Biden administration declares Chinese actions in Xinjiang as 'genocide'
Amid escalating tensions with Beijing, the Biden administration on Tuesday (local time) declared Chinese actions against the Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang as 'genocide'.
In a 2020 report on Human rights practices: China released on Tuesday, the US Department of State said: "Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang".
Former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo first officially declared genocide in Xinjiang during the waning days of the Donald Trump administration. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed Pompeo's assessment during his confirmation hearing, but the word's inclusion into Tuesday's report formalizes the outlook as an official U.S. government assessment, Washington Post reported.
The State Department said the crime includes the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China's birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labour; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.
The state department said Chinese government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity.
"Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action," the report stated.
The report has come amid heightening tensions between western countries and China. The recent escalation of tensions began after the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom imposed sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for atrocities against Uyghurs.
"There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available," the state department read.
In Xinjiang, the state department said that there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps and there were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release.
The State Department also highlighted an example of Abdulghafur Hapiz, an Uyghur man who was detained in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017. Hapiz's death was formally confirmed by the Chinese government to the United Nations in October.
The government claimed Hapiz died in 2018 of "severe pneumonia and tuberculosis." His daughter said she last heard from Hapiz in 2016; sources reported he disappeared no later than 2017 and was held without charges in an internment camp.
According to the report, the government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.
China Human Rights Defenders alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance since families were often not provided information about the length or location of the detention, the report read.
The report noted that the authorities in Wuhan disappeared four citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin, who had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan.
While Li Zehua was released in April, Fang Bin's and Chen Qiushi's whereabouts were unknown at year's end. Zhang Zhan was indicted on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and authorities tried and convicted her on December 28, sentencing her to four years' imprisonment. She was the first known person to be tried and convicted for her coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been disappeared on multiple occasions, has been missing since 2017.
"Using the term genocide in the report indicates profound concern in the administration about appalling Chinese government human rights violations against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Turkic communities," Washington Post quoted Sophie Richardson, a China expert at Human Rights Watch, as saying.
The move may also put further pressure on the Biden administration to punish China for its alleged actions. "The next step is to map out a strategy to back an independent investigation, gather evidence, and pursue accountability," Richardson said.