Uyghur Genocide Debate

Sweida-Metwally, Samir (University of Bristol) Muslim Lawyers Action Group (MLAG)


A briefing in preparation of the UK House of Commons ‘Uighur Genocide Recognition Debate’ scheduled for 22 April 2021.

by Samir Sweida-Metwally (University of Bristol), endorsed by the Muslim Lawyers Action Group (MLAG) (21 April 2021)

This project contains a briefing on the Uighur Genocide Debate

In support of Nusrat Ghani MP’s motion, this briefing highlights evidence to complement the evidence compiled on the MP’s website and addresses narratives which seek to undermine the charge of a Uyghur genocide.

In its totality, there can be no reasonable doubt that the mounting evidence substantiates that the Chinese state is committing genocide1 against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in East Turkistan (commonly referred to as ’Xinjiang’), as well as subjecting them to significant oppression in violation of their religious and personal liberties.


For example,

  • Internees have been subjected to forced labour (“Uyghurs for Sale report”, Australian Strategic Policy Institute 2020), forced female sterilisation (Zenz 2020b), and ‘systematic rape’ (of Uyghur women) (Hill et al. 2021), and have raised charges of ‘torture and inhuman treatment of detainees, the forced separation of children from their parents, the denial of the right to practice their religion or speak their language (…) forced organ harvesting, enforced disappearances and killings in detention’ (Bar Human Rights Committee 2020).


  •  ‘Linguistic securitization’ (Finley 2019): Chinese government policy bans the instruction of ethnic minority languages in, at minimum, schools in Yining city and Hotan prefecture in East Turkistan since 2017 (Lipes 2017).


  • ‘Religious securitization’ (Finley 2019): Muslims are not allowed to name their new-borns Muslim names like Mohammed (Richardson 2017), are required to prove ‘that they are patriotic and law-abiding before they are allowed to undertake the hajj’ (pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam) (IOHR 2020), and are not allowed to fast or pray during Ramadan (monitored by a Chinese ethnic majority ‘Big brother/Big sister’ sent to observe them at home) (Amnesty International 2019; Byler 2018).


  • Estimates based on satellite imagery show that since 2017, 65% of mosques ‘have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies’ and ‘30% of important Islamic sacred sites have been demolished’ (Ruser et al. 2020; The Xinjiang Data Project).


  • Outside the internment camps, minority ethnics are subject to mass surveillance with significant intrusion into their private lives (Mozur 2019).

Despite the authoritative evidence that China is undertaking this genocidal campaign, some have denied that what is happening in East Turkistan constitutes genocide. The two principal arguments relied on to advance that position can be soundly refuted.

First, some might argue that China’s repression extends across its territory irrespective of ethnicity; China has a history of ‘reforming’ people for their political and religious beliefs by imprisoning them in labour camps, e.g. Beijing’s ‘Re-education through labour’ strategy, an official state policy from 1957 to 2013 (Amnesty International 2013). However, in the case of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities, all the above listed state-led coercion is levied against them at once, and a critical feature of the repression experienced by this community which amplifies the genocide argument is Beijing’s strategy to demographically engineer Uyghur and other Turkic communities.

Research shows that the Chinese government is, in some areas, targeting to sterilise up to 34% of married Uyghur women of childbearing age. Just one year after China launched the ‘Strike Hard Against Terrorism’ policy in East Turkistan/’Xinjiang’, the region witnessed growth rates falling by 84 percent in the two largest Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, and declined further in several minority regions in 2019 (Zenz 2020b). This shows a state strategy to prevent births, in direct contravention of the Genocide Convention.

Second, some have advanced the argument that the evidence from which the conclusions of a genocide are derived are fabricated by the ‘West’ to destabilise China. To conclude that the persecution of Uyghurs is an anti-Chinese conspiracy designed by Western powers would require an ominous alliance between governments and civil society, to which academics, politicians, thinktanks, the Uyghur diaspora, lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, media outlets, from different countries and across multiple continents, are all committed.


Not only is this claim impossible to accept in light of the lack of substantive evidence for such a charge other than prejudiced conjecture, accepting it also ignores:

  • the multiplicity of sources used to reach the conclusion of genocide, including leaked Chinese government documents (e.g., China Cables, the Karakax List) and official Chinese government statistical publications (e.g., Chinese Statistical Yearbooks). China withheld the release of crucial population data in the latest 2020 Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook, limiting vital research into the demographic change occurring in the region.


  • the fact that when reports first surfaced of detention camps China vehemently and repeatedly denied such camps existed. It was only in light of increasing evidence and global pressure that Beijing finally recognised the camps existed, relabelling them as ‘vocational training’ camps (Kuo 2018).


  • the fact that China controls all information coming out of the region by restricting reporting and assigning security officials to foreign journalists (McCormick 2018).

To conclude, there is conclusive evidence that China is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in ‘Xinjiang’. Any suggestions to the contrary can be soundly refuted.

For clarifications on any of the issues raised in this briefing please contact the author at For any clarifications on any legal matters arising from this briefing please contact MLAG here.

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