By Joseph Essertier, World BEYOND War, September 21, 2022
“Genocide is an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mike Pompeo, our former Secretary of State, on the day before his term as secretary of state ended (19 January 2021), accused the government of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) of perpetrating this crime against Uighur Muslims. On that day, he also accused them of committing “crimes against humanity,” which is a separate charge. Crimes against humanity do not constitute an attempt to destroy a group. Nevertheless, they are considered severe human-rights violations, and are committed by a state, usually against civilians.
Pompeo’s successor, Antony Blinken, later reiterated the same basic accusations. A State Department Report published in March 2021 claimed that during the previous year “in China, government authorities committed genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and crimes against humanity including imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”
But the United Nations “OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] Assessment of Human Rights Concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China” (hereafter “the Assessment”) of 31 August does not use the word “genocide.” Instead, it claims that the “extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” Dilxat Raxit of the World Uyghur Congress, in fact, expressed regret that the Assessment did not characterize the injustice as “genocide,” while Blinken, going in the other direction, has tried to turn up the volume on it, claiming that it “deepens and reaffirms our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.” (Author’s italics).
In addition to paying attention to this distortion of the Assessment’s findings, other basic questions about the Assessment should be raised, such as “What kind of proof do they have?” and “How reliable are their sources?” The fact that the OHCHR used the word “may” indicates that they even lack the hard evidence that would be necessary to confidently accuse the Beijing of “crimes against humanity or other international crimes.” This can be viewed as a rejection of the claims of Pompeo and Blinken.
Michelle Bachelet seems to be avoiding responsibility for the Assessment. After working on the Assessment for many months, she released it literally minutes before her term as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights ended. This is basically the same sneaky approach that Pompeo took. He launched his attack on the PRC just before his term ended.
There are multiple indications in this document of uncertainty and speculation, such as the following:
- “Data remains incomplete and similar data for 2020 and beyond has not been made available. This makes it difficult to consider these statistics in the context of a longer time frame…” (Note 62, page 19, Assessment)
- “There is no official data available with respect to the locations of these [destroyed mosque] sites, which has made it more difficult to verify alleged patterns of destruction.” (Footnote 196, page 26, Assessment)
- “The lack of available government data, including post 2019, makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the full extent of current enforcement of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights.” (Note 114, page 36, Assessment)
- “It is difficult to quantify the exact number of missing persons from the Xinjiang victims database, as the information may not be fully up-to-date.” (Footnote 297, page 41, Assessment)
Despite this kind of uncertainty even at this stage (which is a year and a half after Pompeo’s genocide claim), the US, EU, UK, and Canada have already begun imposing coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials over allegations of genocide, without waiting for factually-verified reports on the PRC’s crimes. Significantly different, the UN is, in fact, not joining the chorus, thereby raising considerable doubt about the US’s dubious claims. Many people around the world may well wonder if it is fair to “punish” Chinese officials through sanctions. With these expressions of uncertainty and without the use of the word “genocide” in the Assessment, Blinken looks a little stupid as he does his victory lap, on this very un-level playing field, in this contest between the US and the PRC. “Crimes against humanity”? Maybe. “Genocide”? No. A shadow of doubt has been cast on the strong claims of the US.
Worse for the US—and this is what few journalists or scholars are mentioning—the crimes that the PRC may be guilty of are not so different from the US’s own crimes, about which there is indisputable evidence.
What do we know about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “XUAR”)? Most importantly, we know that it is a vast treasure, one that a lot of governments and corporations would love to exploit for their own ends. The Assessment itself tells us that the XUAR takes up one-sixth of the PRC’s total territory, has a population of 26 million, is “rich in resources such as coal, gas, oil, lithium, zinc and lead,” and is a “major source of agricultural production, such as of cotton.” (Note 9, page 3, the Assessment) Let us keep that in mind when considering the contest that is now underway between Beijing and Washington. We should never lose sight of this huge potential for wealth extraction.
There are about 12 million Uighurs in the PRC, mostly in XUAR; around two hundred thousand in Kazakhstan; tens of thousands in each of the countries of Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan; thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries; and between around 9,000 and 15,000 in the US.
It has been conveniently forgotten that 22 Uighurs were incarcerated by the US for almost 12 years at Guantánamo and held as terrorists without any evidence. Most of them were held in isolation in one of the harshest sections of Guantánamo. And on a request from Beijing, Washington added “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) to our terrorist watch list.
