The UN can’t stop ‘hallmarks of genocide’ against Uighurs in China so we need other actions to end this Catch-22

Indian Muslims at a protest in support of minority Uighur Muslim ethnic groups. Credit: AP

Luke de Pulford is the co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response and Adviser to the World Uyghur Congress.

Here he writes for ITV News after the announcement an independent tribunal will investigate the Chinese government’s alleged rights abuses against Uighur Muslims

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, with “never again” on their lips, representatives of 152 countries solemnly committed to prevent, protect and punish genocide, the “crime of all crimes”.

The 1949 Genocide Convention was supposed to make the horrors of Nazi Germany unthinkable. It laid a responsibility on the international community to prevent a comparable situation unfolding again. Seventy one years later, it’s hard to argue that it has been a success.Under our watch genocides have raged from Cambodia to Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda, Iraq, Burma, and elsewhere. In every case the international community has failed to stop them.

Now we face the same thing again. As you read this, something that has all of the hallmarks of genocide is unfolding in the Uyghur Region of China.

Forced sterilisations, family separations, and the mass internment of around one million Turkic Muslims.

The evidence is compelling.

But, again, the international community has done nothing to engage with its obligations under the Genocide Convention and stop it.


Part of the cause is that genocide is now almost universally understood as a legal term.

This means that it has to be proven beyond doubt before governments are willing to act, or even use the word.

The second important roadblock is that the principal means for determining genocide is through the United Nations.

Not only is this exceptionally slow, it can also be blocked by countries with veto power or who can command a majority of votes.So, when efforts were made to recognise the genocide of Yazidis, the minority viciously persecuted by Daesh, the UN route was closed.

The UK and others said that Russia and China would veto a referral to the International Criminal Court.Fast forward to 2020 and it’s groundhog day.

A Uighur woman and children sit on a motor-tricycle after school. Credit: Andy Wong/AP

Governments aren’t even willing to try to get a legal determination through the United Nations about what the Chinese Communist Party is doing to the Uighurs, because they know China will block it.

They’re right, of course. But this isn’t good enough.The Genocide Convention binds us - the UK - and every other signatory to prevent and punish the “crime of all crimes”.

It does not bind the United Nations. So if the United Nations is not working, it is our duty to find another way.One such way is a People’s Tribunal.

In 1966 the Philosophers, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, established such a Tribunal to investigate and evaluate war crimes in Vietnam.

ITV News has seen footage reported to be from inside the Uighur camps. Credit: ITV News

The project had its limitations, but the idea has since developed into an effective way to reach evidence based conclusions about mass atrocity crimes.

It was a model recently used by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC in investigating forced organ harvesting against Falun Gong practitioners in China.

It’s a model which should now be used to assess the destruction of the identity of Uighur Muslims in the Uyghur Region of China which Professor Adrian Zenz has called the “largest internment of an ethno-religious minority since the Second World War”.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has convened the tribunal. Credit: AP

Evidence for incarceration, “re-education”, stripping of religious and cultural identity, destruction of their cemeteries, enslavement and use as forced labour, and prevention of pregnancies of Uighur people is overwhelming.

We cannot continue to shrug in the direction of China’s UN veto and stick to the line that genocide determination is a “matter for the international judicial system”.

This is a recipe for more genocide, not less.Genocide is a term that must never be used lightly.

However, the current Catch-22 is creating a situation where it is in danger of never being used at all.

Our silence might not be condoning these crimes, but it is also failing to condemn them, and allowing perpetrators to denounce reports as “fake news”.

Where our multilateral mechanisms are failing to confront the crime of all crimes, we, as private citizens, with all our privileges and freedoms, have a duty to shine a light into these dark places and to pay more than lip service to challenging the crime above all crimes.

The creation of People’s Tribunals can be an effective way to deny the last word to perpetrators, and show our governments the way.