Xinjiang: Landmark report finds China breaching every act of UN Genocide Convention with treatment of Uighurs

A landmark independent report has found China is breaching every prohibited act of the UN Genocide Convention with its treatment of the Uighur people and bears responsibility "for committing genocide".

The report from the Washington DC-based think tank Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy is described as the "first independent expert application" of the UN Genocide Convention to the ongoing treatment of 1-2 million Uighurs thought to be in camps in the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang. 

It's based on an examination of China's actions by dozens of independent experts in international law, genocide, Chinese ethnic policies and Xinjiang. 

"This report concludes that the People's Republic of China (China) bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) based on an extensive review of the available evidence and application of international law to the evidence of the facts on the ground," a summary of the report's findings says.

The UN Genocide Convention, signed by 152 countries - including China and New Zealand - and adopted following World War II, says that genocide can be committed in times of peace and war and is a crime under international law. 

Under the convention, a finding of genocide can be made if any of the following fives acts are "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group":

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The report concludes there is an intent to destroy the Uighur people, "derived from objective proof, consisting of comprehensive State policy and practice, which President Xi Jinping, the highest authority in China, set in motion".

It lays out evidence showing that China is committing each of the five acts, highlighting reports of mass deaths, systematic torture, rape, and the separation of children from parent. 

"China is a highly centralised State in full control of its territory and population, including [Xinjiang], and is a State party to the Genocide Convention," the report says.

"The persons and entities perpetrating the above-indicated acts of genocide are all State agents or organs - acting under the effective control of the State - manifesting an intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group within the meaning of Article II of the Genocide Convention. 

"This report therefore concludes that China bears State responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs, in breach of the Genocide Convention."

China has always rejected accusations of genocide, instead claiming the Xinjiang concentration camps are sites of vocational education and are critical to counter-terrorism. 

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Newshub that she was aware of the report and continues to support the United Nations sending an observer to Xinjiang "to report on exactly what is happening there".

"We continue to express disappointment," she said on Wednesday.

In January, under the Trump administration, the United States became the first country to declare that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang. Canada, another of New Zealand's Five Eyes partners, made a similar declaration in February. 

On Wednesday, the US Biden administration stood by the Trump genocide assessment. 

There is mounting pressure on the New Zealand Government to follow suit, with the ACT Party last month telling Newshub that it would support a motion in our Parliament "recognising the atrocities that more and more countries now acknowledge". However, without support from the ruling Labour Party, such a motion would not be successful. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand has previously "made clear its significant concerns" about the situation in Xinjiang, calling recent media reports "deeply disturbing". 

The BBC in February published testimonies from former Uighur concentration camp detainees about  "an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture".

While in China in 2019, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Aotearoa has also been party to several international statements on the abuses, including in October.

Following the United States' declaration of genocide, Labour MP Louisa Wall, a member of the International Parliamentary Alliance on China, told Newshub a possible next step would be for  the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate Chinese leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Newshub has contacted MFAT for its reaction to the Newlines Institute report.