Uyghur activists rally against China's human rights violations and the occupation of East Turkistan during a protest in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C., in July 2022. File Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE
March 18 (UPI) -- The leader of a group seeking independence for the Uyghur people from China has called for the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for President Xi Jinping.
Salih Hudayar, the prime minister of the Uyghur exile government of East Turkestan, made the plea in a statement shared on Twitter.
His statement came a day after the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and children's commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for illegally transferring children from Ukraine to Russia.
The East Turkestan exile government, which was declared in 2004 and is based in Washington, D.C., is not recognized by the United States or other governments worldwide.
Exile governments are political groups that claim to have legitimate sovereignty of a nation but are unable to exercise that claim. The East Turkestan group claims to be the legitimate government for the official Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China.
The Uyghur people are an ethnic minority in China made mostly of Muslims native to the region who speak their own language, which is similar to Turkish. China has long been accused of genocide of the Uyghur people, with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights concluding in August that allegations of torture, forced detention and other human rights abuses are "credible."
"This has included far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international laws and standard," the United Nations said at the time, while calling on the Chinese government to release Uyghur people "arbitrarily imprisoned."
In 2019, The New York Times reported that Xi gave secret directives instructing the Chinese Communist Party to show "absolutely no mercy" to the Uyghur people and other Turkic peoples, which resulted in mass internment, forced labor and forced sterilization of such groups in China.
China has long tried to assert that Uyghur groups seeking independence are terrorist organizations, decrying a 2021 decision from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delist the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization.
The East Turkestan claim for independence has roots in two previous iterations of a breakaway Islamic republic that existed in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Turkic Islamic Republic of East Turkestan, based in what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, existed from 1933 to 1934 before its forces were defeated by Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai -- who ruled the region for the next decade with assistance from the Soviet Union.
During World War II, Sheng Shicai changed allegiances from the Soviet Union to the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party which once operated in mainland China and remains a major political party in Taiwan -- the self-governing republic claimed by China.
Eventually, the Uyghur people rebelled against the forces of the Republic of China and Sheng Shicai was dismissed from his post to become China's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry before he later fled to Taiwan amid the Chinese civil war.
The Second East Turkestan Republic, which operated from 1944 to 1949, marked the era under which the region served as essentially a puppet state for the USSR -- which ended its support for East Turkestan following a treaty China signed with the Soviet Union in 1945.
"We call on the International Criminal Court to act and hold Chinese leader Xi Jinping accountable for the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples," Hudayar said in his statement Saturday.
"The International Criminal Court must uphold justice and fulfill its commitment to 'Never Again' by investigating the ongoing genocide and arresting Xi Jinping for his direct role in this Holocaust-like genocide in the 21st century."