Uyghur Tribunal Wraps up in London With Eye on December Ruling on Genocide Allegations

The hearings in London aim to determine if abuses of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims amount to genocide.

Members of the Uyghur Tribunal, a panel of UK-based lawyers, academics, rights experts, and business practitioners investigating alleged human rights violations and reports of genocide targeting Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region, hear testimony from witnesses, in London, Sept. 13, 2021. Video screenshot courtesy of Uyghur Tribunal

The final round of a tribunal investigating whether China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims constitutes genocide ended in London Monday after four days of hearings and testimony provided by nearly 40 witnesses and experts, with a nonbinding verdict expected at the end of the year.

The nine-member tribunal chaired by prominent British lawyer Geoffrey Nice conducted the first set of hearings in London known as the Uyghur Tribunal in early June, during which the panelists heard accounts from internment camp survivors describing abuses such as systematic rape, other forms of gender-based violence, torture, and killings.

During the second round of hearings from Sept. 10-13, nine witnesses and 28 experts testified about their experiences with and research findings on the Uyghur crackdown. The tribunal has no state backing or powers of sanction or enforcement, and any judgments issued are nonbinding on any government.

China has come under criticism for heavy-handed policies targeting the 12 million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Alleged abuses include the demolition of mosques; the imprisonment of Uyghur intellectuals, artists and business leaders; the replacement of Uyghur with Chinese as the main language in schools; the use of a pervasive and intrusive surveillance system to monitor Uyghurs’ move; forced labor at factories and farms; and forced birth control and the sterilization of Uyghur women.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Muslims living in Xinjiang.

The U.S. and the legislatures in several European countries have deemed the treatment of Uyghurs and others in the XUAR as constituting genocide and crimes against humanity.

Intimidation of Uyghurs abroad

During the final day of the session, Laura Harth, campaign director for Spain-based Safeguard Defenders, focused in her remarks to the panel on Beijing’s public campaign to intimidate Uyghurs living abroad to prevent them from speaking out on alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

“The so-called counter-evidence that Beijing and local authorities have sought to posit to the world over the past years bear all the hallmarks of yet more human rights violations and seemed to have the sole purpose of intimidating, discrediting, and silencing individual witnesses overseas,” she said.

Barrister Rodney Dixon told the panel that he and two colleagues had submitted a report on crimes committed against Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on behalf of the East Turkestan government in exile and the Uyghur people.

They gathered evidence about Uyghurs being targeted by Chinese authorities in ICC member states, such as Tajikistan and Cambodia, “in order to arrest them and bring them back into China where they are never heard from again and where they are effectively disappeared,” Dixon said.

The report urges the ICC to open a full investigation of the crimes, he said. The ICC can investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression.

Though China has not joined the ICC, the court has jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on the territory of member states, even if those responsible are citizens of a country that is not a member of the court.

The tribunal also heard testimony from ethnic Kazakh Gulzire Alwuqanqizi, who was arrested in July 2017 when she entered Xinjiang from Kazakhstan at the Khorgas border checkpoint with the Kazakh equivalent of a green card and a Chinese passport.

Subsequently interned in four different facilities in Xinjiang over more than 14 months, Gulzire was made to take pills, give blood samples, have medical checks, including ultrasounds, and be injected with what she was told was a flu shot, leaving her unable to have children, she said.

Gulzire told the panel she had been kept in shackles for six months at one camp and had to work as a cleaner, bathing female detainees who had been tied to a bed and raped violently by Han Chinese men. She then had to mop up the floor after the sexual assaults took place.

“I saw that Uyghur women were brought to that room, and they were raped, and I had to wash them afterwards,” she said through a translator.

“I would hear them scream and shout and beg for help, but no one would do so,” said Gulzire, who testified that one of the men told her he had paid money to assault Uyghur women.

Involvement of central government organs

Adrien Zenz, a German researcher whose work first brought worldwide attention to the internment camp system, presented the panel with a new report detailing the strong involvement of China’s central government institutions in the mass incarcerations that began in Xinjiang in 2017.

New evidence shows that “three very important central government organs” — the Central Committee Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs — were involved in the drafting of a March 2017 regulation that laid the foundation for the vocational skills education training centers in Xinjiang.

Those groups also helped pass revisions to regulations in October 2018 to fully legitimize the “re-education institutions,” said Zenz, whose new report will be released by the Washington-based think tank Jamestown Foundation on Tuesday.

Chen Quanguo, who has been Communist Party chief in Xinjiang since August 2016 and is considered the architect of the crackdown on Uyghurs, “was likely brought in as a ruthless and efficient implementer of a hatched plan that was outlined and approved by the central government,” Zenz told the panel.

Zenz previously issued reports on China’s internment camps in Xinjiang, the forced sterilization of detained Uyghur women, efforts to reduce population growth in Xinjiang thorough birth control and population transfer policies, and “population optimization strategy” to dilute the Uyghur majority in southern Xinjiang by raising the proportion of Han Chinese.

Chinese state media has vilified Zenz for his research. In March, he was one of 10 European individuals and four entities hit with travel and other sanctions by China in response to European Union penalties imposes on XUAR officials for abuses of Uyghurs.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese government on the final day of the hearings.

A day before the second session of the tribunal began, the Chinese government asked UK officials to stop the event organizers from conducting the hearings, but to no avail.

“We were told by the British government that it is not part of the ‘tribunal,’ that the ‘tribunal’ is a nongovernmental entity, and that the organization has no legal authority,” said Zheng Zeguang, China’s ambassador to the UK, at a news conference on Sept. 9.

“But the point here is, you should not allow these people to continue to spread rumors about China, because when they do so, they are undermining the good will and trust between the peoples of our two countries,” Zheng told journalists.

The envoy condemned the panel as a “political manipulation aimed at discrediting China.”

“It is a nongovernmental entity funded by anti-China forces,” he said. “It is a fake and has no legal basis or validity whatsoever.”

The Uyghur Tribunal is expected to issue a final verdict on whether China is committing genocide or crimes against humanity in December.

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