Officials have held one million or more people in internment camps in Xinjiang, the country’s most sweeping mass detention program since the Mao era. A wide range of behavior can lead to detention, including acts of religious devotion, travel to certain countries, violations of birth restrictions or installing cellphone apps that allow encrypted messaging.
The authorities at first denied the mass detentions. Then they acknowledged what they called a vocational training program meant to curb terrorism, separatism and religious extremism by giving people job skills and Chinese language training. Those who have been held in camps describe a rigorous prison environment filled with monotonous political indoctrination and, for many, terrorizing bouts of violence and physical abuse by guards.
In 2019, the Chinese authorities said they had wound down the program and released most of those who were held, an assertion that was met with wide skepticism by researchers and activist groups. While there were signs that some camps had been closed and some of those held released, China has also continued to expand detention facilities in the region, particularly high-security prisons.
The region also experienced a record surge in arrests, trials and prison sentences, according to official data released in 2019. In addition, the authorities have pushed work programs in Xinjiang, including the transfer of workers within the region and to other parts of China, that critics say most likely involve coercion and forced labor.
Why, in the U.S. view at least, do China’s actions in Xinjiang amount to genocide?
In his statement, Mr. Pompeo said the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang had committed crimes against humanity that include arbitrary imprisonment, forced sterilization, torture, forced labor and “draconian restrictions” on freedom of religion, expression and movement.
He added that the United States believes the Chinese authorities have committed genocide because they had “engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group.”
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which has been ratified by at least 149 countries including China, defines genocide as any of these acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: Killing its members; causing them serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to cause the group’s physical destruction; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
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