For the first time, evidence has been submitted to the International Criminal Court asking for an investigation into claims of genocide and crimes against humanity committed by senior Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping for the mistreatment of Uighur Muslims and other Turkic people in Western China.
Lawyers this week submitted a complaint to the Hague-based court’s prosecutor’s office on behalf of the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.
This marks the first time that critics have attempted to use international laws to prosecute China for alleged human rights violations against minorities in China’s far northwestern territory of Xinjiang.
The ETGE is an official body that aims to end China’s occupation of the East Turkistan region. East Turkistan is a region known today as China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The People’s Republic of China incorporated the region after the fall of a Soviet-backed East Turkestan Republic in 1949.
Today, the Chinese government considers support for East Turkistan independence to be terrorism and extremism.
The new filing submitted to the ICC comes as there has been much outrage in recent years as estimates suggest that over 1 million to as many as 3 million Uighur Muslims and other and other minority groups in Western China have been subject to internment camps in Xinjiang,
Laid out in the complaint are evidence of crimes that have been committed in the region by the Chinese government since 1884, with the bulk of the complaints focusing on the increase in human rights crimes committed following the Urumqi riots that took place in July 2009, where members of the Turkic-speaking minority and Han Chinese were killed.
The government’s alleged crimes include those committed against the predominantly Muslim Uighur population, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples.
The alleged crimes include massacres, mass internment camps, torture, organ harvesting, disappearances, forced birth control and sterilization. The report also highlights the forcible transfer of children from their families to Chinese state orphanages or boarding homes.
The complaint also warns about government measures aimed at eliminating the use of the Uyghur and other Turkic languages in schools and the government’s use of increased surveillance to monitor those groups. The report contends that the level of surveillance those groups face goes beyond the surveillance experienced by China’s majority Han people group.
“The evidence of the crimes provided in the Complaint is detailed and shocking,” a statement from ETGE reads.
According to ETGE, the complaint includes a description of torture through electrocution, Muslims being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, as well as requirements for Uighur women of child-bearing age to use intrauterine devices for birth control.
The organization also alleges that an estimated 500,000 Uyghur children are being separated from their families and sent to ‘orphanage camps.” At those camps, there have been reports of attempted suicide.
“Today is a historic day. Not only is it the eleventh anniversary of the Urumchi Massacre, it marks the first step in what we hope will be the ultimate liberation of our people,” the ETGE statement explains. “For too long we have been oppressed by China and its Chinese Communist Party and we have suffered so much that the Genocide of our people can no longer be ignored.”
The complaint comes as China has faced increasing international criticism over its treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Western China as more becomes known about China’s use of so-called “re-education” camps. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ethnic minorities in Western China have been detained in these centers throughout Xinjiang in recent years.
While critics say that the centers are akin to “concentration camps” where culturally Muslim citizens are brainwashed into acting more culturally Chinese, the Chinese government has maintained that these camps are voluntary “re-education camps” to help the Muslim community combat extremist tendencies.
Victim testimonies and purported leaked documents have suggested that there are ideological motivations and structure behind the detention centers that go beyond just simple education. Victims have described horrific conditions with overcrowding, poor health care and hygiene. Victims say they were required to eat food that is forbidden in Islam.
The new complaint claims that the Chinese government has also conducted a campaign to “round up Uyghurs abroad and who have fled East Turkistan as a result of the crimes committed against them in China.”
The complaint claims that some people have been forced back to the region from places like Tajikistan and Cambodia. People who have been forced back have often faced human rights abuses, the report stresses.
Although China is not a party to the Rome statute that established the ICC, The United Kingdom-based lawyers who filed the document argue that since part of the alleged crimes detailed in the report took place in Tajikistan and Cambodia, the court has jurisdiction because those countries are party to the statute.
“The Crimes committed against the Uyghur people have been widespread and systematic,” ETGE added in its statement. “They have taken place on a mass scale and should therefore all be investigated in order to ascertain whether the alleged perpetrators can be charged and tried.”
In 2019 and 2018, the ICC determined that it had jurisdiction to investigate the genocidal crimes committed against Rohingya minorities in Myanmar by the Burmese military even though that country is also not a party to the court because some of the violations took place in Bangladesh, which is a party to the court.
“As the Court held in the Rohingya cases, continuing crimes that commence on the territory of an ICC State Party come within the jurisdiction of the Court and can be investigated,” the ETGE statement added. “These crimes include Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.”
Rodney Dixon, a lawyer involved with the filing, said in a statement that “there is now a clear legal pathway to justice for the millions of Uyghurs who are allegedly being persecuted on mass by the Chinese authorities.”
“It is a breakthrough and momentous opportunity which we urge the ICC Prosecutor to pursue without delay,” Dixon said. “This chance should not be squandered.”
An Associated Press investigation published recently found that the Chinese state regularly subjects hundreds of thousands of minority women to pregnancy checks, forced use of intrauterine devices, sterilization and abortions.
In a statement late last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom argued that the forced sterilization of Uighur Muslims is “evidence of Genocide.”
“It’s evident from the Chinese government’s own data that the Communist Party’s policies are clearly designed to prevent population growth for the Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Turkic Muslim peoples,” USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel said in a statement.
“We urge the State Department to investigate whether the Chinese authorities’ deliberate and systematic attempt to genetically reducing the Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang meets the legal definition for genocide as contemplated in the Genocide Convention.”
Earlier this month, it was reported by the Associated Press that U.S. federal authorities seized a shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories that are suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people inside a Chinese internment camp and produced with forced child labor.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions against three senior Chinese leaders of the government's mistreatment of Uighurs.
Those officials include Chen Quanguo, the party secretary in Xinjiang; Zhu Hailun, the party secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee; and Wang Mingshan, the current party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
Pompeo also announced additional visa restrictions on other communist party officials believed to be responsible or complicit in the detention and abuse of those in Xinjiang.
In late June, President Donald Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, a resolution passed unanimously by a very divided Congress seeking to safeguard the rights of this religious minority group.
China has also been accused of engaging in human rights crimes against other religious minority groups throughout the country, including Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists. U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said during a trip to Hong Kong last year that the Chinese Communist Party “is at war with faith.”