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“Their goal is to destroy everyone”

Engin Eroglu

With adopting a resolution on “forced labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang" in December, which received support by almost 90 percent of MEPs, the European Parliament took a clear stance against the gross human rights violations in the region. The resolution, which I negotiated on behalf of Renew Europe, demanded decisive measures to protect human and labour rights. Shortly after, however, the European Commission and Council gladly signed an investment deal with China, hardly mentioning any labour rights protection. An unexplicable decision, while the gruesome news that reach us on a near-daily basis about the misery of the Uyghur minority, continue.

Only last week, a BBC UK report revealed new evidence of Uyghur women having to endure organised rape and sexual abuse while imprisoned in the internment camps in Xinjiang. The unspeakable crimes that the detainees had to endure will likely scar these women for the rest of their lives. In their witness testimonies reporting gang rape and torture, one of the women was quoted saying, “their goal is to destroy everyone” when speaking of the Chinese authorities responsible for these gruesome acts.

Faced with this new proof of systematic torture at a level greater than what we had ever imagined as well as the mounting evidence on forced labour and forced sterilisation, what we need desperately now is a demand for transparency and justice for the victims. To this end, the EU and national governments finally need to take meaningful steps against these atrocious human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. For far too long international decision-makers have turned a blind eye, thereby allowing the Chinese leadership to escape scrutiny. While the EU has repeatedly criticized the situation in Xinjiang since 2018, we are still awaiting an actual significant reaction, be it through imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions against those responsible for what is happening in Xinjiang and beyond.

To this end, taking a clear stance and calling out these crimes, as what they are, is essential! Terminology is key in raising awareness and demanding accountability in this issue. Especially in light of the new evidence of systematic rape, which according to the UN constitutes as an act of genocide, speaking of a crime against humanity does no longer do justice to the increased severity and scale of the human rights violations against the Uyghurs. We must recognize that what is happening in Xinjiang goes beyond "ordinary" human rights abuses. In international law, genocide is strictly defined as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Against this background, systematic rape, state-induced and targeted birth prevention to reduce the Uyghur population throughout the region meet fundamental criteria for genocide, as set out in the UN Genocide Convention.

So far, the lack of an independent UN-mission to Xinjiang to independently verify the evidence of these human rights violations has hampered concrete international measures. However, as more and more people become aware of what is happening in the region, some countries have taken initial steps. Examples include the US-administration calling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs genocide only last month and the Canadian Parliamentary committee labelling the mistreatment of Uyghurs as genocide at the end of 2020. Currently the UK is likewise reviewing a “genocide amendment” to take further steps in a similar direction.

In light of the ongoing atrocities committed against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, I have already addressed the Commission on this issue last September in form of a written question. Unfortunately, the Commission´s answer turned out exactly as expected and is consistent with what we have constantly heard from the EU; namely that the EU is not in a position to make a genocide designation, but must rely on national or international courts and tribunals. Considering what an important voice the EU has in the international community, should the EU not be able to formulate its own opinion, especially considering the situation of the Uyghurs fulfils the UN-criteria for genocide? What is more, even if agreeing on defining these crimes as genocide is not easily achievable, one has to raise the question of how the EU can proclaim itself a moral lighthouse for defending human rights worldwide while continuing to do business with a government that clearly systematically violates fundamental freedoms.

Engin Eroglu
Freie Wähler MEP