A group of Uighurs in exile has submitted evidence to the international criminal court, calling for an investigation into senior Chinese officials, including Xi Jinping, for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The submission made on Monday by lawyers based in London on behalf of two activists groups marks the first time advocates have attempted to use international law against China over allegations of widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, the far north-western territory of China where Uighur and other minority groups are detained and surveilled en masse.
The filing, submitted on behalf of the “east Turkistan government in exile and the East Turkistan national awakening movement”, claims that Uighurs were unlawfully deported from Tajikistan and Cambodia to Xinjiang where they were subjected to imprisonment, torture as well as forced birth control, sterilisations and marriages among other crimes.
The lawyers argue that because part of these crimes took place in Cambodia and Tajikistan, signatories to the Rome statute that established the ICC, the court has jurisdiction over these cases even though China is not a member of the court.
The argument is based on ICC decisions in 2018 and 2019 that it had jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed against the Rohingya by officials in Myanmar, which is not a party to the court, because some of the alleged violations took place in Bangladesh, a signatory to the court.
Rodney Dixon QC, one of the lawyers who made the submission said: “For too long it was assumed that nothing could be done by the world’s criminal court. There is now a clear legal pathway to justice for the millions of Uighurs who are allegedly being persecuted by the Chinese authorities… This chance should not be squandered.”
A growing body of evidence including witness accounts, satellite imagery and leaked government orders documenting the large-scale detention and control over Uighurs in Xinjiang, has caused condemnation of Beijing’s policies. But the international community has not been able to sanction China, which claims its programmes in Xinjiang are its own “internal affairs” and carried out in the name of security.
The filing urges the court to investigate crimes committed against Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples including disappearances, mass internment, forced transfer of children from their families to state orphanages, measures to eliminate Turkic languages, mass surveillance and other crimes.
The submission includes the names of senior Chinese officials, including president Xi Jinping, who should be charged for planning and directing the campaign.
“The Chinese government has conducted a campaign to round up Uighurs abroad and who have fled east Turkistan as a result of the crimes committed against them in China,” the groups said in a statement, referring to the traditional name of the region and its title as an independent state between 1944 and 1949.
“The Uyghur and the other Turkic peoples of east Turkistan deserve justice for the atrocities that are being committed against them by the Chinese government every day. We are hopeful that Justice will prevail,” it said.