Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Over the past four days, we have heard incredibly moving testimony, from both expert and fact witnesses on the subject of the Uyghur genocide, and survivors of the PRC’s internment camps. As the final day of this initial set of hearings draws to a close, many of us reflect on the sheer horror and barbarity of what we have heard, feeling an overwhelming sense of anger and emotion, and longing for the world to take action.
This morning’s session opened with testimony from Nyrola Elimä, who gave evidence of her cousin’s imprisonment in one of the PRC’s ‘vocational training camps’. Sharing details of the physical effects of this internment on her relative, including substantial weight loss and long-term liver damage, Ms Elimä also emphasised the consequences for her family members: her parents remain under house arrest (despite them both having severe health conditions, rendered unable to leave their home to seek hospital treatment) and, in her words, ‘could be taken by the CCP at any time’.
Ms Elimä’s courage in testifying at today’s hearing was emotional to behold. Confessing that her life is in danger through her presence at the tribunal, she shared her honest reflections on what giving this evidence might mean for herself and her family:
“I am taking a lot of risks by being here. When I leave, the Chinese government can take my family away because I gave testimony here. I just hope that this is over as quickly as possible, because I don’t think my cousin can survive for much longer. I am scared and afraid: the person I love is serving a sentence for something she has not committed”
Several witnesses gave testimony in today’s hearing anonymously, their voices altered to protect their identity: this in itself indicates the level of danger involved in giving evidence against the CCP. One of these witnesses, a former Xinjiang police officer, described the nature of the interrogation and torture carried out by camp guards. He explained that the main role of the camp officers is to ‘fix the problems in the thoughts’ of the Uyghur people, who are branded as terrorists and political extremists. The witness shared details of the horrific methods des of torture employed in the camps, emphasising the lack of procedure in terms of punishment. There was no written order on how guards were to torture prisons: they could do whatever they wanted. The witness emphasised the secrecy of what happens in Xinjiang, the police harbouring extreme and arbitrary levels of power and control.
The afternoon session of the final day encompassed testimony from several expert witnesses, including evidence of organ-harvesting from Ethan Gutmann, and details of population and birth-rate declines in Xinjiang given by Adrian Zenz, leading academic in the field. Dr Zenz’ testimony focused on his recent peer-reviewed academic paper on the long-term impact of CCP policy on the Uyghur population and other minority groups in Xinjiang (the report being the first of its kind). He also referenced a prior report from the Xinjiang Police Academy, released in 2017, relating to the narrative of counter-terrorism perpetuated by the CCP as a justification for Uyghur persecution:
“To completely eradicate terrorist crimes in xinjiang it is necessary to completely eradicate the soil, the growth conditions and the environment in which terrorist mobs produce crimes”
As the day came to an end, we reflected on what the tribunal means for the campaign and Uyghur community going forward. Jack Street (DGN) and Kirsty Robson (Yet Again), shared their thoughts on the importance of our work as youth-led organisations in attending the tribunal and raising awareness:
“The importance of covering the tribunal over the past four days cannot be overstated. It is the responsibility of all of us to bear witness to the statements and share them as widely as we can. This tribunal has served as a tangible reminder of what we can ashice when united - the ability to break through the noise, to challenge impunity and bring about change for the future.”
The Uyghur Tribunal is an unprecedented event for the Uyghur community, giving them the chance to share their stories with those who are willing to listen. Sir Geoffrey Nice, Chair of the Tribunal, reiterated the courage and bravery of those who testified:
“Truth-telling is for the brave, as we have seen, not for the faint-hearted”
We leave today feeling emotional and angry at the silence of so many organisations and individuals across the globe, who have continued to use the words ‘never again’, but have failed to honour them. We observe a turning point: after hearing this testimony, the world cannot afford to remain silent for any longer. It feels as though time is running out for the Uyghurs.
Evie is an English Literature undergraduate at UCL, and an avid reader and bookworm. Alongside her work in Holocaust Education, she loves to write about books as a way into better understanding current affairs and contemporary issues. She is currently serving as Publications Manager at Yet Again, and President of Pi Media, UCL's student publication.