Last night, the BBC showed witnesses giving stomach-turning testimony about organised rape and torture inflicted upon Uyghurs in China’s far west region of Xinjiang. Victims and former guards, now abroad and willing to talk, spoke of electric batons inserted into women’s genitalia, gang rape by police, an organised rape in front of 100 other women forced to watch with those who looked away punished, and the forcible sterilisation of a 20-year-old. As one witness said: ‘Everyone who leaves the camps is finished.’
In January, both the outgoing and incoming American Secretaries of State confirmed their view that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) treatment of Uyghurs constituted genocide. Not some analogous ‘cultural genocide’. Genocide.
Perhaps we should just settle for ‘mass atrocities’, as did Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s Chief Rabbi. Or ‘crimes against humanity’. For what is happening in Xinjiang certainly meets the description in the International Criminal Court’s definition of crimes against humanity, acts ‘when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack’. It lists enslavement (e.g. slave labour), deportation, imprisonment in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, rape, enforced sterilisation, persecution of any identifiable group, serious injury to physical or mental health, and more. All are ongoing in Xinjiang.
The word ‘genocide’ conjures up the Holocaust, planned murder, massacre and extermination. Has the CCP held its version of the Wannsee Conference? No, or rather, sort of. But certainly, there is no evidence of a campaign to kill. There have been a few deaths (we don’t know how many). This is inevitable, if you lock up perhaps 1.5 million people in concentration camps. But it is not a holocaust.
Yet genocide does not have to be synonymous with gas chambers.