US human rights report calls China’s treatment of Uyghurs ‘genocide’

The US has accused China of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs in an annual human rights report that also raised concerns about Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Venezuela. 

The state department’s 2020 human rights report called China an “authoritarian state” that was detaining more than 1m Uyghurs and other Muslims in its western Xinjiang region and engaging in abuses including rape, forced sterilisation and coerced abortions as well as torture and forced labour.

While Antony Blinken, secretary of state, had previously called the repression of Uyghurs “genocide”, the language in the report marked the first time the Biden administration had made an official declaration.

The report came one week after the US, EU, UK and Canada co-ordinated to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the situation in Xinjiang, which has attracted growing attention as Beijing prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“We’re not trying to . . . contain China or keep it down. What we are about is standing up for basic principles, basic rights, and a rules-based international order,” Blinken said in unveiling the report on Tuesday.

Beijing has denied widespread allegations about its treatment of the Uyghurs and encouraged boycotts against foreign companies such as H&M that have taken a stand on the use of forced labour in the region.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have continued to mount, with President Joe Biden taking a much harsher stance towards China than many experts had expected.

The report also slammed China over the situation in Hong Kong, following the decision last year to impose a national security law on the territory.

It said some of the security institutions created under the law had engaged in abuses including police brutality against pro-democracy protesters, arbitrary arrests and a crackdown on the media and free speech.

Blinken said the US would use “a broad range of other tools to stop abuses” around the world, including possible punitive measures authorised under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The top US diplomat also rejected suggestions that Washington should refrain from criticising other countries because of problems at home, including “systemic racism”.

“We don’t pretend these problems don’t exist or try to sweep them under the rug . . . deal with them in the daylight, with full transparency,” he said.

The report did not refer to the coup in Myanmar last month, but noted “extreme repression of and discrimination” against the Muslim Rohingya minority, along with alleged torture and sexual violence by security forces in the country’s western Rakhine state.

Blinken said the brutal crackdown by the military on civilians, including the recent killing of more than 100 people, was “reprehensible”.

On Saudi Arabia, the state department referred to reports that Riyadh or its agents had committed unlawful killings, including efforts to kill Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking Saudi intelligence official residing in Canada.

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The report added that the Saudi government on occasion did not maximally punish people for committing human rights abuses, creating “an environment of impunity”.

Five government agents charged with murdering Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 had their sentences commuted from death to a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The report also mentioned Venezuela, where the US has refused to recognise Nicolás Maduro as the country’s legitimate leader since early 2019. 

While extrajudicial killings and torture have continued, the report said, the Maduro regime has clamped down on freedom of expression and the press and “routinely” blocked signals or shut down privately owned television or radio outlets. It has also “essentially criminalised” freedom of speech, the state department said. 

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