Good afternoon.  It’s an honor to be with you all today as we recognize the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed by authorities of the People’s Republic of China against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other ethnic and religious groups in Xinjiang. Today, we commemorate the dignity and acknowledge the rights of the victims and survivors of these crimes. 

For 75 years, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide has outlined a vision of a world in which genocide and other mass atrocities are prevented and punished.  It is a vision in which all governments take seriously their responsibility for protecting human lives—and when prevention of genocide fails, governments have an obligation to punish those responsible.  Also, inextricably and critically linked to prevention and punishment is the importance of countering genocide denials—to push back against those who obscure the truth about the Holocaust, about Srebrenica, and about Xinjiang.

It is, to be sure, very challenging to create pathways for criminal accountability for the atrocities being committed by PRC authorities in Xinjiang; however, this does not mean that we sit idly by or remain silent when faced with evidence of persecution. In January 2021—when Ambassador Kelley Currie, who is here with us today, was in government service—the United States called these atrocities by their name: genocide and crimes against humanity.  Today, the world must stand firm against these atrocities, both in word and in deed.

Careful, comprehensive, and robust documentation of these atrocities is what made the U.S. atrocity determination possible.   This documentation is overwhelming and credible, and it is ongoing. Journalists, academics, independent researchers, and NGOs—many of them represented here today—are working relentlessly to ensure that the repression of more than 10 million people will not be ignored, or denied, in that tightly controlled and heavily surveilled region.  

Witnesses are sharing their experiences, notwithstanding the acute risk of doing so.  Commercial satellite images of detention centers and destroyed Muslim cemeteries and mosques are being analyzed. Supply chains tainted with abusive labor practices are being tracked. Commodities produced through the use of forced labor are being blocked from reaching legitimate markets.

Going forward, documentation will remain critical in the face of the inevitable denials. Documentation is also important as the nature of the repression in Xinjiang evolves. The PRC appears to have transferred a large, but untold, number of detainees out of the so-called “re-education camps” and into formal prisons to serve long sentences on spurious charges. Furthermore, the PRC has extended its brutal policies beyond its borders with various forms of transnational repression against diaspora communities and human rights defenders abroad.

In addition to maintaining attention on this situation, we are also convened here today to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the core ambition of which has been to infuse societies with equality, human rights, fundamental freedoms, and justice. This landmark document—which reflects the work of diplomats from a diverse range of societies, East and West—remains a touchstone for human rights and is as important as ever.  

The United States marks the occasion annually by taking concrete actions to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations around the world.  Our concerted actions last Friday related to the atrocities and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang include imposing sanctions on two PRC government officials for their connection to ongoing serious human rights abuses, visa restrictions on one of the officials for gross violations of human rights in Xinjiang, and the addition of three entities to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Entity List for working with the Xinjiang government to recruit, transport, transfer, harbor, or receive forced labor or Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, or members of other persecuted groups out of Xinjiang.

These actions to promote accountability are in addition to the numerous sanctions, visa restrictions, export controls and import restrictions that the United States has already imposed over the past several years.  We’ve also issued a Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory—most recently updated in September—to highlight the heightened risk to businesses with supply chains and investments in Xinjiang given the entities complicit in forced labor and other human rights abuses there and throughout the PRC.

I would like to share with you that I, and the Office of Global Criminal Justice, do not recognize a hierarchy of atrocity crimes.  Three core categories of crimes—genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity—cover the range of mass atrocities. They have different legal criminal elements and can occur in different contexts.  Consistent with our obligations under the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions, the United States has domestic laws that enable the prosecution of genocide and war crimes in our courts.  Although crimes against humanity are not criminalized as such under U.S. law, many existing U.S. laws could be used to punish conduct that, depending on the circumstance, may constitute a crime against humanity, including federal criminal laws addressing murder, sexual violence, human trafficking, torture, and war crimes. The Biden Administration also supports draft legislation in the United States Congress to make crimes against humanity a separate offense under U.S. criminal law and, to that end, is engaging with members of Congress on this issue.

In closing, thank you to all those who bravely speak out despite the threat of retaliation. We will continue to work with the international community to promote accountability for those responsible for atrocities and human rights violations and abuses wherever they occur, including within the PRC.  As Secretary Blinken has said:

“On this day of remembrance, let us recommit to use all the tools at our disposal in a collective effort to prevent and respond to genocide and other atrocities.  Let us speak out against denial.  Let us seek justice.”

U.S. Department of State

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