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Opinion Who ordered the Uyghur genocide? Look no further than China’s leader.

Demonstrators protest the Chinese Communist Party near the Chinese Embassy in London in October. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Evidence has grown over the past few years that China has carried out a genocide against Uyghur, Kazakh and other Turkic Muslim peoples of Xinjiang region in the country’s far northwest. Eyewitnesses, satellite photos and government records have contributed to a grotesque picture of a people’s identity being eradicated. We now know that China built an archipelago of concentration camps, tried to repress the Uyghur birthrate and dispatched workers into forced labor. But who should be held to account?

China’s top leadership gave the orders, according to a new analysis from Adrian Zenz, senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, who has led the way in exposing the genocide. He points to comments and actions of China’s leader Xi Jinping and, secondly, his handpicked Xinjiang regional party boss, Chen Quanguo. In 2014, when the measures were first being contemplated, Mr. Xi declared, “Those who should be seized should be seized, and those who should be sentenced should be sentenced.” Mr. Chen later followed with “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

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Mr. Zenz’s conclusions are based on a cache of internal documents known as the Xinjiang Papers. They were first disclosed in the New York Times, which received 403 pages of previously secret documents from a “member of the Chinese political establishment,” and published a story Nov. 16, 2019. The Times published the full text of one document, but not the cache in its entirety, in order to protect the source from possible detection.

Then, in mid-September, digital files of the Xinjiang Papers were leaked to the Uyghur Tribunal, an independent fact-finding effort based in London, which has held three rounds of hearings this year and is planning to release a report next week. (The Times says it was not the source of this leak.) In the two years since the first disclosures, much more has become known about the nature and scope of the repression. Mr. Zenz authenticated and analyzed the documents for the tribunal and concluded the genocide was a deliberate policy choice, encouraged by Mr. Xi and others. In a Nov. 27 statement to the tribunal, Mr. Zenz said "linkages between statements and mandates made by Xi and other central government figures and policies that were implemented after 2016 are far more extensive, detailed and significant than previously understood.”

The genocide plans took shape after an outdoor market attack in southern Xinjiang in May 2014 in which 31 people were killed, which China blamed on Uyghur separatists. Mr. Xi declared that religious extremism is a “poison” and a “powerful psychedelic drug” and vowed to wipe it out. Key decisions followed: to build high-security reeducation camps in which more than 1 million Uyghurs were incarcerated; to push the Uyghur population into coerced labor; and to launch a campaign to suppress the birthrate of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. These were the pillars of the genocide.

The Uyghur genocide raises urgent questions about who must bear responsibility for potential crimes against humanity. The Xinjiang Papers show Mr. Xi and his cohorts ordered the destruction of language, culture, traditions, hopes and dreams of an entire people.

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