China is criticizing a process called the “Uyghur Tribunal,” a quasi-judicial effort by opponents of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities designed to publicize evidence of alleged human rights abuses.
At a September 9 news conference in Beijing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that “no matter how many ‘actors or actresses’ it recruits and how many ‘hearings’ it arranges, it is nothing but a kangaroo court and a futile attempt.”
“It has nothing to do with law, justice or truth, and is just another farce staged to smear and attack Xinjiang,” Zhao told the press, calling the tribunal members clowns.
The “tribunal” heard from 38 witnesses in its first round of hearings in June in Church House, London. That event focused on alleged rights abuses in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang. The second set of hearings is scheduled from September 10 to 13, according to the organizers.
Led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, a prominent lawyer and expert in international criminal law, the nine “jurors” include academics, medical and business practitioners, diplomats and lawyers, according to Nick Vetch, vice chair of the tribunal.
A six-member team of lawyers is helping to collect and present evidence. They are British, French, German, Iranian and Maltese nationals.
By year’s end, the jurors plan to issue a “verdict” regarding China’s actions in Xinjiang.
“[It’s] not possible for the allegations made against the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to be considered in a formal court such as the International Court of Justice, and it has not been dealt with by states, and therefore it is left to the citizens to seek and answer these questions of such gravity,” Vetch told VOA.
Some countries such as the U.S. as well as rights organizations like Amnesty International accuse China of genocide and crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
Among other things, they point to arbitrary detentions of an estimated 1 million people and to reports of forced labor and involuntary sterilization.
China denies abusing Uyghurs, saying they are being given vocational training and language skills. Beijing says people in Xinjiang are free to choose their work.
In December 2020, the International Criminal Court said it would not investigate because China, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome Statute, a treaty that defines ICC’s jurisdictional reach.
“The tribunal is simply seeking in fact and law to answer whether crimes against humanity and/or genocide have or are occurring,” Vetch told VOA. The final judgment will be issued before the end of this year.
“The June hearing was focused on factual evidence,” said Vetch. “The September hearing is focused on expert evidence, with some 24 experts and nine fact witnesses.”
Rahime Mahmut, U.K. project director of the World Uyghur Congress, (WUC) supports the tribunal by interpreting and translating the witness testimonies.
She told VOA Mandarin that in the absence of a formal court, it is important to have an independent examination and collection of the evidence.
“Once the tribunal makes its judgment, we will have a credible legal determination on the Chinese regime's persecution of Uyghur people,” Mahmut said.
According to Hamid Sabi, the head of the six-member team of lawyers, the body was set up at the request of Dolkun Isa, WUC president.
China was invited on numerous occasions to take part in the process but organizers received no response.
“We do not present a case for or against China,” Sabi told VOA. “The tribunal members and the counsel team are the same as the June hearing.”
Foreign Ministry’s Zhao called WUC a separatist organization and Isa a terrorist listed by the Chinese government. “These so-called ‘chair’, ‘experts’ and ‘witnesses’ have deplorable track records and are habitual liars,” Zhao charged, “who have become a laughingstock in the international community long time ago.”
Isa, a witness during the first round, confirmed to VOA Mandarin that the tribunal had been established following his request but maintained that it is independent.
“The tribunal acts wholly independently, although the WUC closely supports the hearings by arranging Uyghur witnesses and translation, among other things,” Isa said.
Teng Biao, a Chinese human right lawyer in the U.S. and an expert witness at the tribunal’s second hearings, said the Chinese Communist Party always tries to discredit the witnesses and survivors to cover up truth.
The Uyghur Tribunal, he said, “plays a very significant role to at least disclose the truth and the nature of the crime.”