BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2021 - 12:00am

Genocide is a term used to describe one of the worst crimes against humanity. This is now the accusation against China for its reported treatment of the Uyghurs which is a Muslim minority, with its own language and culture, in Western China. This people live in the province of Xinjiang.

According to some reports, including from Uyghur refugees themselves, the Chinese government is perpetrating a series of human rights abuses against the Uyghur people such as forced detention of an estimated one million to two million being held in secret internment camps without any legal process. If true, this is the largest scale detention of an ethnic or religious minority since the Holocaust when millions of Jews were imprisoned and killed by the Nazis.

The other accusations are suppression of Muslim religious practices, political indoctrination, severe ill treatment and torture. There are also reports of abuses against women including forced sterilization, contraception and abortion.

Critics of this persecution have called these practices either as ethnocide or cultural genocide or outright genocide.

Genocide has been defined as the intentional action to destroy a people which is usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial or religious group – in whole or in part. The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group such as including the killing of its members causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, preventing births or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. Victims have to be deliberately, not randomly, targeted because of their real or perceived membership of one of the four groups outlined in the above definition.”

Ralph Lemkin coined the term genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. In his book he wrote: “The objective of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion and the existence of national groups and the national destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

The United Nations declared genocide as a crime in 1948 and defined the following acts as genocide:

• 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 of the group to another group.

In a recent CNN interview, Christiane Amanpour reported that their correspondent was able to interview some Uyghur children in an orphanage in Shanghai whose requests to be returned to their parents were denied.

There have been several cases of genocide even in modern times. There was the killing of Bosnians by Serbian forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The Serbs were Orthodox church members and the Bosnians were Muslim. The Cambodians led by Pol Pot organized mass killings including Vietnamese and Cham minority groups in Cambodia. In April 1994, Rwandans started killing minority groups in Rwanda.

Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was one of the first officials to use the term “genocide” when he declared China’s repression of Uyghurs as an act of genocide. According to Trump’s former National Security adviser John Bolton, actually Trump did not really seem to care about the issue. He reportedly told Xi Jinping in 2019 that building camps for the Uyghurs was “…exactly the right thing to do.”

The situation seems to be different in the Biden administration where human rights is part of its core policy in foreign affairs.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, has publicly stated his agreement with Pompeo’s statement on the reported case of genocide.

President Biden wants US industries, including solar panel manufacturers, to ensure that they are not sourcing products made from forced labor in Xinjiang province. Recently, the United States announced new sanctions against two Chinese officials for genocide in Xinjiang.

Recently, around 30 countries have imposed sanctions on several Chinese officials over this issue of genocide. The situation was further aggravated when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published in February reported first hand testimony of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of detainees.

China has also imposed sanctions against Europeans, including nine UK citizens. The list included five British Members of Parliament who have been the most vocal critics of the reported Chinese genocide of Uyghurs. Another BBC investigative report claims China was forcing thousands of minorities including Uyghurs into manual labor in Xinjiang’s cotton fields.

Two global companies became the target of Chinese boycotts because they said, in separate statements, that they were concerned about reports that Uyghurs were forced to pick cotton and that their companies did not source products from that region.

It should be noted that the UK has a policy to impose fines on UK firms doing business in China if they cannot show that their products are not linked to forced labor in the country’s Xianjiang region.  Business firms must decide between principles and values or profits. A Chinese boycott could severely damage market share of companies like H&M and Nike.

In his new book “Let Us Dream: The Path To A Better Future,” Pope Francis calls China’s Muslim Uyghurs a “persecuted people.” Xi Jinping, however, has taken a more aggressive stand and vowed economic retaliation for any entities criticizing his policies. This is again another test of the global struggle between liberal democracies and the authoritarian model.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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