U.S. Holocaust Museum Says China ‘May Be Committing Genocide’ Against Uyghurs

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said in a report issued on Tuesday that China had escalated its crimes against the Muslim community of Uyghurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang and that it was “gravely concerned” that the government “may be committing genocide.”

The report, “‘To Make Us Slowly Disappear’: The Chinese Government’s Assault on the Uyghurs,” builds on a March 2020 announcement made by the museum that there was “reasonable basis” to believe that the Chinese government “had perpetrated the crimes against humanity of persecution and of imprisonment” against the Uyghurs.

Based on compiled evidence, the report issued Tuesday found there was now “reasonable basis” to believe that the crimes include “forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, and forcible transfer.”

In a statement, Tom Bernstein, chair of the museum’s committee on conscience, called on the Chinese government to stop the crimes against the Uyghurs and allow independent international monitors to investigate.

“The Chinese government has done its best to keep information about crimes against the Uyghurs from seeing the light of day,” he said. “The information that has come out so far, including documentation from courageous Uyghur activists, has been damning.”

In a statement, Naomi Kikoler, director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, said that the “Chinese government’s assault on the Uyghur community” described in the report was “alarming in scale and severity.”

“The damage inflicted upon Uyghur individuals, families, and their community has left deep physical and emotional scars,” she said. “The trauma from these atrocities will harm generations of Uyghurs.”

The report calls on the Chinese government to “immediately halt the commission of mass atrocity crimes,” and lists specific next steps such as ending forced sterilization and forced abortion. But the Chinese government, which has over the years denied such crimes, is unlikely to be fazed by the report or follow through with any demands made of it.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report on Tuesday. But the Chinese government had spoken against such claims as recently as Oct. 21, when more than 40 countries, including the United States, criticized China’s repression of the Uyghurs at a United Nations meeting. China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, responded by saying that the countries had made “groundless accusations against China.”

“No matter how many times repeated, lies are still lies,” the ambassador said. “You are using human rights as a pretext for political maneuvering to provoke confrontation. In fact, you are the troublemaker and biggest obstacle to international human rights cooperation.”

The museum in its report concedes that “it would be naïve to expect the Chinese government to change course so dramatically without a concerted international effort.”

“Having publicly declared that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity, the United States and like-minded governments must be at the center of the effort to press China to end its atrocities against the Uyghurs,” the report said.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, shared the museum’s report on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that it renewed “our call for the People’s Republic of China to end its crimes against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”

The Uyghurs have long expressed resentment for China’s control of the Xinjiang region, saying they have been discriminated against, while one million or more people in internment camps have been detained for a number of acts, including religious practice and violating birth restrictions.

In one example cited in the report, an Uyghur woman recalled being beaten and raped while she was detained in Xinjiang in March 2018. The woman detailed being raped by men who used iron bars and electric batons, and later being raped by three men together.

“I remember it very clearly,” the report quotes her as saying. “I can’t cry and I can’t die … my soul and heart are dead.”

The United States has previously spoken out against China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. In the final full day of the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that China was carrying out genocide in a “systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs.”

Under the Biden administration, in an annual report on human rights practices released in March, the United States condemned the Chinese government for what Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said was “genocide against Uyghurs” and crimes of “imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution.”

In its announcement in March 2020, the museum accused the Chinese of conducting forced assimilation of the Uyghurs. While that did not fall under the definition of genocide under the Genocide Convention, the museum said at the time, “Regardless of its legal classification, assimilation threatens the continued existence of Uyghurs’ cultural and religious practices.”

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