A photo of a Uyghur women surrounded by armed officers

A Case Study on Ethnic Cleansing of Uyghur Muslims

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are an ethno-linguistic group from Eastern and Central Asia.  They are considered natives of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China.  Although the Chinese government recognizes this group as a minority, distinct from the Ethnic Chinese majority, this distinction may actually be more detrimental than beneficial.  At a time when many nations are advocating diversity and multiculturalism, the Uyghurs in China are facing intense discrimination, marginalization, and alleged abuse on behalf of the Chinese government.

Who are the Uighurs and why is China being accused of genocide? - BBC News
A photo of Uyghurs in China. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037
Xinjiang | autonomous region, China | Britannica
A map of China with the demarcation for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. https://www.britannica.com/place/Xinjiang
Special Report: Who are the Uyghurs and why do they scare China? | Global Risk Insights
A confrontation between police and Uyghurs, which has become commonplace in China.  Disappearances, physical harm, and death have unfortunately become a reality for Uyghur Muslims, thought the Chinese government denies all allegations of discrimination committed against this ethnic minority. https://globalriskinsights.com/2016/10/uyghurs-scare-china/

The UN and the ICJ

The term genocide was coined and developed by Raphäel Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who studied not only the Nazi Holocaust, but also previous acts of genocide like those committed against Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1923, which Turkey still denied and which the United States only recent recognized as a ‘genocidal’ act.  The term ‘genocide’ first emerged in 1944 and Lemkin pushed for it to become codified in the international legal system of the United Nations (UN).  The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a legal advisory branch of the UN that deliberates on world issues like genocide.  Even so, like any other branch of the UN, its advice is non-binding on states, which means states are under no legal obligation to adhere to the recommendations of the or any other UN body for that matter.

United Nations
The logo and flag of the United Nations, which was founded in the wake of World War II (1939-45).  It was the grandchild of the League of Nations, which formed in 1918 in an attempt to prevent future wars.  The organization has made significant efforts to mitigate global issues like poverty and has attempted to promote peace over conflict.  Yet, since it has no legal authority and cannot infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, its efforts to evoke change are often ineffective.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations
International Court of Justice - Wikipedia
The logo of the International Court of Justice, which is located in the Hague, in the Netherlands. It is one of the six main bodies of the UN. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Court_of_Justice

What is Genocide?

According to the UN, genocide is:

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Elements of the crime

The Genocide Convention establishes in Article I that the crime of genocide may take place in the context of an armed conflict, international or non-international, but also in the context of a peaceful situation. The latter is less common but still possible. The same article establishes the obligation of the contracting parties to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide.

The popular understanding of what constitutes genocide tends to be broader than the content of the norm under international law. Article II of the Genocide Convention contains a narrow definition of the crime of genocide, which includes two main elements:

  1. A mental element: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”; and
  2. A physical element, which includes the following five acts, is enumerated exhaustively:
    • Killing members of the group
    • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
    • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
    • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
    • Forcibly transferring children from the group to another group

The intent is the most difficult element to determine. To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group. It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, that makes the crime of genocide so unique. In addition, case law has associated intent with the existence of a state or organizational plan or policy, even if the definition of genocide in international law does not include that element.

Importantly, the victims of genocide are deliberately targeted – not randomly – because of their real or perceived membership of one of the four groups protected under the Convention (which excludes political groups, for example). This means that the target of destruction must be the group, as such, and not its members as individuals. Genocide can also be committed against only a part of the group, as long as that part is identifiable (including within a geographically limited area) and “substantial.” (https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.shtml)

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

The definition and technical underpinnings of the term ‘genocide’ are outlined in what is known as the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.’  The resolution was passed unanimously in the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948.  The General Assembly is another major body of the UN.  It includes all UN member states (193 countries) and provides and open platform for debate regarding pressing global issues like climate change.  As with the ICJ, the resolutions passed by the UN are non-binding.  If a country chooses to ratify a resolution, it does agree to the legal principles that it entails.  Even so, these are grey-area issues, meaning that countries who ratify resolutions often fail to uphold their principles.  For example, the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement set several goals for lowering carbon emissions and shifting to more sustainable practices and energy sources.  To date, 190 countries have ratified it, but very few have met the thresholds indicated in the agreement.  Countries like Canada continue to push back their target dates for lowering emissions, while countries like the US have completely withdrawn.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
A photo from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. https://legal.un.org/avl/ha/cppcg/cppcg.html
It is unknown if Greenland has signed the Geneva Convention : DataWithoutGreenland
A map of the states party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 
All the Countries That Signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement
A map of the countries that have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement. https://www.businessinsider.com/195-countries-that-signed-paris-climate-agreement-accord-deal-2017-5

Genocide: A Taboo Term

Many countries still struggle to admit that genocides have occurred or are currently occurring.  For instance, Bosnian genocide committed against Muslims during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995 is rarely discussed or acknowledged as an act of genocide.  Most countries use euphemisms like ‘ethnic cleansing’ is efforts to avoid using the term ‘genocide’ since it implies serious humanitarian and legal allegations.  It is for this reason that President Joe Biden’s recent recognition of the Armenian genocide was so monumental.  For years, Presidents like Barack Obama promised to acknowledge the atrocities committed by Turks against ethnic Armenians in Turkey, but the term ‘genocide’ was never used until a number of weeks ago.

