UK ‘Uighur Tribunal’ to convene as China fumes

UK ‘Uighur Tribunal’ to convene as China fumes

A panel of UK-based lawyers and rights experts investigating the plight of Uighurs in China were yesterday to begin hearing evidence from witnesses, as Beijing branded it a “machine producing lies.”

The “Uighur Tribunal” said that its nine jurors would hear first-hand testimony of alleged crimes in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, including forced sterilization, torture, disappearances and slave labor.

The organization, which has no state backing, plans to use the London hearings to issue a verdict on whether Beijing has perpetrated genocide or crimes against humanity against Uighurs and other Muslim groups in China.

Tribunal vice chairman Nick Vetch declined to comment on China’s heated attacks, but vowed its work would be “impartial,” based on evidence sessions this week and in September, and on “thousands of pages” of documentary evidence already amassed.

“The tribunal is an independent endeavor and it will deal with the evidence and only with the evidence,” Vetch said.

“We have invited the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to provide us with any evidence they may have. So far we’ve received nothing from them,” Vetch said.

The tribunal plans to deliver its report in December, and while it would have no legal force, participants hope to draw international attention and spur possible action.

“It will be for states, international institutions, commercial companies, art, medical and educational establishments and individuals to determine how to apply the tribunal’s judgement, whatever it may be,” the panel has said.

It was set up at the request of the World Uyghur Congress, the largest group representing exiled Uighurs, which lobbies the international community to take action against China over alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

In March, the tribunal was one of four UK entities and nine individuals sanctioned by Beijing for raising concerns about the treatment of Uighurs.

Its chairman, Geoffrey Nice, a veteran British lawyer, was named personally on the Chinese sanctions list along with Helena Kennedy, a high-profile rights lawyer who is advising the tribunal.

Nice, who led the UN prosecution for war crimes of the late former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, said at the time the sanctions would not affect the work of the tribunal. Other members include experts in medicine, education and anthropology.

China has not held back in condemning the tribunal.

“It is not even a real tribunal or special court, but only a special machine producing lies,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅).

“It was founded by people with ulterior motives and carries no weight or authority. It is just a clumsy public opinion show under the guise of law,” he told reporters.

The US government accuses China of waging “genocide” in Xinjiang. Britain has declined to use that designation, but joined the US and Germany last month in calling on Beijing to end repression of Uighurs.