The above “22 men, all Uighur Muslims from China, were arrested in Afghanistan. None of these men had any connection to Al-Qaeda or were involved in any terrorist actions in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” But “after being arrested, the Uighurs were transported to Guantánamo Bay, where they were held as terrorists without any evidence.” So Washington, like Beijing, has locked up Uighurs whom they accuse of terrorism.
There have been as many as 5,000 Uighurs fighting in Syria. “Syria’s ambassador in Beijing, Imad Moustapha, told Reuters on the sidelines of a business forum that while some of the Uighurs were fighting with Islamic State, most were fighting ‘under their own banner’ to promote their separatist cause,” and that the total number of Uighur jihadists is between 4 and 5 thousand. There seems to be a movement for secession with significant numbers of Uighurs participating, and some seem to be resorting to the path of violent resistance to what they perceive as state oppression.
The Council on Foreign Relations, which is the powerful think tank dominated by US corporations manufacturing what they call “public enlightenment” (i.e., the consent of the masses) and promoting a US imperialist agenda, wrote in 2014 that the ETIM was a “Muslim separatist group” that presented a “heightening security challenge for Beijing.”
The Assessment tells us that Uighur detainees in the PRC were forced to take pills that made them drowsy. Well, in the US, which is not threatened with a separatist movement among an ethnic group/nation of 12 million people inside or even near its borders, suspected terrorists were force-fed and tortured by doctors.
The aforementioned Assessment accuses Beijing of several categories of crimes. Perhaps the most highlighted have been discriminatory detentions. This provides us with evidence that Washington may not be alone in discriminating against and unfairly detaining Muslims. “In 2018 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted that estimates of the number of people detained [in Vocational Education and Training Centers] range from tens of thousands to over a million.” (Note 52, page 16 of the Assessment)
That is a pretty wide range: “tens of thousands to over a million.” Apparently, many US journalists are keeping things simple for Americans by simply choosing the higher figure, but let’s stick to the original figures that are actually in the Assessment. The Assessment claims that between tens of thousands and one million Uighurs and other Muslim minority peoples have been interned in extrajudicial camps in XUAR for re-education and indoctrination.
And as we consider what may have happened, we should keep in mind that these estimated statistics in the West are often exaggerated, especially when the country is an enemy of the US. For example, the international forensic experts of the Hague tribunal found evidence of only a few thousand murdered people, instead of the 100,000 “ethnically cleansed” people claimed in the lead-up to the Bosnia War. During February 1998 to June 1999, and in the months and years after June 1999, the estimates of the number of victims of “ethnic cleansing” went down steadily.
The inflated estimates, based on little hard evidence, were exploited and announced non-stop in the media in order to convince Americans of the moral righteousness of using violence to solve this problem, even when it meant violating international law through NATO bombing, often with depleted uranium (DU) missiles. After all our killing was over, 680 bodies at 150 sites were found after three months of digging. Aiming to stop an “ethnic cleansing” of this scale, Americans helped NATO to kill thousands.
As may be true also of the PRC, minorities are over-represented in prisons in the US. “Muslims make up about 9% of state prisoners, though they are only about 1% of the U.S. population, a new report from the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates finds.” (And the injustice of the huge gap in rates of incarceration between white and Black men has been thoroughly documented).
How quickly have we forgotten the media reports showing how our government incarcerates refugees in camps that could probably be referred to as “concentration camps,” places where even children are locked in cages that some call “dog kennels.”
Rape and Sexual humiliation, including Forced Nudity
Some former detainees interviewed by OHCHR “spoke of various forms of sexual violence, including some instances of rape, affecting mainly women.” (Note 73, page 23 of the Assessment) That reminds one of our notorious prison called “Abu Grhaib” in Iraq. There, our crimes included “punching and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet; forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; positioning a naked detainee on a box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture; and placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.” Experts who have looked at Abu Ghraib “through the lens of gender” have found that “Abu Ghraib prison was terrifying and unequal, and torture is always all about bodies. That is why everything in the prison was saturated with sexuality, and gender was heavily marked.”
Another crime brought up by the Assessment, that government officials of the US are also guilty of, is separating children from their families and guardians. The Assessment tells us that there are hundreds of entries of alleged missing persons in the Xinjiang Victims Database, a platform used by exiled family members seeking the whereabouts of their loved ones. They say that many families have been separated and are unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones. (Note 62, page 19 and note 129, page 40, Assessment)
It should be remembered that the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” approach toward people who were so desperate that they illegally crossed into the US. Washington was holding 10,773 children in detention centers on 29 May 2018.
