The independent Uyghur tribunal has no legal standing, and its findings are not as strong as the Western media has made out.
The Uyghur Tribunal, launched in September 2020 at the behest of the World Uyghur Congress for the purpose of condemning China, delivered its verdict on December 9. Although it did as required by its initiators, declaring China guilty of “genocide”, its findings are based on flimsy evidence.
China has always vetoed attempts to try it in the International Court of Justice. So Uyghur and other anti-China activists have found other ways to condemn China and its human rights record. This is another attempt to demonise China. The tribunal was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, who also chaired a people’s tribunal convened by activists investigating China’s forced organ harvesting of prisoners.
According to the Uyghur Tribunal’s judgment, its members worked without payment, but items like witness travel and venue hire were initially covered by the World Uyghur Congress. This body, known for its separatist and opposition to Chinese government policies in the Xinjiang region, is largely funded by the National Endowment Fund of the US State Department. It held hearings in London over three days early in June this year.
But let’s be clear, this tribunal has no legal or political authority. It cannot enforce any of its findings or anything else.
The tribunal has a great deal to say condemning China for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Very little of it is new and it doesn’t add to the debate. Here I want to critique the tribunal’s findings on whether genocide has occurred or is occurring in Xinjiang.
In paragraph 177, the tribunal went through five criteria for genocide, all presupposed on proof that there was intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, wholly or in part. These five were:
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction
- Imposing conditions intended to prevent birth, and
- Forcibly transferring children.
In all but )4), the tribunal concluded that the evidence for destruction of the Uyghurs or other Turkic ethnic minorities in Xinjiang was insufficient. For example, under item (3), “the tribunal was unable to conclude that this [bad life conditions] threatens the destruction of the group”. In other words, even this tribunal exonerated China under four of its own five chosen criteria.
What about item (4)? Based on figures provided to the tribunal, it concluded that there was intent to destroy the Uyghur nation in part through preventing births, significant enough to warrant the charge of genocide.
However, paragraph 154 of the judgment says: “Where an inference is drawn as to specific intent, that inference must be the only reasonable inference from the totality of the evidence.”
I would suggest that a “reasonable inference” on the Chinese government’s intent would be to include Xinjiang’s minorities more fully in the birth control program that had been going in the whole country since the end of the 1970s. The suggestion that genocide is the only reasonable inference from China’s change of family planning policy in Xinjiang seems to me to border on the ridiculous.
We know that the Uyghurs have for decades been exempt from the one-child-per-couple policy — families living in rural areas were allowed another child, and ethnic minorities were allowed one more. I myself have visited several Uyghur families at random with nine children and suggest this was quite common. It seemed to me quite a generous exemption, and I still think so. In 2017, authorities in Xinjiang started enforcing birth control on all ethnic groups equally. The new policy was two children per couple for urban residents and three per couple for rural residents. I believe it reasonable to suggest that China is overpopulated, and not unreasonable to include the Uyghurs in family planning.
As I noted in a previous P&I article, China’s State Council issued a detailed document on Xinjiang population in September 2021. Entitled “Xinjiang Population Dynamics and Data”, it included a good deal of information from the 2020 census. Having commented on it before, I note only one interesting statistic relevant here, which was that it recorded the annual growth rate of the Uyghur population between the 2010 and 2020 censuses at 1.52 per cent, a bit lower than the 1.83 per cent growth between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, but higher than the 1.50 per cent growth between the 1990 and 2000 censuses. These figures certainly don’t look as if any genocide was being practised. The document’s conclusion states: “Xinjiang’s evolving demographics are a natural result of local economic and social development, and of industrialisation and modernisation”. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.
China’s Foreign Ministry immediately rejected the claims of the Uyghur Tribunal. A spokesperson said that “this so-called court has no legal credentials nor any credibility” and described the final judgment as a “political farce performed by a few clowns”.
The Anglosphere press, on the other hand, gave all its emphasis to the finding that China was guilty of genocide. The witnesses and representatives of the World Uyghur Congress came out in numbers to gloat over the result. Very few actually looked at the details of the judgment, let alone of the evidence on which it was based, or gave heed to the lack of status of this tribunal or its findings.
My explorations into this matter and close reading of the tribunal’s findings lead me to several conclusions:
- The finding of genocide is unsustainable. Even the tribunal itself suggests only one of its five criteria leads to a “genocide” conclusion. The evidence under that criterion is extremely flimsy, which means that the finding of genocide “beyond reasonable doubt” (paragraph 178) is unjust, unsustained and even verging on ridiculous.
- The fact that it was the activist World Uyghur Congress that initiated the tribunal and that any financing necessary for the tribunal came from the Congress and thus probably the US State Department significantly dilutes it value. This was a tribunal initiated and funded for the purpose of demonising China and finding it guilty of genocide. It fulfilled its task. What surprises me is that it was somewhat less forthright in its discussions than one might have expected.
- The evidence brought to the tribunal was extremely one-sided and so biased as to reduce its value significantly.
- The way the Anglosphere media reported the tribunal was sensationalist and one-sided in the extreme, adding weight to Sun Wanning’s suggestion that over the last two years or so that has been a shift in the Western media from “objective” journalism to “adversarial journalism”, with China becoming designated as an enemy.
- There are human rights abuses occurring in Xinjiang. I accept the rationale of countering terrorism, which China has repeatedly put forward, but believe the authorities have overreacted in countering it.