Denial is said to be the last stage of genocide. Yet for some time it has been apparent that, despite the crimes being perpetrated against the Uyghurs being ongoing, we have already reached this stage. It is an even greater shame that much of this denial is appearing, not from the right as one might expect, but from the left. A desire to protect the image of the largest communist state overpowering any moral grounding.
Over the past few years we have seen increasing genocide denial. In 2019 the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust released a study that showed 1 in 20 UK adults do not believe the Holocaust happened and 1 in 12 believe it has been exaggerated, while 1 in 5 believe the number murdered was less than 2 million.
"Genocide denial is, as Professor Deborah Lipstadt describes, a “threat to our democracy”. We cannot equivocate on our morals."
Similarly, denial of the genocide in Bosnia is growing. Srebrenica mayor, Mladen Grujicic, accepts that Bosniaks were killed but that genocide is the wrong term; apparently the massacre that occurred in Srebrenica in 1995 wasn’t that bad after all. Other genocides of the 20th century like Rwanda also face the threat of denial.
But it isn't just the past that is up for debate.
Today we can see similar denialism being circulated by major publications about the horrors the Uyghurs face. This week saw Vince Cable, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, calling for the west to “engage with the Chinese” and pushing genocide denial, in the Independent. He argues that the claims are merely being fabricated by the west for their own ends and that the Chinese government are justified in their acts due to a plausible “terrorist threat”.
Apparently Vince didn’t get the memo that you’re meant to start denying genocide after it’s over already.
The article reflects a worrying trend in recent years of denialism permeating into the mainstream. It is seeping out of the darkest corners of society. No longer is it just held by fringe conspiracy theorists which includes the likes of the infamous Holocaust denier David Irving. It is in mainstream media. No longer at the extremes of ideology, it is to be found in the centre now too. It is clear for all to see that the threat of genocide denial is very much on our doorstep and we will not be able to ignore it for much longer.
Vince Cable’s article is certainly not the first of its kind. Earlier this year in February the Economist published a piece that proposes the idea that genocide is the wrong word and that to be taken seriously we must first “describe it accurately as China “is not slaughtering them”.
It begs the question: Do we have to wait for the CCP to start murdering the Uyghurs before we act? Is rape, torture, forced abortions, sterilisations, forced labour, and child disappearances not enough?
What is being exposed is a general lack of understanding as to what genocide actually is. There is an expectation that genocide has to look like gas chambers and 100 days of massacre. This simply is not the case.
Genocide is the intent to destroy in whole or in part a group. Mass killing of members of the group is just one means to that end, but it is not the only method. Listed in the 1948 convention are also “measures to prevent births” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another”.
The evidence that genocide is occurring is mounting. Those of us who attended the Uyghur Tribunal earlier this month bore witness to the testimonies of brave survivors and listened to the academics. We know what is happening in Xinjiang. Perhaps if politicians like Vince Cable had bothered to make an appearance they would feel the same as we do.
Genocide denial is, as Professor Deborah Lipstadt describes, a “threat to our democracy”. We cannot equivocate on our morals. There is no compromise. There is no engaging or “working with” a genocidal state. Every single one of us has a fundamental duty to stand up for the truth and combat denial wherever we see it. It is time we call what is happening to the Uyghurs what it is: genocide.
Eloise has recently joined The Demographica Network as the Campaigns Manager to ensure young people are at the forefront of the change they want to see. She has worked in Holocaust education since she was 16, which led to her passion for human rights and her role as Content Coordinator at Yet Again UK. Eloise also is studying her undergraduate of History at the University of Glasgow.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.