Uyghur Tribunal finds China committed genocide in Xinjiang

London ruling follows Western nations' diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, and U.S. forced labor censure.
By Alim Seytoff and Roseanne Gerin
2021.12.09
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Uyghur Tribunal finds China committed genocide in Xinjiang Uyghur Tribunal tribunal chair Geoffrey Nice, center, delivers the verdict of the independent tribunal assessing evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people, in London, Dec. 9, 2021.
AP

UPDATED at 6:50 P.M. EST on 2021-12-09

An independent tribunal in London said Thursday that China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in its western Xinjiang region and that President Xi Jinping shared primary responsibility for the atrocities.

The Uyghur Tribunal based its findings on testimony from dozens of witnesses, including formerly jailed Uyghurs and other locals, as well as legal and academic experts on China’s actions in its far-western Xinjiang region.

"The tribunal is satisfied that the PRC [People's Republic of China] has affected a deliberate, systematic and concerted policy with the object of so-called 'optimizing' the population in Xinjiang by the means of a long-term reduction of Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations to be achieved through limiting and reducing Uyghur births," tribunal chair Geoffrey Nice quoted the verdict as saying on Thursday.

Nice, a prominent British attorney, said the panel was "satisfied that President Xi Jinping, Chen Quanguo, and other very senior officials in the PRC and CCP [Chinese Communist Party] bear primary responsibility for acts in Xinjiang."

The tribunal’s report is not binding, as the panel has no state backing or power to sanction China. But its conclusion adds to the growing body of evidence that China’s persecution of Uyghurs constitutes a crime against humanity that merits an international response.

The ruling of genocide is based on testimony and evidence China is working to erase Uyghur culture and assimilate and reduce the population through forced relocation and birth control campaigns.

Chinese authorities committed torture and sexual violence—altogether seven out of 11 crimes against humanity recognized by the International Criminal Court (ICC)—the tribunal found.

"But there is no evidence of organized mass killings," the verdict reads.

"Indeed, it is clear that detainees are allowed back into society, sometimes after as short a period of detention as 3-6 months--often to be detained again--sometimes after long periods in detention and sometimes after sustained torture," it said.

The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) called the ruling “great encouragement” for Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic people in the region.

“This is a historic day for the Uyghur people,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa in a statement.

“The verdict recognizing the Uyghur genocide by an independent body, which also provided the only venue for Uyghur and other survivors to speak and provide firsthand evidence to a quasi-judicial body, is a crucial step towards wider recognition by the international community,” he said.

"This is another urgent reminder for the U.N. and all state parties to the 1948 Genocide Convention to fulfill their legal and moral obligation under international law to stop this ongoing genocide as well as hold accountable those who are responsible for these crimes," added Isa.

Geoffrey Nice delivers the verdict of the independent tribunal assessing evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people, Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: AP
Geoffrey Nice delivers the verdict of the independent tribunal assessing evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people, Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: AP
'Vicious rumors'

The verdict was “made possible by the combined efforts of hundreds of individuals, especially those brave enough to testify before the tribunal in the face of intimidation by the Chinese Communist Party,” the Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU) said.

“The international community now has at its disposal an independent, unbiased, and holistic determination that the crimes being conducted against the Uyghurs do in fact constitute the highest crime humanity has defined: Genocide,” the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group said in a statement.

The tribunal is a “political tool used by a few anti-China and separatist elements to deceive and mislead the public," the Chinese Embassy in London said after the ruling.

“The ‘Tribunal’ and its so-called ‘conclusions’ are mere clumsy shows staged by anti-China elements for their self-entertainment. Anyone with conscience and reason will not be deceived or fooled,” the embassy said in a statement that described China's policies as aimed at counter terrorism.

The Uyghur tribunal was launched by Isa as a way to investigate atrocities and possible genocide against the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples, because the two international courts that are able to make formal rulings on China’s policies have no plans to take up the case.

China is not a party to the ICC, and therefore is not bound to submit to a trial, while the International Court of Justice can only take up a case that has been approved by the United Nations Security Council, and China’s permanent membership in the Council gives it veto power over any such decision.

The tribunal included nine members and was led by Nice, who led the prosecution at The Hague of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. It conducted two multiple-day hearings in London in June and September, during which the panelists heard accounts from internment camp survivors describing sexual assaults, torture, forced sterilizations, coerced labor and killings.

The tribunal also held a virtual hearing in November during which expert witnesses, including German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, introduced further evidence of involvement in the internment program of top officials, including President Xi Jinping.

“I can understand and even respect without any trouble their ambition to be a successful leading country and their desire to be influential around the world,” Nice told RFA's Uyghur Service in an interview after the ruling.

“But they’re not going to achieve that ambition by disgracing themselves in the eyes of the public. And therefore, was it really necessary for them to do these things?”

Olympics diplomatic boycott

Thursday's ruling in London was announced the day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would join a diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics along with the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Lithuania.

It also followed on the heels of a 428 to 1 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would prohibit imports from Xinjiang. The Senate had already unanimously passed the bill in July.

The Congress has also passed a resolution officially recognizing the Uyghur genocide — joining parliaments in Canada, The Netherlands, the U.K., and Lithuania — and condemning the International Olympic Committee’s endorsement of the Beijing Games in the wake of revelations about Xinjiang.

About 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples are believed to have been detained in a vast network of internment camps in Xinjiang. China has angrily rejected criticism of its practices in the region that the U.S. and a handful of European countries have labelled a genocide.

Chinese authorities contend the camps are vocational training centers designed to combat religious extremism and terrorism.

At the virtual hearing last month, Zenz, researcher with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, authenticated a package of Chinese government documents that were believed to have been leaked to the tribunal.

The documents, some of which were marked top secret, included speeches by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2014 calling for Uyghur re-education and population control in Xinjiang. Zenz said the documents were part of the “Xinjiang Papers” that were originally leaked to The New York Times in 2019 but have not been released publicly.

The documents are significant because they show that the systematic attacks on the Uyghurs were part of a long-term strategy by the central government, said Zenz, who has written extensively on China’s network of internment camps and the alleged abuses that the Uyghurs have suffered.

“This is a moment in which every Uyghur person can feel a deep sense of validation and support," said Rishat Abbas, a senior advisor to the CFU and the WUC.

“The world can see for itself in the words of these witnesses, and in the thousands of pages of evidence collected by the tribunal, that this is an atrocity of historic proportions."

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