The International Criminal Court has decided not to pursue an investigation into China’s mass detention of Muslims because China is not a party to the court.
Prosecutors in The Hague said that they would not investigate allegations that China had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Muslim Uyghurs because the abuses described “have been committed solely by nationals of China within the territory of China,” according to a report by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia.
For months, Uyghurs in exile have urged the court to investigate China’s policies against Muslim minorities, the first attempt by activists to use the force of international law to hold Chinese officials accountable.
They have accused the Chinese government of carrying out a campaign of torture, forced sterilisation and mass surveillance against Muslims, among other abuses.
China has denied that its detention camps are abusive, describing them instead as job training centres aimed at countering religious extremism and terrorism.
The complaint against China was filed by two Uyghur exile groups, the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.
Lawyers representing them said they were still hopeful that the court would open an investigation after considering new evidence.
“We will be providing highly relevant evidence that will permit this to happen in the coming months,” one of the lawyers, Rodney Dixon, said in a statement.
The groups had also lobbied the court to investigate Beijing for pursuing the repatriation of thousands of Uyghurs through unlawful arrests in or deportation from other countries, including Cambodia and Tajikistan.
In its report on Monday, the court said there was “no basis to proceed at this time” because there did not appear to be enough evidence to show that Chinese officials had committed a crime.
“Not all conduct which involves the forcible removal of persons from a location necessarily constitutes the crime of forcible transfer or deportation,” the court said.
But Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, said the decision was not a judgment on whether abuses were taking place.
“The facts remain: The Chinese government is committing grave violations on a massive scale in Xinjiang, and those responsible should be held to account,” she said.