Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Uyghur Tribunal?

In June 2020, Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress formally requested that Sir Geoffrey Nice QC establish and chair an independent people’s tribunal to investigate ‘ongoing atrocities and possible Genocide’ against the Uyghur people. The Uyghur Tribunal (“Tribunal”) was launched on the 3 September 2020 with assistance from a non-governmental organisation, the Coalition for Genocide Response.

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Turkic Muslim minority living mostly in the ‘Uyghur region,’ in the Northwest of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Their population is estimated at around 12 million. There are other Turkic Muslims in the Uyghur region and elsewhere in China.

What is the ‘Uyghur region’?

The Uyghur region is the region in the Northwest of the PRC where the majority of Uyghurs live. The PRC officially refer to it as the ‘Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’ (“XUAR”) while many Uyghurs refer to it as East Turkestan. The Tribunal will refer to the region simply as the ‘Uyghur region.’

Should it be spelt 'Uyghur' or 'Uighur'?

While Western scholars and media tend to refer to the group as ‘Uighurs,’ most members of the group prefer the spelling ‘Uyghur’ as it more accurately reflects the spelling and pronunciation in their native language, which is also called ‘Uyghur.’

What kind of allegations of crimes and human rights violations is the Tribunal investigating?

The Tribunal is assessing allegations that the PRC is responsible for the crime of genocide against the Uyghurs and/or crimes against humanity arising from consideration of the prohibited acts of genocide. Alleged prohibited acts include killings, serious bodily or mental harm including sexual violence, conditions of life calculated to destroy, measures intended to restrict births and/or forcible transfer of Uyghur children from their parents to other groups.

Acts arising from or incidental to the prohibited acts, which may constitute crimes against humanity, allegedly include: torture, enslavement, extermination, and detention of a significant proportion of the Uyghur population in camps which the PRC says are “vocational training centres” or “re-education centres” but are widely alleged to be involuntary detention centres which some have likened to “concentration camps”.

Other culpable acts (which, in themselves, may constitute crimes against humanity) which may also go to the question of genocidal intent include allegations of enslavement, forcible transfer or deportation, apartheid, enforced disappearances, forced organ harvesting, destruction of cultural or religious heritage, persecution, and forced labour.

What is a People's Tribunal?

People’s Tribunals investigate, assess and make judgments of human rights abuses and crimes that states or international organisations are unable or unwilling to address adequately or at all. States or international organisations may be unable or unwilling to investigate allegations of violations and/or crimes and provide access to justice mechanisms due to various reasons: lack of jurisdiction, a lack of resources (human, financial etc); and an unwillingness to address, investigate and remedy allegations due to a lack of political will or indeed political obstruction. People’s tribunals provide civil society with the means to determine through an evidence- based judgment whether international crimes have occurred in line with States international obligations or international legal norms.

Why is the Uyghur Tribunal a people's tribunal and not a formal tribunal?

The term ‘Tribunal’ is often associated with bodies appointed by a government or an official international organisation (such as the United Nations) to assess issues of legality or criminality. A people’s tribunal is a quasi-judicial body formed by civil society actors. States and international organisations are too often unwilling (often for political reasons) or are unable to use the available international mechanisms including the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court to consider allegations of human rights abuses and criminality committed by State organs, officials or agents or their nationals. If these established mechanisms were effectively used there would be no need for people’s tribunals.

It is very important to note that the PRC is a signatory and ratifying State to many international treaties including the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the Geneva Conventions. It is also subject, as are all States, to customary international law and international legal norms. The mandate of the Tribunal does not go beyond what the PRC itself has accepted to be bound by under international law.

What other people's tribunals have there been before the Uyghur Tribunal?

People’s tribunals are usually confined to address allegations of human rights abuses in a particular region or country or limited to a specific incident. While there have been few people’s tribunals of note, those that have existed have assessed a wide variety of allegations.

For example, in 1966 the philosopher Bertrand Russell set up the Russell Tribunal to investigate whether the US had violated its international obligations in its conduct of the Vietnam war. While the Russell Tribunal had no official mandate, and although the US ultimately rejected its judgment, it shed light on the devastating impact of the war on the Vietnamese population. Since then there have been a number of people’s tribunals including more recently the Iran Tribunal, set-up in 2007 to investigate mass-executions of political prisoners by the Iranian government in the 1980ies and the China Tribunal, established in 2018, to investigate the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China.

