Press Release: The World Uyghur Congress Remembers the Victims of Enforced Disappearance
Today, the 30th of August, marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. On this day, we remember all those across the world who have been forcibly disappeared, including the hundreds of Uyghurs who have disappeared at the hands of Chinese police and military personnel. This day is an important occasion to keep the victims of enforced disappearance in our collective memory and to continue to seek justice and accountability on their behalf.
Enforced disappearances are an egregious violation of fundamental human rights and have been labeled as a crime against humanity. It is deeply connected with other serious human rights violations, as those who have disappeared may be subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and summary execution. What makes enforced disappearances particularly contemptable, however, is the uncertainty and lack of information surrounding it. The individual subjected to enforced disappearance is not the only victim, as their families and loved ones are deprived of any resolution about their fate or whereabouts. Victims and their families are denied accountability and justice.
In an effort to silence human rights defenders and stamp out any dissent, the Chinese government has used enforced disappearances on many occasions against the Uyghur people. In the wake of unrest in Urumqi in 2009, reports of Uyghurs forcibly disappeared in security sweeps of the city’s neighborhoods emerged in media articles and the reports of human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch reported 43 verifiable cases of enforced disappearance of Uyghurs in the aftermath of the unrest, although the number is certainly much higher. Eight years later, the fate and whereabouts of Uyghur individuals disappeared by the Chinese state is still unknown to their families. The perpetrators of these crimes have never been brought to justice.
Thus far, the response from the Chinese government to these disappearances has been very concerning. The Chinese government has not only avoided taking action to find those who have disappeared, they have actively fought against any efforts to find the disappeared and to establish truth and accountability. Many of the victim’s family members have attempted to uncover the whereabouts, condition and fate of the disappeared, but they continually find their requests for information being rejected or ignored, leading to a stubborn culture of impunity. In several cases, Chinese police have even arrested family members of the disappeared for speaking and asking about the fate of their loved ones.
One emblematic case of this is what happened to Patigul Ghulam. Her son, Imammemet Eli, was 25 years old when he was arrested by Chinese police and security personnel and subsequently disappeared a week after the July 2009 protest commenced. Sources have come forward claiming that Imammemet has been repeatedly interrogated and tortured to the point of not being able to stand, in addition to eye-witness accounts in which a serious deterioration to his health was confirmed. In her desperation to find what had happened to her son, Patigul repeatedly questioned Chinese authorities, only to be met with evasive answers. After writing open letters and speaking with foreign press about her search, Patigul was arrested in Urumqi on 27 May 2014 by local security forces and was reportedly charged for ‘leaking state secrets’. She was imprisoned for 2 years, merely for trying to find her child and, still, she has no answers on the fate of her son.
The World Uyghur Congress would also like to express its deep concern for the many disappearances of Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers who have been forcibly returned to China. It has been a repeated and continuous practice by Chinese authorities to silence those who sought to flee oppression to seek a better life. There are numerous cases of this, including the 20 Uyghur refugees who were returned to China from Cambodia in December 2009 and the 109 Uyghurs were returned to China from Thailand on July 8th, 2015. For the majority of those returned, there has been no information about their well-being or whereabouts.
Outrageously, this is still occurring in the present moment, with little to no international condemnation. In July 2017, 12 Uyghur religious students were arrested and deported from Egypt to China, at China’s request. Since returning to China, friends, family and international observers have had no news of their well-being or whereabouts. Around 200 Uyghurs still remain in detention in Egypt and will likely face a similar fate if they are returned to China. Enforced disappearances are not a just a past injustice and crime against humanity, it is still a pressing issue facing the Uyghur people.
It is unconscionable that enforced disappearance still exists as a tool of control and repression in modern day China. It is unjustifiable that Chinese authorities have never been made to answer for the disappeared or held to account by the international community.
We call on the Chinese government to break the cycle of silence and impunity on these cases. Many families have endured years, if not decades, not knowing what became of their loved ones. At the bare minimum, the families of the victims deserve to know their fate and whereabouts.
We therefore call on the Chinese government to:
- Immediately cease the practice forcibly disappearing of political dissidents and asylum seekers, which contravenes international law and basic human dignity.
- Launch an independent and transparent investigation into cases of enforced disappearance to provide answers for the families of victims and bring those responsible for their disappearance to justice.
- Provide reparation and redress to all those effected by the practice of enforced disappearance.
- Immediately cease the harassment and punishment of the families of victims of enforced disappearance who are seeking information on the fate and whereabouts of the victims.
- Sign and ratify the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
- End the defacto legalized practice of involuntary or enforced disappearance in China by repealing “residential surveillance at a designated location” specified in Article 73 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law.