EP Human Rights Subcommittee (DROI) Discusses Situation in East Turkestan
UNPO, 27 March 2017
UNPO — On 22 March 2017, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) held a hearing to discuss the human rights situation in the Uyghur region of East Turkestan – known in China as Xinjiang. The hearing was attended by Members of European Parliament (MEPs), human rights experts, prominent academics, sinologists and representatives of UNPO and of its member, the World Uyghur Congress. Throughout the session, UNPO gratefully appreciated the interventions of Ms Lochbihler MEP and Mr Tokes MEP, who urged the EU and the European Parliament to concretely take charge of the Uyghurs issue and to send a delegation to East Turkestan. UNPO regrets, however, the overall low participation of MEPs and other EU officials in the hearing, confirming once again that the dramatic situation in East Turkestan remains largely overlooked. Mr Dolkun Isa, Member of UNPO’s Presidency and General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress delivered a speech on behalf of UNPO.
Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), MEP Antonio Panzeri recalled that, in December 2017, the European Union released a resolution on the case of Uyghur academic and activist Ilham Tohti, sentenced to life-imprisonment in 2014 on alleged charges of separatism. Following the opening remarks, Ms Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, underlined that the Chinese government has adopted three domestic policies that infringe on human rights: attack on civil society; the new legislation on cybersecurity, that has permitted Chinese officials to monitor ethnic minorities; and the 2015 new anti-terrorism legislation. On behalf of HRW, she expressed concerns with the lack of cohesion within the EU when it comes to the Uyghurs case and reinforced the need to send a delegation of MEPs to East Turkestan to assess the situation on the ground in first-hand.
Ms Marie Holzman, sinologist, writer and President of Solidarité Chine, sent an alarming message and underlined the great responsibility of the EP in the case of the Uyghur minority in China. Besides the hundreds of mosques that continue to be destroyed, Ms Holzman reminded that Ramadan is forbidden, cameras have been installed in almost every school in East Turkestan and the number of police stations has increased in the region. She also underlined the importance for the EP to look carefully at China’s One Belt – One Road as a threatening project that would further increase human rights violation in East Turkestan.
Next to take the floor, Dr Joanne Smith Finley, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Newcastle, shared her impressions from her visit of East Turkestan in 2015. Struck by the fear felt by the local population, Dr Finley reported that it is common for the state police to break into Uyghur homes and remove women’s veils. She added that Uyghurs face discrimination in employment and are almost banned from working. Against this dire backdrop, she highlighted the importance to grant political asylum to Uyghurs fleeing to Europe.
Mr Dolkun Isa, speaking on behalf of UNPO, expressed his deep concern about the educational, economic, political and cultural repression that his people, the Uyghurs, face on a daily basis. Mr Isa recalled the episode in 2015 when Thailand deported 109 Uyghurs to China and added that it is very difficult for citizens of Uyghur ethnicity to get a passport, as Beijing restricts their freedom of movement.
One of the most vocal participants, MEP Lazlo Tokes underlined the importance to refer to China as a totalitarian state and urged the EP to assist the Uyghurs and Prof Ilham Tohti by sending a delegation to East Turkestan. His colleague, MEP Barbara Lochbihler, reinforced his words and underlined her personal commitment to supporting the Uyghurs.
Despite political drawbacks and misconceptions, the Uyghurs issue is steadily gaining momentum at the European Parliament. Although a broader support base is necessary condition to strengthen the pressure on China to fulfil its human rights obligations, the hearing held on 22 March 2017 was a positive indication that at least some MEPs are willing to speak out and be the champions of Uyghur rights.