve itself. It is time for the United Nations to step up and ensure independent investigations. This could be done by establishing a U.N. Human Rights Council mechanism, such as a commission of inquiry or a fact finding mission or a U.N. General Assembly mechanism, akin to the IIIM for Syria, to investigate, collect and preserve evidence of atrocities. If as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson says, the allegations of genocide are “the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people, and a gross breach of international law and basic norms governing international relations”, the Chinese government should support the step to put an end to the “lies.”