There were innumerable instances of children being taken away from their parents and never being reunited with them—a horrifying crime that provoked widespread outrage from many compassionate and right-thinking Americans, who in turn were persecuted for attempting to come to their aid. Truly in America a good Samaritan can become a terrorist overnight! “More than 5,000 families were separated under Trump’s 2018 ‘zero tolerance’ policy and a 2017 pilot program and advocates estimate over 1,000 remain separated. Because the Trump administration did not keep records of which children were separated and where they were sent, the task force and lawyers working on behalf of separated families have had a difficult time identifying families to offer them the chance of reunification.” As far as the children knew, they had been permanently taken from the arms of those who had been caring for them.
“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of State, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.” (Is it any wonder that the Assessment was published on her last day?) 545 of the parents of the children detained in the US could not be found. These were the children of refugees, not the children of suspected terrorists, not even of suspected pre-terrorists. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mathew 7:5) Many Christians in the US are familiar with this ethical principle.
Our government has, of course, simply taken the same path as they took in the long history of separating Native American children from their families, a crime that continued on a massive scale even up until the 1960s. “From 1969–74, 25–34 percent of all Native American children [in the US] were removed from their homes on a temporary or permanent basis and passed into the system of federal schooling, foster care, or adoption. Compare that with the non–Native American children removal rate of 5 percent.”
We are told that in late 2017, the OHCHR began receiving increasing allegations by various civil society groups that members of the Uighur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority communities were missing or had disappeared in the XUAR. (Note 1, page 1 of Assessment). Well, we have a problem with missing persons, too. Alaska has by far the highest rate of missing person cases in the United States, “with approximately one out of each 617 people in the state missing.” And our government has a long history of kidnapping indigenous people. It is doubtful that PRC’s list of crimes against the Uighurs will ever approximate the list of US crimes against Native Americans. How many Native Americans went missing is completely unknown, but in our government’s campaign of genocide, the numbers must have been huge.
At this present moment, “in the United States, an estimated 460,000 children are reported missing every year.” The crime called “trafficking in persons” (TIP) is considered “the fastest-growing type of organized crime” and “the third-largest criminal activity in the world.” And “The United States is again ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. According to a recently released report by the State Department, the top three nations of origin for victims of human trafficking in 2018 were the United States, Mexico and the Philippines.”
One type of human trafficking is sex trafficking. “We have a major issue here in the United States,” said Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT), in an interview with Fox News. “The United States is the No. 1 consumer of sex worldwide. So we are driving the demand as a society.” And, “It is estimated by the FBI that the average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 12 years old. Experts at Shared Hope International estimate that 100,000 American juveniles are victimized through prostitution each year.” Needless to say, white middle-class kids are much more likely to get attention in the US than children of color.
“After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the US government authorized the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects in US custody. For years US officials, pointing to Department of Justice memorandums authorizing these techniques, denied that they constituted torture. But many clearly do: International bodies and US courts have repeatedly found that “waterboarding” and other forms of mock execution by asphyxiation constitute torture and are war crimes. Other authorized techniques, including stress positions, hooding during questioning, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, and use of detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress, violate the protections afforded all persons in custody—whether combatants or civilians—under the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law, and can amount to torture or “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
Amnesty International once accused President Barack Obama’s administration of granting “de facto amnesty” to people involved in a CIA program that detained and tortured militants captured after the September 11 attacks on the United States. “The human rights group said that since the release in December of a Senate report on the use of what the Central Intelligence Agency called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ the administration had done nothing to end impunity for those who mistreated prisoners.”
Dealing with Terrorists
The Assessment claims that the PRC’s “anti-terrorism law system” is “deeply problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards.” Our Patriot Act has also been problematic. It invited abuse. Warrantless searches were permitted; the FBI was allowed to conduct surveillance of US citizens without showing probable cause of criminal activity; and First Amendment freedoms of speech and association were violated.
But much worse than the suffering caused among Americans of our anti-terrorist laws is our government’s anti-terrorist violence abroad. As a result of our post-9/11 wars, there are now over 929,000 people who have died due to direct war violence, and several times more than that have died from the effects of war; 387,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting; the number of war refugees and displaced persons is 38 million; and the wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, not only in the US but also abroad. These statistics are from the Costs of War Project of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The Costs of War Project are a team of over 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians, and their work began in 2010, so they should know.
No doubt this category is our strong point. Nevertheless, “In 2009, the [American Civil Liberties Union] of Michigan agreed to represent Muslim prisoners in a religious freedom class action in federal court. Although the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) accommodates Jewish inmates by providing kosher meals and allows them to congregate for a Passover meal, it denied Muslim inmates halal meals and the opportunity to have the religious Eid meal at the end of Ramadan.”
Coercive and Discriminatory Enforcement of Family Planning and Birth Control Policies
“The United States has a long, egregious, and largely unknown history of eugenics and forced sterilization, primarily directed towards poor women, disabled women, and women of color.” “Prior to 2017, ethnic minorities such as the Uighur’s were allowed to have one more child than Han Chinese.” (Note 105, page 33, Assessment). Rights activists have said that the Assessment should be a wake-up call for international action. Well, we need a “wake-up call for international action” for justice in the US, to rectify our past human rights abuses in this category.
After reading the above violations of human rights committed by Washington and Beijing, some might think, “Gosh, there are a lot of thugs in China and the US.” Well, yes. If you search for them, it is not hard to find them. But this does not mean that killing Americans and Chinese will make the world a better, safer place. Please do not kill us as some kind of punishment for our collective sins.
Chalmers Johnson (1931-2010), the American political scientist and author of the book Blowback (2000), who warned Americans before 9/11 that a “blowback” sort of disaster was coming, classified the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (ROC, i.e., Taiwan) as “soft totalitarianism” at that time (in the year 2000). They both had had single-party rule for decades. Johnson wrote that, like the ROC, the PRC “could also slowly evolve into a prosperous, relatively open society.” Imagine how Washington would view a PRC that was a “relatively open society.” That would be their worst nightmare. Successful independent development has always been the crime that brings on the US hammer, but the PRC could be committing this crime on a massive scale. 1,400,000,000 people in one nation-state in the East lifted out of poverty? Imagine that. In April, the World Bank warned the world about the crimes of the PRC. 800 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, they say, which is “close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty.” (In June, Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center emphasized the importance of this number in a webinar. This can be found at 52:40 in the video, but his discussion of the long struggle of American and Chinese workers to forge solidarity opens a revealing window onto recent labor history and anti-Asian racism).
To be honest, the Chinese, if they wanted, could partly blame the tyranny of their government on us. They have been persecuted for nearly a century and a half by racist Western governments and Westerners. In fact, let’s think in terms of nation-states for a moment. There are arguably no nation-states that have victimized/terrorized/enslaved/hurt the people of the PRC to the same extent as the US. In other words, they have lots of good reasons to hate us, while we have few reasons to hate them. We must ask ourselves, “What have they ever done to us?”
(Japan is the US’s greatest competitor in terms of crimes against Chinese. A significant number of Japanese in the past have recognized this and shown remorse).
Can we blame Chinese people for selling us lots of good products at low prices? For having a giant economy with a population 4 times our own? For militarizing their country and building island bases around their country to protect themselves from our many soldiers and our terrifying weapons on hundreds of bases on the islands of Luchu (Okinawa), the main islands of Japan, Korea, and other parts of East Asia? (For example, Nuclear weapons and chemical weapons were kept in Luchu. Or, in the case of Korea, “it was the US that introduced nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula, in 1958; hundreds were kept there until a worldwide pullback of tactical nukes occurred under George H.W. Bush”). Can we, whose children are forced to stand and pledge allegiance to our nation’s flag every morning in school, blame them for contributing to nationalism, after the First and Second Sino-Japanese Wars, and our violence in the region, including the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the War in Afghanistan? (Remember that these three wars were right on their border).
An earlier UN report found the US guilty of a) torture, b) racism in the prison system, racial profiling, and police brutality, c) drone strikes and assassination, d) indefinite detention, e) surveillance, and f) criminalizing the homeless.
This essay will end with an appeal to the common sense and humanity of the people of the world. Please resist the escalating momentum toward war between the US and the PRC. Whatever the faults of both sides, bad government is no justification for any war. Our species is playing with fire right now. In a summary of two think-tank war games, Michael Klare informs us that US military experts have concluded that a hot war between our country and the PRC would result in “massive losses of equipment and personnel by both the Chinese and U.S. sides in the initial weeks,” and since this would be a whole new ball game for us, as Americans would be fighting a “peer military” for the first time, there would be a “massive change in the American psyche,” along with a “massive loss of life” and “ships sunk at the bottom of the ocean.” Or, we could have a nuclear winter that kills a billion or two people and ends the possibility of a decent life for anyone.
Many thanks to Stephen Brivati for comments, suggestions, and editing.
Joseph Essertier is an associate professor at the Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan and the Coordinator of Japan for a World BEYOND War.