Uighurs Accuse China Of Mass Detention, Torture In Landmark Complaint

The below contains parts of an article published by NBC News, Photo credit Mark Allan / NBC News

On July 6, 2020, the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement filed a formal complaint urging the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Chinese officials for genocide and other crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. Below is part of a detailed report recently published by NBC News. Read the full detailed NBC news report here.

The team of human rights attorneys based in London and The Hague, where the ICC is seated, are pushing for the prosecutor to launch an investigation into the Chinese president and more than 30 other named senior members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Lawyers have submitted the 80-page complaint on behalf of two Washington-based Uighur organizations, the self-described “East Turkistan Government in Exile,” and the “East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.”

East Turkistan — sometimes written Turkestan — is the historical name for an area roughly equivalent to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region that forms part of modern China. But in recent decades, the label has also been a rallying cry for Uighurs and other Turkic ethnic minorities, like the Kazakhs, who advocate for separatism, independence or a greater degree of autonomy.

Twice in the 20th century, it was also the name for a short-lived independent Uighur-ruled state that emerged during the tumultuous decades of modern China’s early border confrontations with the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the 1940s.

Based on the ICC jurisdiction established on the Rohingya Genocide via Bangladesh being a member state, lawyers for the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement believe the ICC has jurisdiction as East Turkistan’s neighboring state Tajikistan is a signatory of the Rome Statute. 

“The deterrent effect of having charges against you and knowing that there are consequences for your actions is a very important one under international law,” attorney Rodney Dixon said. Mark Allan / for NBC News

The lawyers argue that some of the alleged crimes against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang similarly began in countries that are in fact signatories to the ICC’s governing treaties. Their complaint states that individuals were captured and transported to China from countries that recognize the court’s jurisdiction, including Cambodia and Tajikistan; and that this forced deportation should grant the court the right to investigate other alleged crimes, including a reported program to sterilize Uighur individuals as a method of controlling the group’s population.

Rodney Dixon, a London-based attorney who is overseeing the complaint, said that international pressure on China from other countries — including the U.S. — could help hasten an investigation. And although the court would be unable to actually prosecute Chinese officials in the current circumstances, Dixon said a successful case could prevent the accused from traveling to other countries that recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction, which would limit their movements and international reach.

“The deterrent effect of having charges against you and knowing that there are consequences for your actions is a very important one under international law,” he said outside his London offices.

Omir BekAli, a survivor of China’s concentration camp gave a witness testimony regarding China’s genocide of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan.

In his witness testimony that was lodged with the ICC, Bekali stated that “the death of one person in the United States shakes up the entire world, however in East Turkistan, thousands of innocent Uighur and Kazakh youths are being chained up with black bags over their heads.”

As he continues to seek asylum, Bekali said he wanted to speak out to publicize the existence of these publicly inaccessible camps inside China, and to prevent the kinds of crimes against humanity that are alleged in the complaint filed to the ICC.

“I would expect that this legal case will stop these genocides,” he said. “Otherwise, the Uighurs and Kazakhs will be eliminated altogether.”