Independent Tribunal Launched to Judge Claims of Mass Atrocities Crimes in Xinjiang

By Joshua Lipes
2020-09-04
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uyghur-detainees-hotan-april-2017-crop.jpg A photo posted to the WeChat account of the Xinjiang Judicial Administration shows Uyghur detainees listening to a 'de-radicalization' speech at a re-education camp in Hotan prefecture's Lop county, April 2017.
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The one-time prosecutor of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Friday launched an independent tribunal to judge allegations of mass atrocities crimes committed against Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Sir Geoffrey Nice, a U.K.-based human rights attorney who in 2002 led the prosecution’s case linking atrocities to Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, agreed to chair the “Uyghur Tribunal” in response to a June request by Dolkun Isa, head of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, the tribunal said in a statement.

Established in cooperation with the Coalition for Genocide Response, the tribunal will investigate “ongoing atrocities and possible genocide” against the Uyghur people in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million people in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.

Other reports suggest that Beijing has perpetrated crimes in the region that include murder, enslavement, wrongful imprisonment, torture, rape and other sexual violence, enforced sterilization, enforced disappearance, separation of children from their parents, forced marriage, and forced organ harvesting.

According to the tribunal, such acts could show Beijing’s intention to “destroy the Uyghurs as a group” and constitute genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which China is a signatory.

“The allegations cannot be graver but the Uyghur Tribunal will deal with the evidence and the law, and the evidence and the law alone, in coming to its determination,” Nice said.

According to the statement, the tribunal will comprise no fewer than seven members who will act as a jury. Two multi-day hearings are expected to be held in London based on evidence submitted by members of the Uyghur diaspora, with a judgment likely to be delivered by the end of 2021.

While the tribunal lacks government support, it is the latest effort to hold China accountable for rights abuses in the XUAR.

Beijing describes its three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination. China’s government has also defended its policies in the region as part of an official bid to combat extremism.

International court unlikely

Friday’s statement noted that while China is a party to the Genocide Convention, it holds a reservation that would likely prevent a case from being heard before the International Court of Justice or any other formal international court.

“There is no realistic possibility of these charges being considered in a formally constituted court, but the Uyghur Tribunal provides an opportunity to secure an authoritative and impartial judgement,” Isa said.

Genocide against the Uyghurs has been alleged, but has never been properly explored, Nice said.

“It is the duty of citizens everywhere, through their elected representatives, to save other citizens anywhere in the world from genocide,” he said.

“But governments and international bodies will rarely say publicly that genocide has been, or is being, committed because of what such a determination about genocide would require them to do. The citizen is, thus, left without reliable and authoritative information on whether genocide has been or is being committed and whether her/his government is acting in accordance with its international legal obligations.”

Nice said that all evidence presented at the tribunal, as well as the body’s final judgment, will be given in public and available online in a transparent manner.

“Citizens, governments and international bodies will then be better able to assess whether obligations to act are identified by evidence carefully and publicly analyzed,” he said.

Nicholas Vetch, vice chair of the tribunal, told RFA's Uyghur Service the tribunal will "consider a body of evidence and make a determination ... based on the evidence and the law."

"[It's] for others to do what they want with it, so whether that's governments or citizens or corporations or whoever, but at least we will have made a determination," he said, adding that the exercise will also result in "the accumulation of a significant body of evidence."

Genocide designation

In July, two Uyghur exile groups filed a dossier of evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, accusing top Chinese officials—including President Xi Jinping—of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” related to the crackdown on Uyghurs in the XUAR.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, of The Gambia, must receive approval from judges to open a formal investigation after completing her preliminary examination of the evidence and it could take months before she issues a response.

The filing follows a June 29 report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the region, which the author, German researcher Adrian Zenz, said may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.

China did not make a spokesperson available for comment on the report, but when Zenz’s study on forced birth control came out in June, official media vilified him and said Beijing is ‘considering suing’ him for libel, while the foreign ministry denounced him.

Preliminary discussions about a possible genocide designation have been held by U.S. officials at the State Department, National Security Council, and Department of Homeland Security, administration officials said last month.

Reported by Joshua Lipes and Nuriman for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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