Uyghur people living in Xinjiang province in China have been subjected to unconscionable crimes against humanity directed by the Chinese state that amount to an act of genocide, an independent and unofficial tribunal has found.
Hundreds of thousands and possibly a million people have been incarcerated without any or remotely fair justification, the tribunal’s chair, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, said as he delivered the tribunal’s findings in London. “This vast apparatus of state repression could not exist if a plan was not authorised at the highest levels,” Nice said.
The UK-based Uyghur Tribunal comprises lawyers, academics and businesspeople. It has no government backing or powers to sanction or punish China, but its organisers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence will compel international action to tackle alleged abuses against the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.
The tribunal’s report says crimes including torture and the systematic suppression of births have occurred. Nice said China’s treatment of the Uyghurs amounted under the Geneva conventions to an intent to destroy all or part of a group physically or biologically, a judgment he said largely rested on the suppression of births.
In response to the findings, a cross-party group of British MPs urged the Foreign Office to re-examine its refusal to join the Biden administration and declare a genocide in Xinjiang.
Nice said that although some Uyghurs had been killed in detention, there was no evidence of mass killings, and comparisons with the Nazi Holocaust were unhelpful.
Those detained were instead largely freed after reindoctrination, Nice said, as part of a central government plan, ordered at the very highest levels, to reintegrate Xinjiang province and break up every aspect of Uyghur culture.
“Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs – with some estimates well in excess of a million – have been detained by PRC [People’s Republic of China] authorities without any, or any remotely sufficient reason, and subjected to acts of unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity,” the tribunal’s report says. “Sometimes up to 50 have been detained in a cell of 22 sq metres.”
The report says there is evidence that detainees have been confined in containers up to their neck in cold water, shackled by heavy metal chains and immobilised for months on end. It says some of the detained have been subjected to extreme sexual violence, including gang rapes and penetration with electric shock rods and iron bars. Women were raped by men paying to be allowed into the detention centre for the purpose, the report says.
The extreme intrusive capacity of the Chinese state, including mass coerced labour assignments, intense monitoring and face surveillance, means parts of Xinjiang have become a form of open prison, the report says.
The tribunal found evidence of enforced abortions, the removal of wombs against women’s will, the killing of babies immediately after birth and mass enforced sterilisation through the insertion of IUD devices that were only removable by surgical means.
“Across the 29 counties with indigenous-majority populations for which we have 2019 or 2020 data, the birthrate has fallen by 58.5% from the 2011-15 baseline average,” the report says. “In those counties that are over 90% indigenous, the birthrate fell at an even greater rate, showing a 66.3% decrease in 2019-20.”
Hundreds of thousands Uyghur children have been taken from their families and placed in Han-ran boarding schools, burial grounds have been bulldozed or built over, mosques destroyed, and religious practice banned, it adds.
Nice said the tribunal would have been unnecessary if an international court had been asked by fearful governments to investigate the allegations, adding there was an obligation to know the falsity or truth of fellow human suffering and breaches of international human law.
He insisted the tribunal had been determined to apply universal standards, act on the basis of proof beyond reasonable doubt and make every effort not to be ill-disposed to communism or the Chinese Communist party. The tribunal received no cooperation from the Chinese state, and instead some of its members have been subject to sanctions by the Chinese state, leading to their withdrawal from the process.
During a press conference this week, Zheng Zeguang, China’s ambassador to the UK, said: “The so-called witnesses the organisers have put together are merely actors who have been making up the so-called persecution that never happened at all.” Zheng said he had asked the UK government “to stop the organisers from continuing such malicious behaviour”.
The Chinese embassy in London has been approached for comment on the tribunal’s report, which was published the day after the US House of Representatives voted by 428 to 1 to ban imports from Xinjiang over concerns about forced labour.
Responding to the vote, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that “the so-called forced labour and genocide in Xinjiang are entirely vicious rumours” and accused the US of using Xinjiang-related issues to “spread rumours under the guise of human rights and engage in political manipulation and economic bullying”.
Australia, the US and the UK have declared they will mount a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics next year. France has so far refused to do so.