PRESS RELEASE: Lawyers for WUC and UHRP Submit Universal Jurisdiction Complaint to the Criminal Courts of Argentina

PRESS RELEASE: Lawyers for WUC and UHRP Submit Universal Jurisdiction Complaint to the Criminal Courts of Argentina

Press Release – For immediate release
17 August 2022
Contact: World Uyghur Congress
 www.uyghurcongress.org
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

On Wednesday 17 August 2022, lawyers acting for the World Uyghur Congress (“WUC”) and the Uyghur Human Rights Project (“UHRP”) submitted a criminal complaint in Buenos Aires, Argentina under the universal jurisdiction provisions as set out in the Argentinian Constitution.

This submission sets out the international crimes being committed against the Uyghur and other Turkic people in the Uyghur Region and the identity of those most responsible for these crimes. Under Argentinian universal jurisdiction provisions, the Courts have jurisdictions for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture wherever they take place.

The lawyers acting for the WUC and UHRP include international law barrister Michael Polak, Director of Justice Abroad and chair of Lawyer for Uyghur Rights and well-regarded Argentinian lawyers Gabriel Cavallo and Juan Nieto who have experience providing justice for the victims of international crimes before the Courts of Argentina both as members of the judiciary and as lawyers.

The submission of this complaint marks the first stage of the process: the “prosecutorial stage” where the appointed judge considers the complaint and submissions from the public prosecutor as to whether to open a case.

Therefore, the submission marks a crucial time for the Uyghur people because if the judge decides to open the case, then an investigation starts and further evidence will be submitted by the WUC and UHRP that demonstrates that the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture are taking place against the Uyghur people as well as other ethnic Turkic people in the Uyghur region. From such evidence before the Court, the judge can indict the defendants, issue arrest warrants, and send the case to trial.

If a case is opened against the individuals most responsible for the crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs, the judge can summons witnesses to attend court to give their evidence on oath. This would mark a historic opportunity for the Uyghur people and the first time that the evidence of the atrocities being committed against them is presented in a court. Therefore, the submission of the complaint is the first step on this historic journey.

Press Conference

A hybrid in-person/online press conference will take place on Wednesday 17 August 2022 at 10 am Argentinian time (2 pm GMT/3 pm CET). Members of the press are invited to join this conference in person or online. To request the address for physical attendance in Buenos Aires Argentina or the zoom link please email [email protected] 

Barrister Michael Polak stated the following:

This is a historical moment for the Uyghur people and their pursuit of justice for the most horrendous international crimes being committed against them by the Chinese authorities. The mantra ‘never again’ or ‘nunca mas’ has been repeated for many years yet we have a genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against a religious and ethnic group in 2022 in an attempt to rob the Uyghurs of their rich culture and identity.

International criminal law has moved towards the use of universal jurisdiction provisions that hold that certain crimes shock the conscience of mankind in such a way that they can be prosecuted within the domestic legal systems of states, no matter where those crimes take place. Domestic courts have stepped up to fill the void created by the vetoes of China and Russia at the Security Council, which make the creation of new international tribunals almost impossible and in recent times those who would once have enjoyed impunity have found themselves facing justice.

Just last month a Swedish Court convicted a prison official and prosecutor for his involvement in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran. Those who are leading or are part of the machinery of the intense repression of the Uyghur people will not be protected by the fact that these international crimes took place within China, a place without a fair and objective court system, because of the universal prohibition of the crimes which they are committing. We are confident that our client’s will have a fair hearing before the Court of Argentina and this criminal submission is likely to provide the first chance for Uyghurs to give their evidence before a criminal court so that that evidence can be properly considered by the investigating judge.

We call for the international community to support the criminal complaint we have submitted and to do more on a political level to save the Uyghur people from having their identity destroyed by a powerful state that acts without mercy and without any domestic legal restraints.

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

Our case demonstrates that there is nowhere to hide for regimes responsible for atrocity crimes. If international courts like the ICJ and the ICC are still unable or unwilling to look at the evidence, it will be up to national courts to begin to bring cases against China for these crimes.

World Uyghur Congress President, Dolkun Isa stated:

This submission marks a crucial step toward the long-overdue justice for the Uyghur people and the holding to account of those responsible. For years, Uyghurs have been looking to the international legal justice mechanisms to make a determination on the genocide being committed, but so far these have failed us. This criminal complaint would be a historic occasion for Uyghurs to have their voices heard within a formal domestic court.

Crowdfunding

The proceedings in Argentina, including bringing witnesses to give evidence, will be funded using CrowdJustice https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/uyghur-case-argentina/

Notes to Editors

The Uyghurs

The Uyghurs are an ethnic Turkic group living in the Uyghur Autonomous Region who speak their own language, which is similar to Turkish, are mostly Muslim, and who see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations and cultures.

There is strong evidence from a number of 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 north-western region.

Human rights groups have gathered evidence that 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 of 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

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 Director of 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.