Armenia's genocide: death and denial | Financial Times
A mass grave of Armenians with Turkish officers hovering above them. https://www.ft.com/content/56d61e36-e28d-11e4-aa1d-00144feab7de
US President Joe Biden officially recognises 'Armenian genocide' - YouTube
A news report citing Biden’s recent condemnation of the Armenian genocide.  Biden has since received backlash from Turkish officials, who have pledged retribution and continue to deny that such atrocities have been committed.  Biden’s statement was especially surprising for political analysts because Turkey is a geopolitical asset, upon whom the United States relies for access to the Black Sea, which leads to Russia, a major US adversary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKU_Lpe32xU

Plight of the Uyghur Muslims in China

Uyghur Muslims have suffered from discrimination and abuse for decades, but more recently, evidence has suggested that the Chinese government is deliberately exterminating this ethnic minority in ways that conform to the UN definition of genocide cited above.  According to a Vice News report from 2019, Uyghurs are being tracked, kidnapped, separated from their families, and sent to alleged concentration camps located in the Chinese countryside.  Suspected Uyghurs are subject to constant checks from authorities at airports and train stations and are often victims of police violence.  The report by Vice News also showed evidence of Uyghur children being separated from their parents as toddlers and sent to special schools in which they are expected to be reformed to mainstream Chinese standards.  These actions have not only separated families and endangered lives, but are also causing the deterioration of the Uyghur language and traditions as children are expected to behave as ‘Chinese’ citizens and not as Uyghar Muslims/ethnic nations.

China's Uighur Muslims are trapped in a cycle of violence
A photo of a Uyghur women surrounded by armed officers. https://theconversation.com/chinas-uighur-muslims-are-trapped-in-a-cycle-of-violence-29805
Xinjiang internment camps - Wikipedia
An image from within a concentration camp, where Uyghurs are allegedly forced to do hard labour and to assimilate to Chinese ethno-cultural and linguistic standards.  Other allegations also state that these camps are purposefully exterminating Uyghurs so as to cleanse the Chinese state of this ‘burdensome’ minoirty. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xinjiang_internment_camps
How to Find China's Internment Camps for Uighur Muslims - The Atlantic
An aerial image of an alleged concentration, or internment camp. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/china-internment-camps-muslim-uighurs-satellite/569878/

The Denial of the Abuses Committed against Uyghurs as ‘Genocidal’

Part of Chinese propaganda and victim-blaming is the government’s accusations that Uyghurs are terrorists.  While acts of terrorism have been committed by some Ughyurs in the past, this claim is wholly unjustified and incongruent with evidence showing that Uyghurs are overwhelmingly victims of abuses by the state against them, meant to deliberately target and eradicate them.

UK MPs declare China is committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang |  Uyghurs | The Guardian
Protesters calling attention to the reality of the situation in Xinjiang province. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/22/uk-mps-declare-china-is-committing-genocide-against-uyghurs-in-xinjiang
US says China commits 'genocide' against Uighurs
On 19 January 2021, one of the last foreign policy moves by former President Donald Trump’s came as Mike Pompeo, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, declared that the plight of the Uyghurs constituted genocide.  This announcement marked a major blow to the Chinese government and signalled to other Western countries that action needed to be taken.  While political analysts have asserted that this was a power move by Trump in his final days in office, taking a hardline with China in ways that would have repercussions not for him, but form incoming President Joe Biden.  Even so, the recognition is notable and marks an important step in condemning the Chinese government for committing such atrocities. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-says-china-commits-genocide-against-uighurs-/2115702
Canada recognizes China's treatment of Uighurs as 'genocide' | Daily Sabah
In March, Canadian MP passed a motion that declared the Uyghur plight as being genocidal.  Yet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has remained cautious in his comments on the situation, often referring to the situation as one of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ https://www.dailysabah.com/world/americas/canada-recognizes-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-as-genocide
New Zealand draws back from calling Chinese abuses of Uyghurs genocide | New  Zealand | The Guardian
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken perhaps the most disappointing stance.  The government has recently condemned Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, but has refused to term them as ‘genocide’ until declared as such as international law.  These actions lessen the gravity of this situation and downplay the horrors that Ughyurs are experiencing in ways that ultimately fail to hold the Chinese to account. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/04/new-zealand-draws-back-from-calling-chinese-abuses-of-uyghurs-genocide
Amid repression of Uighur Muslims, China to 'edit' Quran and Bible to  reflect 'socialist values', World News | wionews.com
A photo of Uyghur women being approached by a number of Chinese army officers.  A recent podcast episode released by ‘The Intercept’ detailed the plight of the Uyghur Muslims in China.  In the podcast, a Uyghur was interviewed and offered an anecdote about his personal struggles.  He claimed to have opened a kindergarten school for Uyghur children, where they could retain their ethno-linguistic and religious traditions.  Shortly thereafter, he was approached and threatened by authorities until he was arrested and detained for several months.  He alleged to have been physical, mentally, and sexually harassed, with guards attempting to coerce him into admitting to having plotted terrorist crimes.  Although he was eventually released, his story is common and demonstrated the degree to which Uyghurs are arbitrarily targeted abused.  Unlike this case, many Uyghurs are permanently detained, sent to concentration camps, or murdered.

Cultural Significance in Anthropology

The main message is that all forms of ‘ethnic cleansing’ are unacceptable. If countries continue to downplay acts of exclusion, they not only subvert the very purpose of the UN and it convention on genocide, but also the efforts we have made since WWII to promote peace, diversity, and social welfare, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

Belonging | Diversity and Inclusion Solutions | Workday
Diversity and inclusivity is not a threat; and more people and states need to adopt this mentality if the Uyghurs and other like them are to be spared of their misery.  https://www.workday.com/en-us/solutions/role/enterprise-hr/diversity-inclusion-belonging-solutions.html

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