An independent lawyer in the United Kingdom is holding a private tribunal to investigate accusations that the Chinese government’s involvement in crimes against humanity or genocide of the ethnic minority group the Uyghur Muslims, located in the Xinjiang province in northwest China.
Barrister Geoffrey Nice is expected to lead the investigation and dayslong hearings to review new evidence and testimony next year. The tribunal is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for the reported atrocities committed against the Uyghurs since 2017 – though the U.K. government has not yet backed the initiative.
Nice was reportedly asked by the World Uyghur Congress to investigate “ongoing atrocities and possible genocide” of the Uyghurs, due to his history of working on international human rights abuse cases.
The barrister gained global attention for his work with the International Criminal Court in investigating atrocities committed by the president of former Yugoslavia, President Slobodan Milosevic, who was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia, along with genocide in Bosnia during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s. The trial, which took place at The Hague, was the first large-scale international tribunal since the Nazi war trials that followed World War II.
Allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs, along with other human rights violations committed by the People’s Republic of China against the minority group, are “questions that should be asked and answered,” Nice told the Associated Press Thursday.
China has been accused of creating detention camps that house Uyghur populations that are subjected to torture and mental abuse. Reports of forced sterilization have also emerged.
The tribunal is in beginning phases of gathering evidence and testimonies from Uyghurs who have been exiled abroad. Testimony from security guards present at the detention camps set up in Xinjiang are expected to emerge in the following months.
“At the moment, the strongest evidence would appear to be evidence of incarceration and possibly evidence of enforced sterilization,” Nice said.
Investigative reports have not only uncovered forced sterilization as a method to reduce the Uyghur populations, but hundreds of thousands of women have been subjected to routine checks and forced abortions. Mothers and fathers have also allegedly been sent to the detention camps or prisons for having too many children.
Nice said these sterilization efforts may breach the Genocide Convention.
China has repeatedly rejected and downplayed their actions in Xinjiang, calling the reports of detention camps “fake news.” And U.K. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming has called the reports of varying atrocities the “lies of the century.”
And a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the U.S. called the accusations of human rights abuses a “patchwork of political lies against China that disregard facts and distort truth,” said Wang Wenbin earlier this summer.
An estimated 1 million Uyghurs have been detained over the last several years in Xinjiang.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit China with sanctions over their reported human rights abuses in July, and encouraged the international community to follow suit.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities rank as the stain of the century,” Pompeo said in late July.
“The Trump Administration has led the world’s effort to impose tangible costs on the PRC’s continuous campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, intrusive surveillance, forced labor, forced population control, involuntary collection of biometric data, and genetic analyses targeted at these groups,” he added.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses, but has yet to take a more persuasive measure against the alleged crimes, despite pleas from human rights groups in the U.K.
“The UK must take all available measures to prevent and seek to end human rights violations,” the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), a barrister-led human rights group, said in a report released this summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.