On Tuesday, March 30, the United States Department of State released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, its annual report which outlines the human rights record of every country in the world. President Biden, in his announcement regarding the release of the report, highlighted that a major component of this year’s would be how the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with the peaceful expression of human rights such as free press, free assembly, democratic protests; and how marginalized and disfranchised people – including ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls, the elderly, and the disabled – experienced heightened vulnerabilities.
In this report’s chapter on China, which includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau, the State Department made its first ever formal designation – under the new Biden administration – that the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang meet the standards of genocide and crimes against humanity. This public designation comes after months of speculation regarding whether the new presidential administration would uphold the January 19th announcement of former Secretary of State Pompeo that “after careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that the PRC, under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”
More specifically, the China chapter of the new 2020 report concludes the following:
“Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment of other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”
On the same day, and across the pond at the United Nations, a group of 16 UN experts released a public joint statement revealing their concerns having received allegations that upwards of 150 Chinese and foreign businesses have links to Uyghur forced labor:
“While the Government of China justifies its actions relating to the treatment of Uyghurs by combatting terrorism and violent extremism, poverty alleviation or development purposes, we nevertheless respectfully urge the Government to immediately cease any such measures that are not fully compliant with international law, norms and standards relating to human rights, including the rights of minorities.”
“Businesses must not turn a blind eye to this and must conduct meaningful human rights due diligence in line with the UN Guiding Principles to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for human rights abuses caused, contributed to or directly linked to their operations, products or services in Xinjiang and in other Chinese provinces.”
“We consider that an official visit to China (including the Xinjiang region) would be the ideal opportunity for […] dialogue and to assess the situation for ourselves based on free and unhindered access.”