ICC receives evidence of forced deportation of Uighurs from Tajikistan

Dossier raises question of whether new prosecutor will open investigation to challenge China

Fresh evidence supporting claims of forced deportation of Uighur Muslims from Tajikistan into neighbouring China has been delivered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – raising the question of whether its new prosecutor is willing to challenge the world's emerging superpower.

An initial attempt last year to persuade the last prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda – who stepped down earlier this month on completing her nine-year term – to investigate the plight of the Uighurs was turned down for lack of evidence, though the court said it would keep the file open and consider new information.

That new information was delivered to the office of Ms Bensouda's successor, British QC Karim Khan, who took over on June 16th.

He now faces the dilemma of whether to open an investigation that would place the court at odds with the authoritarian government of president Xi Jinping.


Essentially, the dossier supports claims that Tajikistan has been involved in a long-term process of deporting its Uighur population across the border into the Xinjiang region in northwest China – where activists and UN experts say at least a million Muslims are being forcibly detained in camps.

Lawyers who put together the dossier say the number of Uighurs living in Tajikistan has been gradually reduced from about 3,000 to just 100 or so over the past 15 years – and that most of that diminution happened between 2016 and 2018.

China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which set up the ICC and so the court does not have jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed there. Tajikistan is an ICC member, however, and so Uighur groups believe that focusing on crimes there may be another way of highlighting their plight.

Voluntary retraining

Another country where China has been accused of "rounding up" the Uighur population is Cambodia, which is also an ICC member.

"Based on this new dossier of evidence presented to the ICC prosecutor, showing the actions of Chinese authorities directly in Tajikistan, it is clear that the ICC does indeed have the authority to open an investigation," said Rodney Dixon QC, representing the Uighurs, in a statement.

China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says the camps are used for voluntary retraining for new jobs and for fighting extremism. It says claims to the contrary are based on “lies and disinformation”.

Last March, however, both the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials for what Washington described as "crimes against humanity and genocide" against Uighurs in Xinjiang.

In Tajikistan, the government of president Emomali Rahmon, who is in office since 1994, has been promoting a campaign against "radicalisation", claiming that central Asia is following the path of countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria towards militant Islamist extremism.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court