The below article was published by The Guardian, photo credit: Matt Dunham/AP
Uyghur representatives file third attempt to have international criminal court investigate China
Chinese officials are operating in foreign countries to get Uyghurs deported back to China by creating visa problems and coercing them into becoming informants, evidence given to the international criminal court alleges.
The submission by Uyghur representatives is the third attempt to have the ICC investigate Chinese authorities for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide, including the use of forced deportations of Uyghurs back to China.
Previous complaints were rejected by the court, which was set up to deliver justice for the world’s worst crimes, as China was not a signatory and is outside its jurisdiction. The ICC left the case open and asked for further evidence.
Thursday’s brief was submitted on behalf of the self-proclaimed East Turkistan government in exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, which said the new evidence met the ICC’s threshold and included “insider witness testimony” from Uyghurs who had been pressured or forced into working with Chinese officials to have Uyghurs deported from Tajikistan, which is an ICC state party.
“They can give evidence directly to the ICC about how [Chinese officials] would focus their strategies on coming into Tajikistan and getting Uyghurs detained, arrested and deported out,” said the lead lawyer for the group, Rodney Dixon QC. “So it’s first-hand testimony from witnesses who are now accessible to the ICC to be interviewed, about how Chinese officers are operating on Tajikistan soil.”
Witnesses in Tajikistan accused officials of threatening people to get them to work with them or be informers, and creating “problems with visas and paperwork”.
“They created a legal problem, and then used that to arrest people and ship them out in small numbers so it’s not noticeable,” said Dixon, adding that family members of people who tried to speak out were also targeted.
The group said one witness had provided “cogent evidence” of officials running tactics from late 2016 in Kyrgyzstan, including visa iproblems, Uyghurs receiving phone calls from relatives in China “begging them to go back”, and local police cooperating with Chinese consulate requests to take Uyghurs to the border where they were then deported by Chinese agents. “This is very strong cogent evidence the ICC has access to. It’s not theoretical. They can investigate this,” said Dixon.
The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic-speaking ethnic group, primarily from China’s north-western region of Xinjiang, who have been subjected to religious and ethnic persecution by Chinese authorities. About 1-1.5 million Uyghur are estimated to live overseas as a diaspora.
The complainants said the new evidence, gathered through on-the-ground interviews in central Asia and Turkey, revealed that the Uyghur population in Tajikistan decreased by more than 85% and in Kyrgyzstan by 87% as a result of forced deportations.
The previous submission had included accounts of deportations in Tajikistan, but was dismissed because the ICC found that most of the crimes alleged appeared to have been committed by Chinese nationals in China.
It said in its annual report at the time that there was “no basis to proceed” on separate claims of forced deportations from Tajikistan and Cambodia, despite both countries being ICC members and therefore within its jurisdiction. “The office observes that while the transfers of persons from Cambodia and Tajikistan to China appear to raise concerns with respect to their conformity with national and international law, including international human rights law and international refugee law, it does not appear that such conduct would amount to the crime against humanity,” the report said.
In the time since the first submission, international condemnation of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang has escalated. In January the US state department formally declared the treatment of Uyghurs to be an attempted genocide, soon followed by similar motions passed in the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands. Legal and human rights groups have found Chinese authorities to be committing crimes against humanity and breaching every article of the UN’s genocide convention.
Beijing rejects all accusations and says its policies, including the mass detention network it says includes vocational training centres, are anti-terrorism or anti-poverty efforts.
The ICC is not obliged to consider complaints submitted to the prosecutor, which can independently decide which cases to submit to ICC judges.
“It has been over a year since our lawyers first submitted this complaint to the ICC and in that time so much evidence has been gathered to show that the ICC does have the jurisdiction to open an investigation,” said Salih Hudayar, the prime minister of the East Turkistan government in exile. “We are really hoping that the prosecutor will see all this evidence and decide to open the case. Our people need justice and they need it now before it is too late.”