Global Human Rights Defence

The atrocities behind the gates in Xinjiang: The physical and mental persecution of Uyghur women
Xinjiang Region, China, Home of the Uighurs, Photo Source :, 2009.

Author: Idil Igdir

Department: Women’s Rights Team

As the world hopes to prevent another inhumane catastrophe from occurring and any human being from suffering such a dreadful fate again, the 21st century has shown us how little progress we have since the dark times of the 20th century. The world order, which aims to protect people from the dangerous ambitions of politicians and leaders through international mechanisms and law, has witnessed another genocide and crimes against humanity, this time in China, and we are once again stunned by the brutal realities.

 China is the most populous country in the world, located in Asia, with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants (Statista, 2021). It has recently caught the world’s attention following its repressive policy against the minority group of Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkic people who live in Xinjiang, China, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in Northwest China.

 Since 2010s, the Muslim Uyghurs have been subjected to various unutterable treatments from the People’s Republic of China. But, the world was shaken to the core when hundreds and thousands of Uyghurs were forcibly placed in so-called “re-education” camps in 2017. (Human Rights Watch, 2021). While the government tried to hide its brutality under the illusion of a process of re-education of the Uyghurs, no country or international organisation believed this to be true (France 24, 2021). Moreover, the Chinese government has taken draconian measures to control the birth rate, even seeking to end the minority group in order to curb the Muslim population in the region. Thus, as a result of these measures, millions of Muslim Uyghur women were sterilised without their consent, in other words, by force. For this reason, women living in these “re-education” camps continue to be subject to inhumane conditions, impossible to fully describe (Ochab, 2021).

 According to an AP News investigation, based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 former detainees, family members and former detention camp instructors, the Chinese government’s actions are leading to what some experts call a form of “demographic genocide” (The Associated Press, 2020).

Uyghur Muslim women in so-called “re-education” camps

 Over the years, there have been numerous reports, interviews and statements regarding the appalling conditions Uyghur Muslim women were subjected to after China’s campaign to control the birth rate of Muslim minority groups and forced placement in “re-education” camps. As a result of long and thorough research and investigation, it is revealed that women are exposed to many inhumane behaviours and actions. According to BBC News, on February 2nd, 2021, “women in China’s ‘re-education’ camps for Uyghurs have been systematically raped, sexually abused and tortured”. Among the testimonies collected by BBC News, Tursunay Ziawudun, who spent nine months inside China’s camps in the Xinjiang region, said that “sometime after midnight, they came to the cells to select the women they wanted and took them down the corridor to a “black room”, where there were no surveillance cameras”. She also added that even before the pandemic, the men who took them out of their cells to rape them wore masks and that these men did not have police uniforms but suits (Hill & Campanale & Gunter, 2021).

 It is difficult for women to express the situations they had to live through and share their stories from inside the camps. Yet, many of them courageously spoke out in front of the world to raise awareness, especially among those who have the power to do something about the mistreatment. Another story broke in 2021 by Qelbinur Sedik, an Uzbek woman from Xinjiang who was forced to teach Mandarin in the camps in 2017 and witnessed wanton cruelties. Based on the information received, the Chinese government has begun summoning women for “free” annual gynaecological examinations to screen a wide range of Uyghur women between 18 and 59 years of age. However, even though these examinations were presented as “free of choice”, if the person receiving the call dared not to cooperate, she faced severe penalties. Later on, as Ms. Sedik recounted her own experience, it was understood that these examinations were a trap set up by the authorities to track down Uyghur women and forcibly insert an IUD, an Intrauterine device, as a form of birth control (Ingram, 2020).

 Moreover, Gulbahar Jeliova, who spent 15 months inside one of the camps, explained that women were forced to take “unknown” medications, undergoing regular blood tests and injections. One of the side effects of these “unknown” medications was to stop having monthly periods (Duxfield & Burrows, 2019).

“FREE UYGHURS”. Photo Source: Matilda Tester/Flickr, 2020.

Crimes against humanity and genocide under international law

 The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an international court whose jurisdiction is limited to the four “most serious crimes” at the international level ; crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and crimes of aggression (Article 5 of The Statute of Rome, 1998). Thus, for a crime to be considered a crime against humanity, it must comply with Article 7 of the Statute, which states that the crime must be “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”. Hence, crimes against humanity include imprisonment or any other form of deprivation of liberty in violation of international law; persecution of an identifiable ethnic or religious group; enforced disappearance; torture; murder; and alleged inhumane acts intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to mental or physical health, including forced labour and sexual violence (Human Rights Watch, 2021).

