Cultural Annihilation: The Chinese Communist Party’s Extermination Campaign Against the Uyghurs and its Violations of International Law

A blog post by Christina Stewart, Junior Associate.

The Chinese Government is conducting a direct cultural annihilation—an extermination campaign and dilution of culture and identity—against the Uyghurs, an ethnic-minority group native to Xinjiang, China, and other Turkic people in the region.[1] Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities face egregious human rights violations, the likes of which are eerily reminiscent of the Holocaust: torture through electrocution, systematic rape, organ harvesting, forced consumption of pork and alcohol which violates their religious beliefs, forced sterilizations, mass internment camps, censorship, disappearances, and the list goes on.[2] Without question, this campaign constitutes gross violations of international law and an existential threat to the international community.

2017 and 2018 internal documents from Xinyuan County’s justice system, a county located in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, detailed a plan to transform “key groups” through education— which really means indoctrinating the Uyghurs.[3] One leaked document specifically listed the education process as “washing brains, cleansing hearts, strengthening righteousness and eliminating evil.”[4] The order to indoctrinate and “educate” Uyghurs came directly from China’s President, Xi Jinping, following a 2014 terrorist attack by Uyghur separatists.[5] The imagined threat of the so-called ideological virus of the Uyghurs created a sense of insecurity among the CCP.[6] Grappled with the paranoia of dissenters speaking out, leaders in the CCP determined that China must be purged of them.[7] The only way to purge them is to segregate them and subject them to re-education. The establishment of internment camps became justifiable; it became a necessity.[8] This was China’s solution to the Uyghurs and all ethnic minorities: they needed to be cured of their ideological virus. The same mindset continues today.

[1] Emma Schoenberger, Complaint Filed in ICC Regarding Alleged Human Rights Abuses against Uyghur Population, Am. Soc’y of Int’l L. (July 13, 2020, 3:16 PM), https://www.asil.org/ILIB/complaint-filed-icc-regarding-alleged-human-rights-abuses-against-uyghur-population.

[2] Id.

[3] Matthew Hill et al., ‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape, BBC News (Feb. 2, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55794071.

[4] Id.

[5] Jeremy Page et al., Xinjian Separatists Said to be Behind Attack at Train Station, Wall St. J. (Mar. 2, 2014, 7:40 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304071004579414243691552578 (“[Xi Jinping] … directed local officials to respond with ‘absolutely no mercy.’”).

[6] Mamtimin Ala, China’s Use of Psychological Warfare Against Uyghurs, Foreign Pol’y J. (Sept. 21, 2018), https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2018/09/21/chinas-use-of-psychological-warfare-against-uyghurs/.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

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