Human Rights Watch Accuses China of Crimes Against Humanity

Published: 04 September 2023

Uyghurs TurkistanUyghurs and Turkic muslims are systematically subjected to torture and persecution in China. (Photo: Uyghur East Turkistan, Flickr, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations on Thursday to hold the Chinese Government accountable for crimes against humanity committed against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim ethnic groups.

Uyghurs, along with other Turkic ethnic groups such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, comprise the Muslim-majority population in Xinjiang, a region located in northwest China. Unlike the Han Chinese majority who primarily speak Chinese, Uyghurs have their own distinct language and cultural identity.

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2017, the Chinese government has been engaged in a systematic campaign targeting Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims.

This campaign includes mass arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, surveillance, cultural and religious persecution, forced labor, sexual violence, and violations of reproductive rights.

Despite international condemnation and the limited closure of some "political re-education" camps, there has been no significant release of the half million Turkic Muslims held in prisons.

"Over the past year, Chinese officials have maintained their abusive 'strike hard' policies, crushing the rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims," HRW quoted Maya Wang, Associate Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "UN member countries should not stay silent in the face of crimes against humanity."

As stated by Human Rights Watch, crimes against humanity continue to unfold in the region, as Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirms the country's counterterrorism policies in Xinjiang.

President Xi's recent speech in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, solidified China's commitment to its policies in the region. He emphasized the consolidation of social stability, the promotion of a united Chinese nation, and the need for the public to embrace correct views on ethnicity, history, and religion.

Moreover, Uyghurs living abroad remain cut off from their families, with no knowledge of their loved ones' well-being or whereabouts.

The Xinjiang authorities continue to intensify efforts to forcibly assimilate Uyghurs, imposing strict control over their cultural and religious practices.

Foreign governments have condemned China's policies in Xinjiang and imposed targeted sanctions on Chinese officials, agencies, and companies involved in rights violations.

However, Human Rights Watch emphasized the need for stronger, coordinated action to hold China accountable and address the gravity of the abuses.

One year ago, on August 31, 2022, The United Nations released a report condemning the actions of the Chinese government, strongly indicating that what has been done to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang could potentially be classified as "crimes against humanity."

During the period from October 2019 to May 2021, Amnesty International conducted numerous interviews with individuals who had been former detainees or had firsthand knowledge of the events transpiring in Xinjiang since 2017, revealing the results in a report.

Amnesty International interviewed Aiman, a government official involved in extensive arrests. Aiman revealed details about the unanticipated raids conducted by the police in late 2017, where individuals were seized from their homes without warning.

"I was there… The police would take people out of their houses… with hands handcuffed behind them, including women… and they put black hoods on them… Nobody could resist. Imagine if all of a sudden a group [of police] enters [your home], cuffs you and puts [a black hood] over your head… It was very sad… [Afterwards] I cried… That night we made 60 arrests… That was just in one district [of many where people were being detained]… Every day they arrested more people," the official said.