Lawyers urge ICC to probe alleged forced deportations of Uyghurs from Tajikistan

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FILE PHOTO: An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Lawyers have submitted new evidence to the International Criminal Court to try to persuade prosecutors to open an investigation into alleged forced deportations of Uyghur Muslims into China from Tajikistan.

China denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and is not a member of the court. Tajikistan is a member, and lawyers hope its membership could be a way to bring alleged Chinese mistreatment of Uyghurs before the international war crimes court.

"Based on this new dossier of evidence presented to the ICC prosecutor, showing the actions of Chinese authorities directly in Tajikistan - an ICC State Party - it is clear that the ICC does have jurisdiction to open an investigation," Rodney Dixon, a lawyer representing Uyghur groups, said in a statement on Thursday.

The ICC prosecutors confirmed receiving what they called the communication from the lawyers.

Outgoing prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in December that the evidence offered in a previous round of reports submitted to her office did not amount to deportation as a crime against humanity under the court statute.

It will be up to the incoming ICC prosecutor, British barrister Karim Khan, to decide whether the new information is enough to open an official investigation. He takes office on June 16.

Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims are being detained in camps in the western Xinjiang region of China, which borders Tajikistan. In March, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions against Chinese officials for what Washington called "crimes against humanity and genocide" against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide job training and are needed to fight extremism.

The lawyers submitting evidence to the ICC say the number of Uyghurs living in Tajikistan has been reduced from 3,000 to 100 in the past 15 years, with most of the reduction happening in 2016-2018.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, editing by Timoty Heritage)

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