The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the term "genocide," and how it relates to the United States' stance on China's repression of its Uyghur ethnic minority.
Question: I hear the word "genocide" a lot these days. What does it mean?
Answer: It refers to the systematic extermination of a specific group of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion and so on. The term was coined by combining the Greek word "genos," meaning race or ethnicity, and the Latin word "cide," meaning murder, and was first used by a Polish jurist in his book in 1944 to describe the Holocaust, the massacre of Jews by the Nazis. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Q: So, it's a word that expresses a truly horrible act, like murder or massacre, isn't it?
A: In Japan, it is often translated as "mass murder," but under international law, it includes not only killing, but also inflicting serious physical or mental harm, imposing measures intended to prevent a target group from having children, and forcibly transferring children to other groups.
Q: Which countries have joined the convention?
A: Currently, 152 countries, including the United States, China, and North Korea, have ratified the convention. However, Japan has not yet joined. The convention obliges the signatory countries to punish criminals according to domestic laws, and it is believed that the convention remains unratified in Japan because some of the crimes, such as conspiracy to commit genocide, have no parallel in the Japanese legal system.
Q: But why is this a hot topic now?
A: Because the U.S. and Europe have severely criticized the Chinese government for violating the human rights of the Uyghur people in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In January this year, the U.S. officially recognized China's oppression of the Uyghurs as "genocide." Beijing has strongly denied the accusation, calling the lie of the century.
(Japanese original by Hideto Okazaki, Foreign News Department)