Salih Hudayar

International Courts failing to address China’s genocide in East Turkistan

Members of the Uyghur community in Washington, DC demonstrate before the White House, decrying China's genocidal policies in East Turkistan and calling for an international response. (East Turkistan National Movement)
Members of the Uyghur community in Washington, DC demonstrate before the White House, decrying China's genocidal policies in East Turkistan and calling for an international response. (East Turkistan National Movement)

International judicial institutions are failing the Uyghurs and other Turkic people in occupied East Turkistan by ignoring the ongoing genocide against them.

Three years ago, on January 19, 2021, the U.S. State Department, under the direction of then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, made a critical designation. This was a pivotal moment for the long-oppressed Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan. The U.S. State Department’s determination recognized the atrocities committed by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples as genocide and crimes against humanity.

The evidence supporting this recognition was overwhelming and multifaceted. It encompassed an array of leaked Chinese government documents, survivor testimonies, satellite imagery, intelligence reports, and extensive reports by prominent human rights organizations. These sources collectively painted a grim picture of the systematic and state-sponsored atrocities committed in East Turkistan.

The U.S. Government’s determination was rooted in the undeniable reality that China’s actions met all the criteria of genocide as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. These acts included the killing of members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

China has been systematically committing all the acts defined as genocide by international law, with the clear intent to annihilate the East Turkistani national group, targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in particular. The Chinese government’s campaign of genocide has led to the deaths of countless Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples through a series of brutal actions. These actions include massacres, the execution of political prisoners, organ harvesting, deaths caused by torture, and the spread of diseases like tuberculosis within the camps and prisons.

The severity of the physical and psychological torture inflicted upon the East Turkistani people is staggering. In the concentration camps and prisons, individuals are subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture, including rape and other forms of sexual abuse. The extent of this brutality has caused profound psychological trauma, not only to those detained in the camps but also to the millions outside, who endure the anguish of having their family members taken away.

A particularly heinous aspect of this genocide is the Chinese government’s concerted effort to prevent births within the Uyghur and other Turkic populations. This has been achieved through the forced sterilization of Turkic women, especially Uyghurs, and the forced abortion of millions, with Chinese state media reporting that over 3.7 million “illegal births” were prevented among the East Turkistani population since the 1980s through these forced abortions.

Moreover, the Chinese government has forcibly separated over 880,000 Uyghur and other Turkic children from their families. These children are transferred to Chinese state-run orphanages and boarding schools, where they undergo assimilation and indoctrination processes aimed at molding them into “loyal Chinese citizens.” This strategy represents a key aspect of genocide and a clear attempt to erase the cultural and national identity of the East Turkistani people.

The recognition by the U.S. catalyzed a series of international reactions. Various nations and international bodies began to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, albeit at different paces and extents. Following the U.S. recognition, legislative bodies in Czechia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and the U.K. also recognized China’s atrocities against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples as genocide.

This growing international consensus highlighted the need for a united and robust response to the crisis. However, despite these recognitions, the response from the international community as a whole has been mixed. The challenges in mobilizing a coordinated and effective global response have been significant. Political, economic, and strategic interests have often complicated the picture, leading to a lack of decisive action against the Chinese government.

On August 31, 2022, the UN Human Rights Office issued a watered-down report stating China’s atrocities in East Turkistan “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” Yet despite these findings, the UN has failed to take any action to address the humanitarian crisis in East Turkistan.

As of 2024, the genocide in East Turkistan continues unabated. The situation remains dire, with millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples still suffering in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labor camps, underscoring the ongoing nature of this humanitarian crisis.

The role of international legal institutions and frameworks in addressing the genocide in East Turkistan is crucial. The International Criminal Court (ICC), despite its mandate, is ignoring the East Turkistani people’s pleas to uphold justice and hold Chinese officials accountable due to a lack of pressure from governments. No government to date, despite repeated proclamations of “Never Again” every January 27th, has been willing to refer the humanitarian crisis in East Turkistan to the International Court of Justice.

The ‘Responsibility to Protect principle,’ endorsed by the United Nations, obligates member states to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. This principle must be invoked and adhered to in the case of East Turkistan. The international community’s commitment to this principle is being tested, and its response will be measured in its dedication to upholding human rights and preventing atrocities.

The ongoing crisis in East Turkistan is more than a mere call for recognition and condemnation; it is an urgent plea for a comprehensive strategy to support the East Turkistani people in their fight to end this genocide. The international community must awaken to the stark reality that this genocide stems from the deep-seated issues of Chinese colonization and occupation of East Turkistan. Addressing only the surface-level symptoms of this crisis is insufficient and, tragically, may only exacerbate the situation. To truly halt the ongoing genocide, we must courageously confront its root causes and work tirelessly to resolve them. It is only through such a holistic and determined approach that we can hope to bring an end to the atrocities in East Turkistan and pave the way for lasting peace and justice.

The East Turkistan Government in Exile’s designation of January 19 as the “East Turkistan Genocide Recognition and Remembrance Day” serves as a call to action for the global community. It is a day to remember the victims, and more importantly, it is a day to galvanize international support for the East Turkistani people’s struggle to obtain justice, regain their freedom, and ensure their existence.

Supporting East Turkistan’s case at the International Criminal Court, referring the case before the International Court of Justice, implementing import bans on products made with forced labor, sanctioning Chinese officials and entities, and recognizing the East Turkistani people’s right to external self-determination are essential steps in this direction. These actions, coupled with sustained international pressure, can lead to meaningful change and contribute to ending the ongoing genocide in East Turkistan.

As Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other East Turkistanis in exile commemorate East Turkistan Genocide Recognition and Remembrance Day, we must remember that our actions today will shape not only the future of East Turkistan and its people but the whole of humanity. The time for action is now – to end the ongoing genocide, to hold the perpetrators accountable, and to support the East Turkistani people in their rightful struggle for freedom and independence. The world must rise to this challenge and ensure that “Never Again” is not just a slogan but a reality. Right now, by concentrating on efforts solely against Israel, the international judicial institutions are failing the Uyghurs and other Turkic people in occupied East Turkistan by ignoring the ongoing genocide against them.

About the Author
Salih Hudayar is the leader of the East Turkistan National Movement and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Security of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. A refugee and tireless advocate, he champions the rights and self-determination of Turkic peoples in East Turkistan.
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