China commits ‘genocide’ against Uighurs: State Department report

Annual US human rights report takes China, Russia, Belarus to task over alleged rights abuses, cites Yemen violations.

A protester holding a sign that reads, "Stop China's Uyghur genocide".
Umer Jan, 12 takes part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labeling China's treatment of its Uighur population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, US, February 19, 2021 [File: Leah Millis/ Reuters]

China is committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” against its mostly Muslim Uighur minority in the western region of Xinjiang, the US State Department said in its annual report on human rights globally.

Released on Tuesday, the report found that “genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang”.

It said the alleged crimes included the arbitrary imprisonment of more than one million civilians, forced sterilisation, rape, torture, forced labour and “draconian restrictions” on freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of movement.

The report, required annually by the United States Congress, provides the State Department’s assessment on human rights practices in more than 180 countries.

At a news conference in Washington, DC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the findings for 2020 demonstrate that in every region of the world, human rights “continue to move in the wrong direction”.

“We will bring to bear all the tools of our diplomacy to defend human rights and hold accountable perpetrators of abuse,” the country’s top diplomat said, pointing to travel and financial sanctions under the US’s Global Magnitsky Act, among other mechanisms.

China has rejected accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, accusing countries and human rights groups of launching “slanderous attacks” about conditions for Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, said “basic facts show that there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour or religious oppression in Xinjiang”.

China has acknowledged the existence of the camps in Xinjiang, but has said they are vocational skills training centres necessary to tackle “extremism”.

Western countries have increasingly spoken out against Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs, amid mounting tensions between the US and its allies, and China.

Blinken’s predecessor, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, declared on January 19 that China had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uighurs and other religious minorities in Xinjiang.

Protesters in Hong Kong rally in support of the Uighurs [File: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

Other alleged rights abuses

The State Department’s report also found that autocratic governments around the world have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to go after critics and repress freedoms.

It cites the alleged August 20 poisoning attack on Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader and staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny was arrested earlier this year and imprisoned in a notorious penal camp outside Moscow.

Among other cases, Blinken cited “arbitrary arrests, beatings and other violence against protesters in Belarus” and “violations and abuses” by parties to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen’s war broke out in late 2014 when Houthi rebels seized large swathes of the country.

The conflict escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates assembled a US-backed military coalition in an attempt to restore the government of the Riyadh-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

US President Joe Biden said last month that he plans to end support for the coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is serving a prison sentence in the town of Pokrov, Russia [File: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]

Blinken also noted the Biden administration’s imposition of travel sanctions on 76 Saudi nationals for the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and “their appalling actions targeting perceived dissidents abroad”.

The US has been under pressure to go beyond that, however, and impose sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after an unclassified US intelligence report found that the crown prince approved the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi.

On Myanmar, where the army is suppressing protests against a February military coup, Blinken condemned in strong terms “attacks on civil society members, journalists [and] labour unions”.

“The United States is committed to working with its allies and partners to hold the perpetrators of these abhorrent acts accountable,” Blinken said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies