Commemorating of the 75th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Stop Uyghur Genocide reflects upon a vision of a world where genocide and other mass atrocities are not just condemned, but also effectively prevented and punished. The 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, including killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions on the group to bring its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing birth prevention measures within the group, and forcibly transferring children to another group.

Detainees listening to speeches in a camp in Lop County, Xinjiang, April 2017

In contrast to the Convention’s goals, Uyghurs have endured severe repression and crackdowns imposed by the Chinese government for decades, which escalated to genocide beginning in 2016. Millions of Uyghurs have been forcibly confined in concentration camps, where they are subject to regular torture, deprivation of necessities like food and sleep, systematic sexual assault and rape, and medical abuses. Uyghurs have been coerced into forced labour programmes. Some are forced to work whilst in detention, others are transferred hundreds of miles from their homes and work under inhumane conditions. Children are separated from their parents and placed in state-run orphanages. Forced sterilisations and abortions form part of a mass birth prevention programme that a credible independent Tribunal determined amounted to genocide. The US State Department has officially recognised China’s actions as genocide, and the UN has acknowledged them as possible crimes against humanity.

The gravity of this situation is further underscored by the widespread loss of life taking place. Due to the complete control exerted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), investigations are virtually impossible. Since the CCP’s campaign began in 2016, the true death toll remains uncertain. Nevertheless, witness statements and word-of-mouth accounts confirm that killings and forced disappearances are ongoing. While we may not have complete access to the region, the evidence of cultural destruction is overwhelming and raises significant concerns about the Uyghur and other Turkic populations’ well-being and their cultural heritage.

The Uyghur language is censored, historic mosques are demolished, and the century-old cultural traditions, such as Meshrep, which are unique to the Uyghur people and involve music, dance, drama, and oral literature, are outlawed. Children from an early age have been denied education in their native language and have been punished for the use of it. Since 2016, numerous cultural figures, including renowned musicians, poets, and intellectuals, have disappeared. One of the most recent and prominent cases include Professor Rahile Dawut, an acclaimed Uyghur intellectual and expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions, who is serving a life sentence for endangering state security in China. As Omer Kanat, the Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), expressed, Rahile Dawut’s unjust life imprisonment is “a loss for all of humanity, as it demonstrates that scholarship and knowledge-sharing are targets of authoritarian regimes and genocidal actions.” 

With this having said, those responsible for the relentless targeting and eradication of culture are not being brought to justice. They employ methods such as torture and forced labour in an attempt to convert and assimilate entire populations, forcing them to renounce their very identities. This represents a different face of genocide, a concept originally coined by Raphael Lemkin. Lemkin, the visionary behind the term “genocide,” pointed out that genocide has a multifaceted nature and involves a synchronised assault on various facets of a community’s life. He detailed these “techniques of genocide” across eight fields: political, social, cultural, economic, biological, physical, religious, and moral. In the realm of culture, Lemkin emphasised, among other steps, “prohibiting or destroying cultural institutions and cultural activities…in order to prevent humanistic thinking, which the occupant considers dangerous because it promotes national thinking.”

Although the term “cultural genocide” was included in the first draft of the Genocide Convention in 1947, it has not been retained in the Convention’s current form. However, it is revived when we read Uyghur stories. Lemkin’s wisdom resurfaces, as he emphasised that destroying a group entails eradicating their way of life, with attacks on culture often being the first step. In line with this vision, the Chinese government’s bans on the Uyghur language and the most sacred cultural traditions contribute to a broader campaign to erase Uyghur identity. In this way, the notion of “cultural genocide” gains renewed significance seven decades later. This resilience reflects Lemkin’s foresight as he attempted to incorporate cultural, physical, and biological destruction into a larger ‘picture’ of genocide. 

Dr. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word “Genocide”

Indeed, the current generation of Uyghurs have lived under occupation for most of their existence, making their distinct cultural identity all the more important. Uyghur culture and traditions have become symbols of defiance, allowing Uyghurs to convey their journey to the world. Uyghur stories encompass pain, but they also showcase unique storytelling and culture, while passionately and fearlessly demanding change from those in power. In the face of the relentless efforts by the Chinese regime to erase their essence, the Uyghurs’ “Uyghurness” is a form of genuine resistance. Thus, Stop Uyghur Genocide aims to amplify the struggle of and hope for a persecuted culture and people striving to survive and flourish.

On the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention, Uyghurs seek the support of influential voices. With a profound awareness that only a handful of Uyghurs reside in exile, Uyghurs rely on the solidarity of activists, politicians, legal experts, and faith leaders from diverse communities to bring about change. Therefore, Stop Uyghur Genocide’s focus in the lead-up to the 75th Anniversary this year centers on the ongoing struggle and efforts to prevent the Uyghur genocide and highlight the concept of cultural genocide, with the intention of emphasising the critical role of genocide prevention and developing essential genocide prevention mechanisms in the current context. In the spirit of resistance and resilience, as demonstrated by the Uyghurs, Stop Uyghur Genocide maintains a strong hope and unwavering commitment in its advocacy for the United Kingdom and international community to fulfil Raphael Lemkin’s vision as outlined in the first draft of the Genocide Convention.

For this, we respectfully ask for your support to safeguard the Uyghur people and their culture.

Learn more about our work and the Convention

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