The Chinese government is guilty of crimes against humanity against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, states Human Rights Watch in a report published today. The human rights organisation calls for an independent investigation and wants responsible officials to be punished. Meanwhile, the Chinese propaganda machine is working overtime to sketch a different picture of the region.
Wide grasslands with sheep herds alternate with rugged desert landscapes, white peaks and clear blue lakes. Watching the newly launched propaganda film ‘Wings of Songs’ can hardly come to a conclusion other than that the province of Xinjiang is the heavens on earth. A Kazach, a Uyghur and a Han Chinese who move freely through the region singing and dancing. Beer is drunk and lamb saté is eaten.
“ It‘s chilling to see what’s coming out of the propaganda machine,” says China-director Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “Arbitrary mass imprisonment and arrests, torture, rape, separation of families: the evidence that China is committing crimes against humanity accumulates,” she says.
There‘s nothing to see in the film. Surveillance cameras and police checkpoints remain out of the picture. Long beards and headscarf, identified by the Chinese authorities as extremist features, had already largely disappeared from the streets of Xinjiang in any case.
In recent weeks, the Chinese authorities have opened a fresh propaganda offensive, reinforced by the state media. Genocide cannot be considered, was the unanimous conclusion of reporters of the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN who spoke to the local population.
“ Grotesque”, Richardson calls the campaign, which also focuses on Western journalists and critical Uyghurs. In recent months, the propaganda department has held press conferences several times to “correct” lies and “fake news”.
Critical Uyghur target
From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uyghurs who have testified about torture or rape are personally attacked. “A competent government would not only take these accusations very seriously, but also conduct an independent investigation,” says Richardson. “Instead, they try to destroy the reputation of people who make witness statements and direct their arrows to foreign journalists who record these stories.”
The House of Representatives recently adopted a motion stating the treatment of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang as genocide. The Canadian parliament and Washington preceded the Dutch parliamentarians.
Human Rights Watch does not speak the word genocide yet. “Nothing in our documents precludes that there would be no such thing,” says Richardson. “But on the basis of current information, we cannot yet establish enough that it is indeed a question of genocide. In addition, crimes against humanity refer to the most serious human rights violations under international law.”
Last month, the European Union already put four Chinese officials on a list of sanctions for the treatment of the Uyghurs. China struck back, including D66-MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma on a list of sanctions.
Human Rights Watch calls for further sanctions and an international investigation into the abuses in Xinjiang. The organisation hopes that responsible officials can be prosecuted. “The Chinese government succeeds very well in selling itself as an exceptional power, which handles things differently than other countries. This has to stop, and it must be done immediately. They’ve gotten away with it too long.”
China called the allegations of genocide in Xinjiang rather “the lie of the century”. According to foreign spokesperson Zhao Lijian, ‘anti-Chinese forces are trying to destroy Chinese successes in the fight against terrorism’. Beijing has said that foreign observers are welcome in the region as long as they are ‘not biased. ‘
Previously, China-correspondent Sjoerd den Daas made this report about the penal camps: