Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative supports criminal complaint against Chinese government for Uyghur genocide

Author: Anna Bradley

Uyghur Flag

In what appears to be the largest incarceration of an ethno-religious group since World War II, millions of Uyghurs have been subjected to re-education, rape, constant surveillance and familial separation at the hands of the Chinese government. 

The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative filed an amicus brief in support of the criminal complaint filed by The World Uyghur Congress and The Uyghur Human Rights Project against China for genocide and crimes against humanity, invoking Argentina’s universal jurisdiction over those crimes as set out in the Argentinian Constitution. 

China’s atrocities against the Uyghur people meet the legal definitions of crimes against humanity and genocide under international law,” said Stephanie Barclay, director of the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative. “We urge the Argentina criminal court to exercise jurisdiction over the case and rule that China is guilty of these dire crimes.”

The Chinese government’s actions have been recognized as a genocide by two successive U.S. administrations. Eleven parliaments — Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and the European Parliament, the U.S. and Taiwan — globally recognized the atrocities against Uyghurs as international crimes. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, China’s suppression of the Uyghur population, including through forced detention, torture, killing, systematic annihilation and forced sterilization, constitutes crimes against humanity, which can be prosecuted and punished for the preservation of international peace and fundamental freedoms.

“I welcome this opportunity to provide crucial information in the proceedings pertaining to the genocide against the Uyghurs now before the Argentinian courts,” said Lord David Patrick Paul Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, a British politician and human rights advocate. “The shocking evidence of atrocities against the Uyghurs warrants further investigation and judicial assessment. Domestic courts, based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, are competent organs to engage on the issue and, in using their powers, strike an important blow for the rule of law.”

“This needs to be litigated,” said Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom and current co-chair for the International Religious Freedom Summit, as well as a senior fellow at Open Doors USA. “The persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government is an atrocity. This litigation will allow light to shine and let the world know what is happening.”

“To date, the international community has largely failed to address the root causes of the Uyghur genocide and has been slow to act on fundamental questions of justice and accountability for the crimes against humanity and acts of genocide that the Chinese Communist Party continues to perpetrate,” said Kelley E. Currie, a human rights lawyer who formerly served as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and is currently serving as an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a senior adviser to the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University. “The Argentina case is an important step forward in this respect, and deserves robust support from the international human rights and accountability community. I am honored to join my colleagues in support of this amicus brief, and urge all states party to the Genocide Convention, especially states with universal jurisdiction statutes, to follow this example.”

In addition to Alton, Brownback and Currie, the amicus brief was filed on behalf of Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American lawyer and human rights advocate and co-founder and board chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project currently serving as the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Frank Wolf, author of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and currently a commissioner for USCIRF. 

Complaint filed in U.K.

“We are thrilled that the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative has filed submissions in relation to the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against the Uyghur people,” said Michael Polak, a U.K.-based barrister who worked with local counsel to file the complaint. “It is right that organizations such as this one should speak out loudly against the wholesale persecution of the Uyghur people based on their religion and ethnicity.”

Polak continued, “Article 118 of the Argentine Constitution provides a golden opportunity for these terrible crimes to finally be addressed. We hope that an investigation will be opened shortly and that this case will provide the opportunity for the brave Uyghur victims to give their evidence in court and for independent judges to closely examine the intense repression being carried out by the Chinese state.”

Notre Dame Law School representation 

Notre Dame Law School students Chris Ostertag, Jackie Muallem, Huan Nguyen, Andrew Scarafile and Daisy An contributed to the amicus brief alongside Francesca Matozzo, legal fellow with the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic, and Barclay. 

“The Uyghur people have long been targets of persecution by the Chinese government because of their distinct culture and devotion to their Islamic faith,” said Ostertag, currently a 2L in his first year of work with the Religious Liberty Initiative.

This amicus brief filing is the latest effort undertaken by the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative to bring awareness to and encourage action against the atrocities enacted by the Chinese government. Commissioner Nury Turkel visited Notre Dame in October for a conversation with Stephanie Barclay about his firsthand experience with the Uyghur genocide and what the international community can do to fight back.

Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all people through advocacy, formation and thought-leadership. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise and express those beliefs and to live according to them.

The Religious Liberty Initiative has represented individuals and organizations from an array of faith traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to select religious ministers and to prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.

Learn more about the Religious Liberty Initiative at

Contact: Anna Bradley, program manager, Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative, 574-631-6003,

Originally published by Anna Bradley at on Feb. 21.