“Xinjiang is a wonderful place. Now it stands proudly in tranquillity and prosperity in China’s northwest, opening its arms to welcome people from all over the world.”
But the accounts contained within the 53-page “Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots” report contribute to a growing body of evidence that has forced companies, governments and multinational organisations to reassess how they respond to China’s denials of ethnic cleansing.
The campaign, which had been simmering under the guise of national unity for decades but escalated sharply after violent clashes between Uighurs and Han-Chinese migrants in 2014, has installed a system of mass surveillance, restricted movement, and enforced cultural and religious erasure and family separation.
Five Uighur leaders identified within the report have faced prison sentences of between 10 years and life in prison for “split-ism” – including organising study tours of the Koran and sending money overseas. One, Nebijan Ghoja Ehmet, was convicted of “inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination” for telling others “what is haram and halal,” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The terms are used to describe what food is forbidden and permitted under Islamic law.
Two women, Gulzir Mogdyn and an unnamed Kazakh woman who is being represented by Kazakh rights advocate Aiman Umarova, said they “were subjected to forced abortions while in Xinjiang”. Another said she had been being forcibly implanted with an intra-uterine contraceptive device that sterilises them until they can be surgically removed.
There were reports of rape being used repeatedly as punishment and torture by authorities, including the use of electric batons.
In some cases, Chinese authorities have allegedly ordered the removal of Xinjiang “orphans” from extended families into state institutions. Under the instructions of Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, they have been redefined as “children who have lost their parents or whose parents cannot be found”. They have been distributed in state institutions in “a scattered manner” unaware of their family or their past.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said Chinese authorities have systematically persecuted the lives, religion and culture of Turkic Muslims in the region.
“Beijing has said it’s providing ‘vocational training’ and ‘deradicalization,’ but that rhetoric can’t obscure a grim reality of crimes against humanity,” she said.
Beth Van Schaack from the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice said it was increasingly clear that the policies and practices in Xinjiang meet the standard for crimes against humanity under international criminal law.
“The government’s failure to stop these crimes, let alone punish those responsible, shows the need for strong and coordinated international action,” she said.
The US State Department on April 6 said it was considering a “coordinated approach” to the Beijing Winter Olympics. Calls for a boycott in response to the human rights abuses led by members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China have grown but there is no appetite for a similar push in Australia.
Labor and Coalition MPs are now lobbying for the federal government to get on with legislating a Magnitsky sanctions regime to target Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses months after it was recommended by a bipartisan inquiry.
The Liberal chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security James Paterson said it was a “gap in our sanctions framework that must be filled”. Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Australia “should introduce an Australian Magnitsky Act as a matter of priority”.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have been drafting the government’s response to the inquiry, with legislation expected before the end of the year.
Payne said on March 23 that she had seen “clear evidence” of systematic torture, abuse of women, mass surveillance, large-scale extrajudicial detentions and forced labour in Xinjiang.
“We have worked through the United Nations [and] through the Human Rights Council in being very clear about our grave concerns about what are a growing number of credible reports of these severe human rights abuses against both ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” she said.
Eryk Bagshaw is the North Asia correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.