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Raped, Tortured, Humiliated: The Uyghur Tribunal Hears 24 Witnesses

The Tribunal in session - credit: Bitter winter
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Ruth Ingram | Bitter Winter

One witness testified that she and 100 other inmates were forced to watch prison guards rape a young girl in front of them

A world of kangaroo courts, rogue police, extra-judicial killings, gratuitous torture, and sexual violence was portrayed by witnesses who recounted their experiences at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), during four grueling days of statements to the Uyghur Tribunal in London this week.

Set up to determine whether or not genocide and crimes against humanity are being committed by the CCP towards the Turkic peoples of Northwest China, the tribunal heard firsthand accounts of murder, abortion of late term pregnancies, mass disappearances, forced labor, and abduction of hundreds and thousands of children into State orphanages.

The shocking catalogue of pain and loss was recounted to a panel of eight presided over by prominent human rights barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, deputy prosecutor at the ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic war crimes trial at The Hague, who together listened to evidence in order to assess whether the PRC has embarked on a campaign intended to destroy in whole or in part, the Uyghur people and their existence as a racial, national, and ethnic group. This four-day session will be followed by another in September and the judgement is expected in December.

From three hundred witness statements that were reviewed, forty witnesses were chosen, of whom twenty-four testified during this session. More than fifty experts have been approached and fourteen testified over the four days. Governments of the USA and Australia have offered assistance but despite four attempts to contact the PRC, Beijing continues to denounce the proceedings as “illegal” and a “serious provocation to the 25 million members of ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”

Despite Beijing’s protestations of innocence, witnesses spoke with one accord of torture rooms containing sinister instruments, so-called “tiger chairs” to which they were bound, and “water rooms” where they were made to stand shackled, up to their necks in freezing liquid as their entire bodies crumpled in agony. One young girl having been made to confess to spurious “crimes” was repeatedly raped by prison guards in front of a hundred inmates who were forced to watch without flinching. Those who turned away were themselves taken for punishment. Young girls were taken away at night for the sexual gratification of camp guards and returned beaten, bloody and broken, and according to one camp teacher, others were earmarked for lethal injections and organ harvesting. All without exception were starved and humiliated.

Despite having no formal power or legislation, the “Peoples’ Tribunal” has been set up to address atrocities that that have come to light in Xinjiang since Chen Quanguo took over as governor. China’s power of veto at the UN enables Beijing to elude accountability, this rendering the international courts impotent in the face of the superpower. The alleged human rights abuses including mass extra judicial detentions and Orwellian surveillance that has made the province a virtual open prison, have escalated in scope since 2016. Dolkun Isa of the World Uyghur Congress requested the Tribunal in the hope that world opinion might be alerted to the crisis in his homeland and be spurred into action.

Tribunal proceedings, which have already been sanctioned by the PRC, were met by the CCP with an avalanche of condemnation and scorn in the week leading up to the event. As proceedings got underway, Beijing again launched an attack on Sir Geoffrey accusing him of “debasing himself and destroying his credibility and decency in front of the world.” The QC was undeterred as he opened the first day assuring the PRC that neither its attacks nor its sanctions would be held against its members, and guaranteed that the judgement of the Tribunal would be purely on the basis of evidence. To date no direct response has been received from China, but Sir Geoffrey assured the door would remain open.

In his opening remarks, Sir Geoffrey said that the allegations made against the PRC were “grave,” on the basis of its many breaches of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. “Crimes against humanity and genocide are as serious as crimes can be,” he said, regretting that to date accusations of genocide have “fallen on barren ground” despite an obligation in the Genocide Convention to prohibit, prevent and punish the perpetrators of any such crimes.

The People’s Tribunal fills a void when a government is failing in its duty to act, he said, “if citizens are to have confidence that their government is fulfilling immensely important duties it has and must discharge.”

Witnesses travelled from America, Sweden, Norway and Germany to give their evidence in person, whilst others testified remotely. Anger and grief, tears of hopelessness and despair flowed but the mood was one of hope and expectation that the world would hear their cries. Each one expressed gratitude that their stories were being listened to and that justice might be done as many of them spoke for countless others whose voices had been silenced.

‘It Went on For Four Hours, Just to Film a Single Video’: Uyghur Former Camp Instructor
Qelbinur Sedik, a former camp teacher – credit: RFA

“I am free, but part of me is still in the camps with those young men and women who are still there undergoing the most awful tortures,” said Qelbinur Sedik, a former camp teacher, after giving evidence. Speaking to Bitter Winter afterwards, she said she is speaking out on behalf of all those she left behind who have no one to speak for them. “We are all speaking for someone,” she said. “They must never be forgotten.”

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