Leadership Seminar outlines new avenues for Uyghur human rights activists

UNPO, 6 May 2007

The Hague/Brussels, 6 – 10 May 2007:  The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) gathered more than 50 present and future leaders of the Uyghur community for a series of workshops and seminars to introduce  participants to the workings of key international bodies and effective nonviolent campaigning.

This week present and future leaders of the Uyghur community gathered in The Hague to take part in an intensive programme of lectures, discussions, workshops, educational visits, meetings at the European Parliament and plenary sessions, to prepare concerted efforts to raise international awareness of the reality of life within China’s borders as an ethnic and religious minority.

As China’s economic weight increasingly encourages the international community to accept promises of “democratisation” and “human rights protection”, and with China preparing to present itself to the world during the 2008 Olympic Games, minority communities are working to remind the world that the People’s Republic of China remains a state in which the death penalty is applied more frequently than anywhere else, in which freedom of religion, speech, and assembly are substantially curtailed, and in which ethnic and religious minorities, exemplified by the Uyghurs, continue to suffer the systematic violation of social, political, and human rights.

In this context the event in The Hague, organised by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), sought to ensure the Uyghur community the knowledge and experience necessary not only to make efficient use of the international bodies that exist to ensure their rights are protected, but also to build capacity in the field of human rights and democratisation efforts. Seminars and workshops held by experts and practitioners in their fields, covered topics ranging from “lobbying at the United Nations” to “effective use of human rights instruments” and “nonviolent organisation and campaigning”. This was supplemented by visits and introductions to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the European Parliament. Workshops and interactive seminars stimulated active debate about how the Uyghur community might best direct its efforts to more effectively document, publicise, and pursue an end, through effective advocacy and campaigning, to the systematic and widespread human rights against the people of East Turkestan.

Speakers at the event included Mr. Michael Cashman MEP, Mr. István Szent-Ivanyi MEP, Dr. Ulrich Delius, Vice-Chairman of the Society for Threatened Peoples, Prof. Dr. Georg Frerks, Utrecht University, Ms. Louisa Coan Greve, Director, East Asia, National Endowment for Democracy, Mr. Erkin Alptekin, former President of the WUC, Prof. Yitzhak Shichor, University of Haifa, Mr. Marco Perduca, Nonviolent Radical Party, Ms. Fatma Aktaº, Chairwoman of Selam Netwerk, Dr. Erkin Ekrem, Ching Yun University in Taiwan, Mr. Vejis Güngör, Turkish Democratic Union, Mr. Ken Kostyo, Global Democracy Resource, Mr. Joshua Cooper, University of Hawaii, Dr. Niccolo Figa-talamanca, Programme Director, No Peace Without Justice, Ms. Isabella Nitschke, Human Rights in China, Ms. Franziska Eckelmans, International Criminal Court and Mr. Marino Busdachin, General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

The event also greatly benefited from the active participation and contributions by prominent Uyghur personality, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), who is herself amongst the victims of China’s efforts to bring “stability” to East Turkestan. Once a decorated and wealthy business woman, Ms. Kadeer’s fortunes reversed when she joined the cause of local rights groups, most notably through her foundation of the 1,000 Families Mothers Project, a charity intended to help Uyghur women start their own local businesses. An eight-year sentence followed her conviction for “undermining state security”, and only an intensive international campaign secured her release in 2005. She has since continued to work for the human rights of the people of East Turkestan, despite warnings from the authorities of the People’s Republic of China, and her work has already earned her the Rafto Prize for Human Rights and several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. The participation of Ms. Kadeer, as a remarkable woman personifying Uyghur activism through peaceful means, significantly contributed to the event.

Moreover, speakers emphasised the need to document thoroughly all abuses, underlining how this provides a crucial link between events on the ground and the work of international rights groups such as UNPO. The continued Uyghur commitment to nonviolence was also applauded, as speakers emphasised the need for continuous renewal and innovation when planning nonviolent action, especially as the world’s media descends upon Beijing for the forthcoming Olympic Games.

The European Parliament proved a particularly welcoming venue for the Uyghur cause. Mr. Michael Cashman MEP noted that despite intensive efforts, the Uyghur voice had not been silenced. Evidence of this was in abundance, as Dr. Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers, and Ms. Cindy Lane of Human Rights Watch, both outlined the ways in which they and their organisations were actively pursuing Uyghur rights within European Union institutions – from their religious freedom to the fate of young Uyghur men currently held at Guantanamo Bay. The main message, stressed also by Mr. István Szent-Ivanyi MEP, was clearly that if all parties ensured close cooperation and coordination, the Uyghur voice would grow only stronger, and would undoubtedly find a natural ally in the European Parliament, an institution founded in part on the determination to condemn marginalisation, discrimination, and conflict to the history books.

Meetings with Mr. Graham Watson MEP, Chairperson of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP also confirmed a willingness on behalf of parliamentarians to work with Ms. Kadeer, UNPO and the Uyghur community to ensure European institutions take a leading role in pressuring Chinese authorities to respect their international commitments and afford all their citizens their full catalogue of human, political, and social rights.

As Uyghur leaders return to their respective communities to communicate their impressions and conclusions from a week of intense dialogue, and whilst minorities living within China continue to face a precarious future, the event is envisioned to enable and empower Uyghur leaders to make their campaign for human rights more visible, to ensure effective action and to draw increased international attention to one of the most underreported campaigns of human rights abuse anywhere in the world.

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UNPO is an international membership organisation based in The Hague, with a long history in promoting and facilitating access to international institutions for its members, who are all characterised by their lack of representation on the international stage.

WUC is an international organization representing the collective interests of the Uyghur people, both in East Turkestan and abroad. Its main objectives are to promote democracy, human rights and religious freedom for the Uyghur people, and to use peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to help determine their political future.

[More information on the Uyghur Leadership Seminar]

[View the press release of the Uyghur Leadership Seminar]

[Statement of the UNPO in support of Rebiya Kadeer]

[UNPO Appeal to nominate Rebiya Kadeer for the Nobel Peace Prize]