Who funds the Uyghur Tribunal?

The Uyghur Tribunal depends on the generosity of individuals, civil society and philanthropic organisations to cover its costs. A public fundraising page will be established in due course to facilitate this process. This is necessary, because even though, members of the Tribunal, Lead Counsel and the Head of Research, amongst others, will provide their services pro bono, due to the scale of the endeavour, it is considered appropriate that other participants may be remunerated albeit at a fraction of commercial rates. It is currently estimated that the total costs of the Uyghur Tribunal, which includes its administration and hearing costs, will be totalling approximately £285,000. A detailed budget plan can be found in our Funding Brochure, which can be downloaded from this homepage.

Who is behind the Uyghur Tribunal?

The Uyghur Tribunal is run by an independent civil society body comprising of a group of legal practitioners, academics, and civil society leaders, dedicated to impartiality, objectivity and a fair outcome. For more information, please visit our “Tribunal Participants” section.

What is the purpose of Independent People's Tribunal if they enjoy no legal standing?

Even though the judgments of independent people’s tribunals have no legal standing, they can provide a mechanism for survivors, victims and their families, to have ‘their cases’ independently assessed, a determination made in respect of allegations of responsibility of possible perpetrators and a sense of closure or resolution. Moreover, by hearing evidence in impartial proceedings, independent people’s tribunals can act as essential bodies to document and preserve evidence pertaining to serious human rights violations and crimes. They can also help pressure States and international organisations to meaningfully address claims and may lead to the sanctioning of States and individuals. In addition, it may result in governments, institutions, corporations and individuals reconsidering how they interact with possible responsible States or individuals found guilty of international crimes.

What is the objective of the Uyghur Tribunal if it has no power to sanction?

The Tribunal will issue a judgment which depending on the findings, may be a starting point for States, international organisations, companies and corporations, individuals and other actors to take action in light of relevant findings. The Tribunal will accept evidence from a wide range of legal persons including States should they wish to provide it. Its objective, however, is to reach an impartial and considered judgement based on facts. In particular, it will seek to determine whether the internationally recognised crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed against the Uyghurs, living in the PRC.

Does the Uyghur Tribunal apply international law?

The Tribunal will conduct its work in accordance with international law and international legal norms. It will consider evidence and come to a judgment applying the highest standards and burden of proof i.e. beyond reasonable doubt. Its procedure as to evidence evaluation and classification, as well as the methodology to hear witnesses, amongst other aspects, will be informed by international legal standards.

What is the anticipated hearing process of the Uyghur Tribunal?

A team of independent researchers will process, sort and ultimately select evidence to be presented to an evidence review committee. Once the committee has further narrowed down selected evidence, the Counsel to the Uyghur Tribunal will prepare the evidence to be presented to a seven-member panel who will act roughly as a jury. It is expected that there will be at least two ‘in-person’ hearing sessions in London where both expert and fact witnesses will be heard. Finally, the evidence will be reviewed by three separate and independent senior lawyers who are specialists in international criminal law. They will provide separate opinions as to the applicable legal standards on the available evidence. In particular, they will assess whether the findings constitute genocide and/or crimes against humanity. The judgment will however be solely made by the Tribunal members who may depending on the evidence available first issue a preliminary judgement which will eventually be followed by a full written judgment.

What is the timeline of the Uyghur Tribunal?

It is anticipated that the first ‘in-person’ hearings will be conducted in spring 2021; this will soon be followed by a second hearing towards the summer. It is expected that the final judgment will be reached by the end of 2021 but this will depend on the amount of evidence received and the disruption that may occur due to Covid-19.

Can I attend the Uyghur Tribunal hearings?

All ‘in-person’ sessions will be public, as well as any virtual hearings. The public session will take place in London. Information about the possibility to attend one or more of the sessions will be communicated in advance via this website.

How can I donate?

You can donate through our fundraiser and by telling your friends and family about it. All the information about how to donate will be available shortly on this homepage.

How will the Tribunal maintain impartiality?

The Tribunal and its participants are completely independent of any organisation with any vested interest in the PRC or the Uyghurs. Our mission is to provide an objective assessment of the evidence provided. While specific organisations may provide significant amounts of evidence and some funding, they will not influence the decisions or actions of the Uyghur Tribunal members nor the research team at any given time.