Why Scholars and Activists Increasingly Fear a Uyghur Genocide in Xinjiang

Why Scholars and Activists Increasingly Fear a Uyghur Genocide in Xinjiang

Received 05 Nov 2020, Accepted 06 Nov 2020, Published online: 19 Nov 2020

Transposing these definitions onto the Xinjiang crisis, it seemed apparent that agents of the Chinese state were “killing members of the group” (a), both indirectly and directly, even while this may not be occurring on a mass scale. Since 2017, deaths of detainees had occurred in the “re-education camps” as a result of beating or neglect, withheld medication, poor nutrition or suicide. 96 Going further back, one-off, small-scale mass killings had also occurred, as part of the disproportionate armed state responses to the 1997 and 2009 demonstrations in Ghulja and Ürümchi, respectively, 97 and during what exiles have called the Yarkand Massacre of 2014, in which between 1000 and 3000 Uyghurs were allegedly killed by security forces. 98

It was also clear that the state was “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to members of the group (b), in the form of physical and psychological torture exacted within its network of detention centres and re-education camps, and by terrorizing the broader population (including Uyghur relatives in exile) into fear and self-censorship by means of pervasive high-tech surveillance. 99

We knew already in November 2019 that birth rates had plummeted by eighty four per cent in Khotän and Kashgar – two predominantly Uyghur regions of south Xinjiang – between 2015 and 2018, 100 although we did not yet have the detailed statistical analysis to explain why; we thus suspected that state authorities were “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction” (c), at least in part.

We knew too that family planning committees were zealously “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” (d), including pills and shots administered in re-education camps and designed to halt menstruation, coercive IUD insertions, and forced abortions, although we did not yet have the detailed evidence to show the extent of forced sterilizations.

Finally, in detaining parents and placing their children into securitized orphanages and boarding schools, one could argue that Chinese state authorities were “forcibly transferring children of the group to [the care of] another group” (e) in the sense of effecting a de facto transfer of guardianship to the state. 101

However, though the above actions (actus reus) indisputably amount to crimes against humanity, to levy a charge of genocide also requires proof of requisite intention (mens rea).

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