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PRESS RELEASE: Court of Appeal Hearing Takes Place in Universal Jurisdiction Case in Argentina

PRESS RELEASE: Court of Appeal Hearing Takes Place in Universal Jurisdiction Case in Argentina
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Press Statement– For Immediate Release
22 December 2023
Contact: World Uyghur Congress
+49 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

On 21 December 2023, the Court of Appeal in Buenos Aires, Argentina heard an appeal by the victims in the universal jurisdiction case in Argentina filed by the Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, Uyghur Human Rights Project and the World Uyghur Congress, following the Prosecutor’s errant decision to stay the case after wrongly believing there was an ongoing case in Turkey.  

 This important hearing was the first time that the Uyghur’s case for repression by the Chinese government, including crimes against humanity and genocide, has come before a criminal court.  

The hearing follows the filing on 16 August 2022, of a criminal complaint in Buenos Aires, under the universal jurisdiction provisions, as set out in Article 118 of the Argentinian Constitution, which allows for complaints concerning international crimes to be tried by any Court in Argentina. 

On 4 August 2023, the Prosecutor delivered a decision that due to press reports of victims in Turkey ‘filing a case’ through their lawyer in Turkey, the case in Argentina should be stayed. On 14 November 2023, the victims in the case submitted an appeal of the decision taken by the investigating Judge based on the Prosecutor’s decision, to stay the case.  

 At the hearing on 21 December 2023, it was argued that there is no evidence that the facts put forward by the victims in the case before the courts of Argentina are being considered in Turkey and that a case in Turkey can only be started by the Minster of Justice and that this has not happened there.  

At the beginning of the hearing, Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, made a heartfelt opening statement in which he set out the unique status of Argentina as a place where the victims of international crimes could seek justice against dictatorial regimes without political impediments, the terrible atrocities that have been committed against Uyghur victims based on their ethnicity and religion, and the fact that the victims, in this case, do not have a case before the Courts in Turkey. He finished his opening statement by saying, ‘ When Argentina’s people and judiciary say never again, we believe them. That is why we filed a complaint, and why we did so in Argentina.’   This was the first time a Uyghur had addressed a Court about the international crimes being committed against this group.  

The victims’ argument was supported by an amicus brief submitted by Turkish Constitutional lawyer Ali Yiildiz who explained that Turkish legal provisions mean that only the Justice Minister has the power to bring a case about international crimes such as crimes against humanity and genocide, that there was no evidence that that had been done, and that it was highly likely that this would never take place because of the close relationship between China and Tukey.  

Amicus submissions supporting the opening of the case were also submitted on behalf of the International Bar Associations Human Rights Institute by Dr Ewelina Ochab with Argentinian lawyer Roberto Durrieu, and Italian international justice NGO STRALI by President, Benedetta Perego, and Head of the Department of International Criminal Law, Tomas Manguel.  

Previously, the University of Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Initiative submitted an amicus brief drafted by Lord Alton, a British politician and human rights advocate; Ambassador Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom; Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, a human rights lawyer who formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American human rights advocate and Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Frank Wolf, author of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and a Commissioner for USCIRF.  

The lawyers acting for the WUC and UHRP are international law barrister Michael Polak, Director of Justice Abroad and chair of  Lawyer for Uyghur Rights and esteemed Argentinian lawyers Gabriel Cavallo and Juan Nieto who have experience providing justice for the victims of international crimes before the Courts of Argentina. They hope that the Court of Appeal will hold that there are no open cases in relation to the victim’s complaint and order the opening of the case following a previous decision by the Prosecutor that the complaint sets out prima facie evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide.  

The plaintiffs in this case are fundraising for the legal proceedings and donations can be made here.

Barrister Michael Polak stated the following:  

 When Dolkun Isa made his statement to the Court, this was the first time that a Uyghur had addressed a criminal court about the extreme persecution of the Uyghur people. He called on the courts of Argentina to remember the promise of nunca mas, never again, and to stand strongly for justice and accountability.

We hope that the Appeals Court will find that there are no open cases in this matter and order the opening of the case. This would be in accordance with the expert evidence placed before the Court, as well as the previous decision of the prosecutor that the complaint contains prima facie evidence about the commission of the international crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

 The journey towards justice has been very slow and difficult for the Uyghur people, however, we hope that the decision we await in this case will be one step in the right direction and a message to states and their officials that they cannot enjoy impunity for the most serious crimes through their power and influence.  

World Uyghur Congress President, Dolkun Isa stated: 

 Today was an important day in the history of accountability for Uyghurs. A Uyghur addressed a criminal court for the first time in relation to the ongoing genocide in East Turkistan. We have been seeking justice and liability for so long, and today’s hearing was the first step towards these goals.  

Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) Omer Kanat said: 

 Uyghurs deserve to have their case heard in court—today was another step towards that outcome. Our ongoing case demonstrates that there is nowhere to hide for regimes responsible for atrocity crimes. If some parts of the international community are unwilling to look at the evidence, it will continue to be up to national courts to adjudicate these atrocity crimes. 

For comments on this case by the lawyers or the victim organisations please email [email protected] or call +44 020 7936 3637 or +44 741 519 1591.

Notes to Editors  

There is strong evidence from several sources that the Chinese authorities are committing crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly Muslim Turkic ethnic groups in the northwestern region. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and has sentenced hundreds of thousands to arbitrary prison terms despite there being no evidence that they have committed any crimes. There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labour and that Uyghur women are being forcibly sterilised. Former camp detainees have also alleged they were tortured and sexually abused. 

The World Uyghur Congress 

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is an international democratic organisation that represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad. The main objective of the WUC is to promote democracy, human rights and freedom for the Uyghur people and use peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to determine their political future. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Project  

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) promotes the rights of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim peoples in East Turkistan, through research-based advocacy. UHRP was founded in 2004 as a project of the Uyghur American Association and became an independent nonprofit organization in 2016. 

Michael Polak 

Michael Polak is an international barrister based in London. He practises in international, criminal, and human rights law from Church Court Chambers.  Michael is also a Director at Justice Abroad which helps people who need assistance dealing with legal proceedings overseas as well as working on human rights advocacy. He is chair of the group Lawyers for Uyghur Rights and was awarded the International Bar Association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer Award for 2021