European Parliament: Parliamentary questions on Extradition of 20 Uyghur Refugees from Cambodia to China

European Parliament, 18 January 2011

Question (E-011256/2010) for written answer to the Commission by Ramon Tremosa i Balcells MEP (ALDE):

Subject: The European Union must urge Beijing to disclose the whereabouts of the 20 Uyghurs deported from Cambodia to China — Application of Article 1 of the cooperation agreement

In patent breach of international procedures, on 19 December last year the Cambodian Government transferred 20 Uyghurs before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could make a decision about their refugee status.

Since then, as usual, China has rewarded Cambodia for its collaborative stance by signing an agreement to provide USD 1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia. Phnom Penh returned these Uyghurs to China knowing that they would encounter harsh persecution from the State, violating the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol to the Refugee Convention, to which China is a party.

The group of Uyghurs had fled to Cambodia and sought protection from UNHCR there following protests and ethnic unrest in July 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital of East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China). One of the Uyghurs in the group had fled to Cambodia shortly before July 2009 with a valid visa issued by the Cambodian government. Among the 19 Uyghurs who fled after the July 2009 incidents were Uyghurs who had witnessed Chinese security forces arresting and using brutal and lethal force against demonstrators during the peaceful Uyghur protests in July 2009 in Urumqi. A couple of the Uyghurs in the group of returnees gave eyewitness accounts during their time in Cambodia. All of the 20 Uyghurs applied to the UNHCR for protection in a foreign country.

The European Union must urge Beijing to disclose the whereabouts of the 20 Uyghurs deported from Cambodia to China.

1. Is the Commission aware of these cases and human rights violations?

2. What concrete representations has it made to the Chinese and Cambodian non-democratic governments?

3. In its answer to question E‑8108/2010, the Commission stated that: ‘Cambodia has accepted all the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Review’; could the Commission apply Article 1 of the ongoing cooperation/aid agreement between the EU and Cambodia?

Answer (E-011256/2010) given by High Representative/VicePresident Ashton on behalf of the Commission on 8 March 2011: 

Human rights violations in Cambodia are a matter of increasing concern for the EU and the broader international community. The EU is well aware of the forcible return of twenty Uyghurs from Cambodia to China on 20 December 2009 and expressed concern about their wheareabouts at the last session of the EU‑China human rights dialogue. China has not provided any information yet on these cases. The EU continues to follow this matter very closely.

In Cambodia, the EU Delegation, along with EU Member States and international organisations, follows events closely. The secrecy surrounding the forced repatriation of the Uyghurs to China prevented the international community, including the UNCHR Office in Phnom Penh and the EU, from intervening with the Government of Cambodia before their deportation and subsequent démarches by the international community, including the EU, have had no effect.

Preventing human rights violations is a key objective of the EU’s political dialogue agenda and development cooperation with the Government of Cambodia. Under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the European Union has provided grants of a total of around EUR 13.5 million since 2003 for more than 50 human rights projects implemented mainly by national NGOs. Key issues such as the issue of land rights, legal and judicial reform as well as the protection of refugees like the Uyghur asylum‑seekers are raised with the Government of Cambodia through the annual EU‑Cambodia Joint Committee and Sub-Committee meetings, through joint demarches with EU Member States and through meetings with other international organisations such as UNOHCHR and UNHCR.

Respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights constitutes an essential element of the cooperation agreement between the EU and Cambodia. Under Article 1 of the Agreement the EU has engaged with the Government of Cambodia in an open and frank dialogue on human rights issues. The EU takes the view that a combination of political pressure and constructive engagement offers the best chance of influencing Cambodia towards a more open society based upon respect for human rights and the rule of law.