The United States had accused the Chinese Communist Party of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, an ethnic and religious minority that lives in the western region of Xinjiang, China.
“This genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on his last full day as a member of the presidential administration.
It is estimate between 1-2 million Uyghurs are interned in work camps, where they are forced to pick cotton and renounce their religious beliefs under threat of violence, CNN reported.
Approximately 11 million Uyghurs live in Xinjiang, and practice Islam. They have a distinct culture and language that make them outliers in China, and Chinese authorities have defended their actions as ways to prevent radicalism.
“Since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decades-long campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz,” Pompeo said, adding that families have been deliberately torn apart and children sent to unfamiliar homes.
The U.S. has banned cotton imports from Xinjiang out of concern the products are the result of forced labor.
The incoming Biden administration has indicated it will continue to press the issue of Uyghur exploitation. During the campaign, Biden condemned China’s actions as “genocide.”