 On the other hand, genocide is defined as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,” under the terms of Article 6 of the Statute (International Criminal Court, The Statute of Rome, 1998). This includes “killing of members of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group; causing them serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately applying conditions calculated to cause the physical destruction of the group; take measures to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children from one group to another group”[1] (Ramzy, 2021).

 However, for an act to be considered an act of genocide in accordance with international law, it must have both a “Mens Rea“, moral element, and an “Actus Reus“, criminal act. In other words, in addition to the commission of criminal acts, it is the special intention to physically destroy, in whole or in part, a group for the sole ground that it belongs to a particular nation, ethnicity, race or religion, which guides the constitution of this heinous international crime (Mettraux, 2019). This is also known as “Dolus Specialis”, “Special Intent” (Mettraux, 2019). Therefore, the main criterion for distinguishing genocide from crimes against humanity is the existence of special intent.

 Furthermore, following the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, in ICJ reports in 1996 and 2007, the violation of the obligation to prevent genocide and not to commit genocide, respectively, was confirmed by the Court (ICJ, 2007). Moreover, according to the ICJ, the former was considered to have extraterritorial scope[2] (ICJ, 2007).

 China has been targetting and attacking Muslim Uyghurs because of who they are, both religiously and ethnically. The measures taken by the government have caused serious damage to their physical and mental health, and they have deliberately subjected the minorities to conditions that threaten their existence. That is to say, the Chinese government has a specific intention to lead the eventual erasure of an ethnic and religious minority group in the region (Ramzy, 2021). Moreover, the forced sterilisation of women, thus preventing births within the minority group, provides evidence for characterising their acts as genocide.

 Also, by torturing, raping, enslaving, imprisoning, forcibly placing birth control devices, and arbitrarily detaining, the Chinese government has committed and is still committing crimes against humanity in accordance with international law. That is, China systematically and deliberately persecutes the minority group and forces Muslim Uyghurs to work.

 In addition, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide sets out principles that are part of general customary international law, such as the prohibition of genocide and the obligation to prevent[3] and punish the crime of genocide[4]. This means that under customary international law, these binding obligations apply to Contracting Parties and all States, whether they have ratified it or not. That is, China, as a country that ratified the above-mentioned Convention on April 18, 1983, is under the obligation to prevent and therefore to punish the crime of genocide. However, it is important to note that when China agreed to ratify it, the authorities did not hesitate to put a reservation to Article IX of the 1948 Convention (UN Treaty Collection).

The Article IX of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide stated as follows: “Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.”

Conclusion :

 The Chinese government has systematically denied these accusations and called them “allegations”. However, the whole world has witnessed the treatment and the women who lived through this nightmare know the full extent of the abuse against  the minority groups in Xinjiang. Women are treated like meat in the camps, and their bodies are used as test products. From their right to be treated with dignity to their bodily rights, women are exposed to gruesome treatment in violation of their physical and psychological health. On top of that, they are being forced to stay in this environment.

 Considering the atrocities inflicted on the minority group, especially Uyghur Muslim women, it is undeniable that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity under international law.


Aaron O’Neill. (2021, August 17). Twenty countries with the largest population in mid 2021. Statista. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Austin Ramzy. (2021, January 20). China’s Oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Explained. The New York Times. Retrieved from

(2021, April 19). Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

(1948, December 9). Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved from

Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab. (2021, February 3). Behind The Camps’ Gates: Rape And Sexual Violence Against Uyghur Women. Forbes. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Flint Duxfield & Ian Burrows. (2019, January 8). Uyghur woman details life inside Chinese ‘re-education camp’ in Xinjiang. Abc News. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

FRANCE 24. (2021, June 10). China’s repression of Uighurs is ‘crime against humanity. France24. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Lorraine Boissoneault. (2022, February 2). Is China Committing Genocide Against the Uyghurs?.  Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Guénaël Mettraux. (2019, June 13). 8 Special Genocidal Intent/Dolus Specialis. Oxford Public International Law. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from

(2007, February 26). ICJ: Serbia did not commit genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but did nothing to prevent it. United Nations, UN News. Retrieved from

Matthew Hill & David Campanale & Joel Gunter. (2021, February 2). Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape. BBC News, World Asia. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Ruth Ingram. (2020, August 17). Confessions of a Xinjiang Camp Teacher. The Diplomat. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

The Associated Press. (2020, June 29). China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization. AP News. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

(1998, July 17). The Statute of Rome. International Criminal Court. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

Women Around the World. (2021, February 12). Women This Week: Violence Against Uighur Women. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

[1] Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide

[2] Article 1 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide

[3] Article 1 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide

[4] Article 1 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide



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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.