Can a people’s tribunal give Uighurs the justice they so desperately need?

China is accused of committing genocide against the Uighurs but no international court is able to bring a case against it. But a people-led initiative, the Uighur tribunal, will start to hear evidence today. Rory Sullivan speaks to camp survivors and lawyers to learn more

Friday 04 June 2021 15:08 BST
A ‘re-education’ camp near Hotan, Xinjiang region
A ‘re-education’ camp near Hotan, Xinjiang region (AFP via Getty)

Camp survivor Tursinay Ziyawdun wants the world to hear her story and the story of her people. For nine months in 2018, Ziyawdun, a 42-year-old Uighur, was detained in a Chinese internment camp and was subjected to appalling abuse. Her only crime was her ethnicity. By conservative estimates, she is just one of at least a million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities who have been rounded up and transported to such facilities in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region since 2017, after a government crackdown there. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insists it is simply fighting terrorism and separatism in the region, and calls the camps “vocational education and training centres”. However, witness testimony, leaked party documents and open-source research make these words ring hollow. 

Ziyawdun was born in 1978 into a Uighur family in Kunes county, an area close to Kazakhstan. After marrying a Kazakh, they moved across the border in 2011 and lived there for five years. But unknown to them, a trip to China to renew Ziyawdun’s passport in 2016 coincided with the start of the CCP’s clampdown in Xinjiang. 

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