In her book A Problem from Hell, former US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power asked how much an atrocity had to “resemble the Holocaust for reasonable people to feel that there is only so much genocide that they will accept?”
Power was writing in the context of the world’s inaction over the massacres committed in Rwanda and Bosnia. The same question is now being asked of the years-long campaign of repression by the Chinese government against the Uyghur and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang. The abuses include holding up to a million people in detention camps, the prohibition of certain Islamic practices, and forced sterilizations.
These abuses have been documented by rights groups, media organizations, and victims themselves since as early as 2017. But it is in recent weeks that a shift among experts to call the human rights abuses in Xinjiang crimes against humanity—or even genocide—has rapidly gathered speed. For members and advocates of the Uyghur community, that would be an important step in their campaign to raise awareness globally of their plight.
Jo Smith Finley, an expert on Uyghurs at Newcastle University in the UK, said that some scholars of Xinjiang had been hesitant to label the abuses a full-blown genocide, given the historic weight the term carries, choosing instead to use terms like “cultural genocide” or “demographic genocide.” But, she added, the confluence of recent testimonies and images out of Xinjiang have “produced alarming echoes of the atrocities of the Holocaust”—the horror that gave rise to the word “genocide.”