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China guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, watchdog finds

“The world needs to know about what Uyghurs are facing today,” said Muetter Iliqud, 24, who spoke at two public sessions of a special tribunal.

LONDON — China's government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people, a public tribunal set up by a prominent British human rights lawyer concluded Thursday.

Forced birth control and sterilization policies targeting Uyghurs in China’s far western Xinjiang Province were intended to reduce the group’s population, the tribunal's chairman, Sir Geoffrey Nice, said after the Uyghur Tribunal, a group of nine lawyers, academics and business people released a 63-page tribunal judgment.

"On the basis of evidence heard in public, the tribunal is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China, by the imposition of measures to prevent births intended to destroy a significant part of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as such, has committed genocide," the judgment said.

Kazakh-Uyghur Omir Bekali demonstrates how he says he was shackled at a re-education camp on the first day of the Uyghur Tribunal in London on June 4. Tolga Akmen / AFP via Getty Images

Founded by Nice, a senior lawyer who led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and has worked with the International Criminal Court, the tribunal is an independent and unofficial body, which does not have government backing and is not legally binding in any country.

It was set up in an attempt to hold China accountable for its treatment of the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

The report said President Xi Jinping and other senior officials "bear primary responsibility" for what has occurred in Xinjiang. "This vast apparatus of state repression could not exist if a plan was not authorized at the highest levels," it added.

Beijing has consistently denied all allegations of mistreating Uyghurs or other ethnic groups that have been subject to an unprecedented crackdown since 2017. Chinese officials have said that all ethnicities are treated equally.

But the report said China had also engaged in crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including rape, enforced sterilization, torture, imprisonment, persecution, deportation and enforced disappearance.

The tribunal, which ruled that it did not consider the crimes of mass killing or enslavement as proven, made no recommendations as it has no power to sanction China or its officials. 

The judgment drew from testimony of experts and Uyghur witnesses — some of whom alleged they were subjected to beatings, sexual violence, torture and sleep and food deprivation as well as separation from their children.

Ahead of the ruling, Muetter Iliqud, a project assistant for Uyghur Transitional Justice Database, which tracks missing and imprisoned Uyghurs, told NBC News in a Zoom interview Wednesday that her team had documented 530 detention facilities for Uyghurs in Xinjiang. 

"The world needs to know about what Uyghurs are facing today," said Iliqud, 24, who spoke at both of the tribunal's public sessions.

"There is a genocide going on. There are millions of people being locked out in these so-called re-education camps and thousands of people are missing," she added.

Asked if she was scared of repercussions from Beijing after testifying at the tribunal, Iliqud replied with a resounding no.

“I think the worst is happening already, and it can’t be even worse than this,” she said. 

Allegations of China’s mistreatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have become a major problem for Beijing, which is accused of detaining more than 1 million people in what it has called educational and vocational training centers, where critics say they are forced to denounce their traditional culture.  

What is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng in China's Xinjiang Province in 2018. Thomas Peter / Reuters file

On Monday, the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics in February, citing China’s "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses."

Canada, the U.K. and Australia have since followed suit.

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Beijing has said that it has been providing job training and counseling to de-radicalize those influenced by jihadist propaganda following years of violent outbursts against Chinese rule in the region.

After the report was released a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the report's authors had been "manipulated and sponsored by anti-China forces in the U.S. and the West."

"They hired liars to make false statements and falsify evidence, in an attempt to craft a political tool to disrupt Xinjiang and smear China," the spokesperson added.