A Genocidal Olympiad: China’s Present-Day Human Rights Abuses

by Francesca Marquez
February 17th, 2022

The Olympic cauldron has been lit and the Beijing Games have begun in what is the world’s 24th Winter Olympiad. While well over 2,000 athletes from 91 nations participate in this year’s games, they do so in a country accused of committing crimes against humanity and even genocide.

Since 2017, more than a million Muslims have been detained in China’s Xinjiang region in “re-education” camps which the country claims are there to combat separatism and Islamist militancy. Most of the people who have been arbitrarily detained are Uyghurs-- a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group-- who are primarily from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. As satellite images reveal that thirty-nine of the camps almost tripled in size between April 2017 and August 2018, many Uyghur activities fear their culture will be erased.

While there is limited information on what actually happens in the camps, many detainees who have fled China described it as nothing short of perverse. Former detainee Kayrat Samarkand remembers being subjected to endless brainwashing and punishment on a daily basis, where he’d have to study communist propaganda for hours on end or else risk being handcuffed for up to 12 hours. Detainees were also forbidden from practicing Islam, and some inmates were even forced to eat pork, prohibited in Islam, as another form of punishment for going against the communist party’s agenda. If they couldn’t recite the Mandarin slogans giving thanks and wishing long life to President Xi Jinping every day, detainees could be waterboarded or staggered into a metal contraption called the “tiger chair.”

Amidst all this torture, female detainees were further subjected to an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse, and forced sterilization. Tursunay Ziawudun, a former detainee who lives in fear of being sent back to China, said women were removed from the cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men, with some men even paying money to have their pick of the “prettiest[,] young inmates.” Ziwudun also said women were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilized which according to an investigation by the Associated Press, is likely meant to suppress the Uyghur population. Of course, the Chinese government denies these allegations, just as they deny so many other allegations of rape and torture in these detention camps. In fact, for a few years after 2017, the Chinese government denied even the very existence of these camps.

In light of all these first-hand accounts, several countries, including the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands, have accused China of committing genocide which, according to international conventions, means having the “intent to destroy” a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, even stated that China was committing “crimes against humanity,” and imposed sanctions against several Chinese government officials for their connection to these “arbitrary detention” camps. Moreover, the governments of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States all pulled diplomats from attending the 2022 Winter Games due to the ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Whether or not this diplomatic boycott amounts to anything more than a symbolic gesture is debatable. Nevertheless, these detention camps remain an affront to humanity and their barbaric treatment of the Uyghurs is unacceptable. Yet, what many call the “genocide” games continue, and already people have turned a blind eye to China’s abuses. Carrying on with nigh-impunity, China’s genocidal regime is far from being properly held accountable on a global scale. So long as these detention camps, or what Agnès Callmard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, calls a “dystopian hellscape,” continue to exist, the Uyghur people and their culture will suffer, and die out, while the public pays no mind. Sound familiar?