China has denounced the second round of a Uyghur Tribunal scheduled to begin Friday in London to investigate whether the government’s alleged rights abuses targeting ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in its far-western Xinjiang region constitute genocide.
More than 30 witnesses and experts testified about torture, rape, and other human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) during the first set of hearings in early June. Uyghur exiles described forced abortions, arbitrary arrests, and forced labor, while international legal experts weighed in on the applicability of laws on genocide and other statutes.
Such evidence and other credible documentations of abuse have formed the basis of genocide accusations against Beijing laid by several Western governments and legislatures, including the United States.
The allegations, if proved, could implicate China in a campaign to deliberately destroy the Uyghurs, and constitute the commission of genocide as defined in Article 2 of the Genocide Convention of 1948.
The independent people’s tribunal was set up because it is not possible to bring China before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Though China has signed and ratified the Genocide Convention, it has entered a reservation against ICJ jurisdiction.
Though the London panel has no state backing and any judgments will be nonbinding on any government, it aims to galvanize international action to hold China accountable for the abuse.
Another group of witnesses and experts have been lined up to provide testimony during the second round of hearings on Sept. 10-13.
China has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has subjected Muslims living in the XUAR to severe rights abuses. As it did during the first session, Beijing has condemned the tribunal and smeared its participants ahead of the start of the second round.
Responding to a question about the Uyghur Tribunal at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blasted the panel as a “kangaroo court” that “has nothing to do with law, justice or truth, and is just another farce staged to smear and attack Xinjiang.”
Zhao noted that the tribunal is funded mostly by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which he said is an “organization dedicated to separating Xinjiang from China.” The WUC is an international organization based in Germany that represents the collective interests of Uyghurs in the XUAR and abroad.
Zhao discredited WUC president Dolkun Isa as a “terrorist listed by the Chinese government” and prominent British lawyer Geoffrey Nice, who chairs the nine-member tribunal, as a “veteran British agent notorious around the world for filing frivolous lawsuits on human rights.”
‘Political farce,’ ‘pseudo-court’
The Foreign Ministry spokesman also took aim at Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher with the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, branding him an “anti-China swindler.”
Zenz testified at the first round of hearings about China’s policy to reduce Uyghur population growth in the XUAR. He has also produced reports documenting China’s use of birth control and population transfer policies to reduce the Uyghur population, the forced sterilization of Uyghur women, and the detainment of Uyghurs in internment camps in the XUAR.
The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim group estimated at more than 12 million people in the XUAR. China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps since 2017, though Beijing says the facilities are vocational training centers meant to deter religious extremism and terrorism.
In a report published in August, Zenz concluded that China’s plans to reduce the ethnic minority population may constitute genocide under the U.N. Genocide Convention by presenting empirical evidence that the Uyghurs are being destroyed as a people.
“These so-called ‘Chair,’ ‘experts,’ and ‘witnesses’ have deplorable track records and are habitual liars, who have become a laughing stock in the international community a long time ago,” Wang said. He accused Zenz of hurling “absurd accusations” and fabricating “lies and rumors.”
An article in China’s state-owned newspaper Global Times on Thursday also took aim at the Uyghur Tribunal with a grim nod to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
“The political farce and the pseudo-court of the so-called Uyghur Tribunal will have its second ‘hearing’ starting Friday, just one day before September 11, a time which should be used to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks in the U.S.,” the article said.
Kristian Petersen, an assistant professor of religious studies at Old Dominion University, who has written about Islam in China, wrote in an op-ed for Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the U.S. embrace of Chinese claims about Uyghur terrorism has facilitated the repression of the minority group.
Following the terrorist attacks, “the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) defined Uyghur resistance as part of the worldwide ‘terrorism’ emergency and not as a local issue of ‘separatism’ as it used to in the past,” he wrote.
After the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed in the U.S. in 2001 by militants linked to the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, Chinese authorities increasingly portrayed its repression of Muslim minorities in the XUAR as part of the Global War on Terror to destroy terrorist groups.
Petersen cited the U.S. government’s addition of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) on its list of terrorist organizations in 2002 in exchange for Beijing’s support for efforts to overthrow the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks by the Afghanistan-based militants.
“With official international support of ‘war on terror’ proponents, the legal and political apparatus had already been set in motion to frame and justify the CCP’s crackdown on any Uyghur dissent as an anti-terrorism effort,” Petersen wrote.
“The ETIM’s designation as a terrorist organization thus became the linchpin of U.S. complicity in the CCP’s oppression of Uyghurs.”
In October 2020, however, the U.S. State Department removed the ETIM from its designated terrorist list, with a U.S. official saying that there had been no credible evidence in a decade that the group still existed.
'This brutal regime'
Dolkun Isa of WUC told RFA that the scheduling of the second round of Uyghur Tribunal hearings on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks was profoundly significant because China used the tragedy as a pretext to launch a war on the Uyghurs “culminating with today’s genocide.”
“On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the international community must understand that China hasn’t fought and isn’t fighting so-called terrorism in East Turkestan,” he said using the Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang.
“It’s eradicating an ancient people whose country was occupied and colonized by this brutal regime. The international community must show its political will and action to stop this ongoing Uyghur genocide,” he said.
The tribunal is expected to issue a final verdict on whether China is committing genocide or crimes against humanity in December.
Reporting and translation by Alim Seytoff of RFA's Uyghur Service.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Roseanne Gerin.