This article was published by The Economist , Photo Credit: The Economist
When SALIH HUDAYAR visited Tajikistan in 2014, he remembers therebeing “thousands” of fellow Uyghurs in Dushanbe, the capital. Many of them came from the same city as him, Artush, in western Xinjiang. But since then the number of Uyghurs in the country has dwindled. Mr Hudayar is now an American citizen and the head of a group called the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), founded in Washington in 2004, claiming to represent the interests of Uyghurs in Xinjiang (or East Turkistan, as some Uyghurs call the region). According to evidence submitted on June 10th to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on behalf of the ETGE and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, another Washington-based group, China has been working with Tajikistan to round up and deport Uyghurs since at least 2016. The Chinese Public Security Bureau worked with the Tajikistan police to identify any Uyghurs, and then “directly intervened” to deport them back to China. “I knew central Asia wasn’t safe,” Mr Hudayar remembers. “No matter where you go, you have to be careful.”
The lawyers for the two Uyghur groups are asking the ICC’s prosecutor to open an investigation into Chinese officials. They allege that through threats, intimidation and physical force, nearly 3,000 Uyghurs—85-90% of the total population in Tajikistan—have been compelled to return to China, where they are likely to end up in detention camps. The complaint argues that “these arrests, enforced disappearances, abductions and deportations form the first step of a continuum of alleged criminal conduct amounting to genocide and crimes against humanity”. There is no evidence of mass killings of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but there are credible reports of extrajudicial detentions, torture, sterilisations, forced labour and many other horrors that could constitute crimes against humanity. Uyghur activists will see benefit if the complaint simply serves to discomfit China and draw international attention to its abuses in Xinjiang. But they are hoping for more. If the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, agrees that there is enough evidence of abuses happening in Tajikistan, rather than China, she may then apply to the court’s judges to open an investigation. But even that step would be a long way from actually convicting any officials in China.