There is a “very credible case” that the Chinese government has committed acts against the Uighur population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) that constitute genocide and crimes against humanity, according to a 105-page legal opinion published Monday.
The Global Legal Action Network, the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project instructed barristers Alison Macdonald QC, Jackie McArthur, Naomi Hart and Lorraine Aboagye, who work for Essex Court Chambers, to write the opinion entitled “International Criminal Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity and Genocide against the Uyghur Population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” Although the opinion focuses on the Uighur population, it notes that the evidence suggested that “other groups of Turkic origin may also be subject to similar or related forms of treatment in XUAR.”
The opinion concludes that “[t]here is evidence of crimes against humanity being committed against the Uyghur population” for the purposes of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (the Rome Statute). The crimes allegedly being committed in state-run detention facilities, of which between 500 and 1,400 reportedly exist, include forced labor, deprivation of liberty while being arbitrarily held, torture and rape. Other crimes against humanity identified in the opinion include forced sterilization, persecution “on the basis that they are members of the Uyghur population and/or Muslim” and enforced disappearance.
The opinion concludes with “evidence that the crime of genocide is currently being committed in XUAR.” Such a conclusion was reached because the Uighur population is an ethnic group for the purposes of Article 6 of the Rome Statute and “it is at least arguable on the available evidence that there is an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Uyghur population of XUAR,” accompanied by genocidal actions. As a party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, China has a responsibility “to prevent and to punish” genocide, but the opinion notes that no efforts in that direction are known.
In a press release about the opinion, the World Uyghur Congress stated:
The significance of these findings is far reaching. If a court reaches the same conclusions as those reached by the legal experts at Essex Court Chambers, it could have both political and legal consequences for China itself, and for the high-ranking officials whose individual responsibility is identified, and who may be liable for criminal prosecution and individual sanctions.
The English barristers’ opinion is in line with international conclusions. Last month, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China declared in a report that China possibly committed genocide against the Uighur population in XUAR.
The opinion implores states across the globe to hold the Chinese government accountable, stating that there is a “strong imperative for national governments to take urgent action to prevent the ongoing atrocities committed against the Uyghur population of XUAR.” In particular, it suggests that States issue official statements recognizing the evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide being committed in XUAR against the Uighur population; consider exercising criminal jurisdiction over persons suspected to be responsible; and use diplomatic efforts to investigate the facts, hold those responsible to account and end further harm against the population.