Stephen M. Bland
Freelance Journalist, Award-Winning Author, Travel Writer, Researcher and Editor specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
'A Genuine Prospect of Arrests' - The ICC and the Case of the Uyghurs
First Published 07/10/2021
On October 7th 2021, an online event entitled Achieving Justice and Accountability for the Uyghurs through the ICC was held. Acting for The East Turkistan Government in Exile and Uyghur victims, in July 2020 Rodney Dixon's legal team submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutors asking them to open an investigation into the matter. Further evidence establishing that the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate Chinese officials for the crimes being committed was submitted to the Prosecutor in June 2021. The ICC is currently the only way that Chinese officials can be criminally investigated and prosecuted at an international level, because although China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction in the case as Uyghurs have been targeted and arrested in ICC State Parties and then forcibly taken into China and persecuted or disappeared. According to Dixon’s team, Uyghurs are suffering appalling crimes ranging from forced sterilisation, rapes, mass internment in concentration camps where they are faced with torture and starvation, family separation, slave-like labour conditions, as well as cultural persecution including being forced to abandon their religious beliefs.
Opening proceedings, the barrister Jonathan Metzer likened events in Xinjiang to the Holocaust. Metzer noted that there ‘has been a huge escalation since 2017 by the Chinese authorities, with the focus ultimately being on an attempt to destroy Uyghur culture and distinctive identity. What we are seeing,’ he continued, ‘as well as the wholesale destruction of mosques and other symbols of identity - such as people having their beards forcibly shaved – are reports that over a million people have been sent to the hundreds of political indoctrination camps, where they are reportedly subjected to torture, enforced slave labour, and are at risk of being “disappeared.”’
Characterising the global reaction as ‘sympathy, but no action,’ the European Representative of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, Dr Mamtimin Ala spoke of the psychological effects of events in Xinjiang. Dr Ala cited studies which have concluded that 58% of Uyghurs suffer from depression, anxiety or PTSD, noting that the ‘ICC case is the essence of hope’ in the face of this ‘collective trauma.’
The leader of the team of lawyers that submitted the complaint to the Office of the Prosecutor on behalf of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, Rodney Dixon, QC, drew parallels with the Nuremburg Trials. Dixon argued that despite China not being a member of the ICC, ‘countries where China has gone to collect Uyghurs in order to bring them back into China to persecute them are, in particular, neighbouring Tajikistan, Cambodia and Afghanistan. If China is bringing them back in order to commit genocide, then the court has jurisdiction over those acts. We have managed to get first-hand witness testimonies of these abductions, forced disappearances, actions by Chinese operatives and physical evidence as well, which is all now with the prosecutor for consideration.’ Dixon noted that with the travel restrictions lifting in the wake of the pandemic, his team are now ‘able to get better and first-hand evidence, cogent evidence [because of which] the case has vastly improved… although persons won't necessarily be handed over by the Chinese authorities, we know that these people have to travel and they do to neighbouring countries where many of these acts have been committed; they do because it's now an international world and we don't just stay in our countries any longer, so there are genuine prospects of arrests.’