A week ago today, two significant things happened in London.
The first was the opening of an independent people’s tribunal to investigate allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs.
The second was a letter about Hong Kong from six former British foreign secretaries to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
As G7 leaders gather in Cornwall today, they would do well to take note of both.
The Uyghur Tribunal held four grueling days of hearings, in which 24 witnesses described in harrowing detail the shocking torture and other violations they had endured. In addition, 14 experts also provided evidence and were questioned by the tribunal panel.
The tribunal is chaired by British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – who led the prosecution of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes and has had a distinguished career in international humanitarian law. Following in a long tradition of independent people’s tribunals, first started by philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1960s, the Uyghur Tribunal has no official mandate from any government or international body, but instead is mandated by civil society to do what governments and multilateral organizations have so far failed to do. Their task is to investigate atrocities – and possible genocide – against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples in Xinjiang – and produce a judgment.
A genuinely independent body with no agenda other than seeking the truth, the nine-member panel will assess the evidence, question witnesses, and reach a determination. They have extended multiple invitations to the government of China to present its case, but so far have only been met by abuse, denunciation, and slander from Beijing.
The work has only just begun, and the tribunal has thousands of pages of evidence to review and further witnesses to call to its September session. A conclusion is not expected until the end of the year, but a compelling case of grave and systematic atrocity crimes has already been made in the first four days of hearings.
Qelbinur Sidik, for example, said she witnessed gang-rape, and was forcibly sterilized. She told the tribunal, “Guards in the camp did not treat the prisoners as human beings. They were treated less than dogs. They enjoyed watching them being humiliated and their suffering was for their joy.”
Turunay Ziyawudun described how she was raped with iron bars and electric rods, and physically raped three times by Chinese prison guards in a Xinjiang prison camp. And it was not “a simple rape,” she added – “it is extreme, inhuman torture.”
Omar Bekali described how he was hung from the ceiling, beaten all over his body and shackled in chains. In a chilling but powerful moment, he put on chains in front of the tribunal, around his feet and hands, to demonstrate.
The tribunal heard further horrors from other witnesses: murder, forced labor, forced abortions, lethal injections, organ harvesting, slave labor, religious persecution, water torture, wires being pushed into one man’s penis, needles pushed under fingernails and one woman being presented with the dead, frozen body of her baby.
Perhaps most revealing was the testimony of a former Chinese police officer, speaking anonymously and with his face covered. He confirmed many of the witnesses’ evidence, saying, “It was a kind of unwritten rule that the police have the power to torture prisoners,” adding that the Uyghurs were treated as “less than human”.
All the sessions are available to the public via the tribunal’s YouTube page, and the written evidence is also available on its website. There is a consistency to the evidence in the first four days that means either it is an extraordinarily well-organized anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) conspiracy – which is what Beijing wants you to think, but seems unlikely – or Beijing has questions to answer.
Beijing’s fury, of course, is revealing – it shows the regime is rattled. Instead of cooperating with the tribunal, or staying silent, the CCP’s propaganda machine has cranked into insane overdrive. Sir Geoffrey has been denounced as a British spy. I have known him myself for more than ten years, and I can honestly say that while he has many abilities, and he is someone I hold in the utmost regard, I’m reasonably confident – having experienced his driving in the streets of Dubrovnik – that he is not 007.
Not all of Beijing’s reaction is so comical, however. Two days ago, the regime paraded relatives of some of those who testified at the tribunal on state television, denouncing their evidence and allegedly exposing their lies. But there can be little doubt that these relatives were forced into this by the regime, and that the press conference at which they spoke was a sinister, macabre charade illustrative of the CCP’s inhumane, cruel, and mendacious nature. For those brave enough to have testified, they now face the added trauma of worrying about the fate of those relatives.
While we should not prejudge the outcome of the tribunal, the Canadian, Dutch, Lithuanian, and British parliaments, and the US administration, have already concluded that what is happening in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. That, and the evidence of Uyghur slave labor in global supply chains, should be more than enough to make the plight of the Uyghurs a priority concern for the G7 this weekend.
Turning to Hong Kong, last week, in a very rare move, six former British foreign secretaries wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G7 to “ensure that the international response to the crisis in Hong Kong is on the agenda”.
Former Conservative foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Hague, and their former Labour counterparts David Miliband, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and Lord Owen, called for “international leadership” from the UK and for efforts to “forge consensus on a response” to China’s repeated breaches of international law engineered by the CCP.
Citing the arrest of 47 pro-democracy activists and lawmakers under the National Security Law for the ‘crime’ of holding democratic primaries, changes to the electoral system designed to prevent pro-democracy candidates from standing, and an immigration law that would allow for the imposition of “exit bans”, the former foreign secretaries welcome Britain’s actions so far, including the British National (Overseas) scheme, extending arms controls, and suspending its extradition treaty. But, they add, “with nearly every prominent pro-democracy voice in Hong Kong in jail, awaiting trial, or overseas in exile, it is clear that there is an increased need for a robust and coordinated response.”
G7 leaders must ensure that Hong Kong is on their agenda. If the CCP is allowed to get away with dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms with impunity, it will take it as a green light to intensify its aggression towards Taiwan and other democracies. Inaction by the G7 would not only be immoral, but sheer folly.
Tomorrow, around the world, we will remember the second anniversary of the protests outside Hong Kong’s Government Headquarters, when thousands of brave Hong Kongers successfully stalled the second reading of the proposed extradition bill. They succeeded in preventing that bill, but the subsequent crackdown on Hong Kong has changed the city in ways we never imagined back then.
So, when I speak at a rally for Hong Kong in London tomorrow, I won’t only be commemorating the courage of the protesters of June 12, 2019, I will be expressing solidarity with the people of Hong Kong today, and renewing the fight which is so difficult to continue within the city.
The same is true of a week ago, when I spoke at a vigil for the anniversary of June 4, standing in London’s Leicester Square in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Those of us who have freedom must use it to continue the struggle for which the martyrs of 1989 gave their lives and the protesters of 2019 took to the streets.
And part of that means making sure that as G7 leaders gather in Carbis Bay, they come up with a plan of action to respond to the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, and the increasing menace of the CCP. Failure to do so would bode ill for us all.
(Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a member of the advisory group of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign, and a founding trustee of Hong Kong ARC.)
From today onwards, Benedict Rogers’s article can be found in our Columnist section.
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