Could The International Criminal Court Investigate Atrocities Against The Uighur Muslims In China?

Below is an article published by Forbes, Photo AFP via Getty Images

Over the recent years, several news outlets reported on the dire situation of the Uighur Muslims in China who were being detained for re-education purposes. This was followed by in-depth research suggesting that the religious minority communities are subjected to modern day slavery and women are subjected to forced sterilization. Despite these severe allegations that point towards mass atrocities, as genocide or crimes against humanity, the international community has done little to ensure that the alleged atrocities are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. International bodies, such as the United Nations, have been greatly silent, with a few meaningless statements that do not follow with decisive actions to change the fate of the targeted communities.

Because of this inaction, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group of senior legislators from several countries, called upon the United Nations to act. Among others, IPAC calls for:

“a resolution to be tabled at the United Nations General Assembly establishing an investigation into the situation in the Xinjiang Region;

for governments to ensure that the appropriate legal determinations are made regarding the nature of alleged atrocities. Including the claims that the People’s Republic of China is pursuing and enforcing a coordinated policy to reduce the population of minority groups in the region;

and for rapid and decisive political action to be taken to prevent the further suffering of the Uyghur people and other minorities in China. The international community must show its determination to defend human rights globally.”

Such investigations of the atrocities are a must. However, equally, steps need to be taken to consider how best to prosecute the perpetrators. In response to the question of prosecutions, on July 6, 2020, lawyers for the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE) and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM), have submitted a communication to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking for an investigation to be opened against senior Chinese leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed against the Uighur and other communities.

As China is not a party to the Rome Statute, and hence, the ICC does not have the territorial jurisdiction over the crimes allegedly perpetrated there, the communication advances the argument, earlier used in the case of Myanmar/Bangladesh, that part of the criminal conduct occurred within the territory of a state party to the Rome Statute. In the case of Myanmar/Bangladesh, the argument enabled the ICC to engage and investigate the atrocities. Here, the communication argues that part of the criminal conduct occurred in Tajikistan and Cambodia what could open the door for the ICC to engage on the situation. The communication incorporates evidence of “brutal torture through electrocution, humiliation in the form of being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, mandatory insertion of IUD birth control for Uighur women of child-bearing age–of which there is recent evidence of a major increase, and an estimated 500,000 Uighur children being separated from their families and sent to “orphanage camps” where there have been credible reports of attempted suicide by the children.”

The communication makes an important argument in an attempt to ensure that the ICC engages on the situation of the Uighur Muslims in China. The question of jurisdiction would, highly likely, have to go before the Pre-Trial Chamber (as it has in the case of Myanmar/Bangladesh) before the ICC can take next steps.

Now, the world will be looking at the ICC awaiting the decision whether the only permanent international tribunal will look into the atrocities against the persecuted Uighur Muslims communities in China.