Human Rights and East Turkestan (Joint Statement)

Joint Statement

Human Rights and East Turkestan

[Issued 16/03/2007]

A response to concerns raised by

the Mission of the People’s Republic of China

to the European Union in the News Bulletin No. 17, 06/03/2007

The Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union recently issued a News Bulletin warning of the damage that EU-China relations might suffer if Members of the European Parliament continue to meet with representatives of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and its leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer. The Bulletin’s main allegation is that WUC pursues a platform of secessionism through acts of terrorism and by “fanning the flames of religious fanaticism”.

This is by now a familiar charge, and a line of argument that has been relentlessly pursued since the dawn of the “war on terror” whenever Chinese authorities are confronted with the human rights violations and restrictions that characterise the East Turkestan of today.

Chinese authorities have resolved to “strike hard” against voices of opposition in East Turkestan. Religious freedoms are extensively curtailed, with Imams subject to strict censure and repairs to many of their mosques forbidden; the arrests that follow simple posters of dissent testify to the restrictions imposed on freedoms of speech; and the widespread torture and execution of activists of opposition, even for non-violent activities, breeds an atmosphere of fear and desperation. These human rights violations have been documented in countless reports by groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), and the European Parliament has on several occasions acknowledged Europe’s obligation to hold Chinese authorities accountable.

Experience has shown that the ongoing oppression of East Turkestan has not yielded the desired stability in the region. Rather, the quest for stability ought to be attained in partnership with local groups which know first hand the grief that terror breeds, and which offer a strong platform upon which to build the democratic structures which undermine the support and credibility of acts of violence. This is the political future towards which WUC works.

China’s efforts to link Rebiya Kadeer and the WUC to acts of terrorism have long failed to convince the international community, and stand directly opposed to the organisation’s stated commitment to principles of democracy and non-violence. The United Nations does not list the organisation amongst known supporters of terrorism, and its members have worked tirelessly in pursuit of an end to the circle of violence that plagues their homeland. The local justice system in East Turkestan continues to rely on confessions extracted during torture, and the frequent execution of local activists continues to undermine the credibility of attempts to forge a link between acts of terror and local rights groups.

Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, President of WUC, was 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 these local rights groups. An eight-year sentence followed her conviction for “undermining state security”, a charge justified on the grounds that she had sent her exiled husband a clipping from a local newspaper. An intensive international campaign secured her release, after which she continued to advocate the human rights of the people of East Turkestan despite, as the Bulletin notes, a warning from Chinese authorities. Her work has subsequently earned her the recognition of a Rafto Prize and several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Kadeer’s struggle remains however an intensely personal one, as although she has secured her own release, Chinese authorities have turned to her children who remain in East Turkestan, subjecting them to torture and long prison sentences.

China’s officials cite their deference to United Nations resolutions concerning terrorism. Paramount amongst these resolutions is however the principles that the global campaign against these crimes must not come at the cost of the advances that have been made towards securing the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all individuals. These are concerns conspicuously absent from the Shanghai Convention against “Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism”, but which constitute the very core of the democratic legacy of which Europe is rightly proud. These are also the principles towards which WUC work through the leadership of Ms. Kadeer – work we are proud to support.

We, the undersigned, therefore urge all Members of the European Parliament and Officials of the European Union to guide China’s process of modernisation and democratisation through example; emphasising your freedom to listen and learn from both sides of a dispute; reminding Chinese officials that standards of justice demand charges of terrorism be examined by open and transparent institutions, and that until the opposite is proved, individuals are presumed innocent; and stressing that the real threat to the China-EU strategic partnership comes not from meetings with political opposition, but from China’s failure to abide by the standards of justice and human rights that stand at the very core of the European Union.

Signed by:

UNPO – Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

The Rafto Foundation

Human Rights in China

Society for Threatened Peoples

Non-violent Radical Party

Human Rights House Foundation

No Peace Without Justice (this can be useful for your reference)