PRESS RELEASE: WUC Highlights International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances
Today, the 30th of August, marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. On this day, we remember all persons worldwide who have been forcibly disappeared at the hands of oppressive regimes, their affiliated police or military personnel, or any other party who has used this practice as a tool for repression.
Today marks an important day to commemorate those who have been deprived of their liberty and other most basic rights, and to keep advocating on their behalf for justice and to combat impunity for these crimes.
The practice of enforced disappearances constitutes a serious human rights violation that cannot be justified by any circumstance, regardless of its exceptionality. In April and May of 2017, Uyghurs living outside China started losing contact with family members still living in East Turkistan. This continued throughout the year as more Uyghurs lost all contact with family members. It soon became apparent that Uyghurs were being rounded up by Chinese police and placed into large scale internment camps where they are subjected to political indoctrination, torture and miserable conditions. Now, almost every family in the Uyghur diaspora has a missing relative or loved one.
Those detained in the camps have effectively disappeared, as they are not allowed any contact with anyone outside the camps and have no access to judicial or legal remedies. They were not provided with a warrant or given a trial before their forced detention. No formal charges have been levied against any of them and they are being held for unspecified periods of time. The camps therefore constitute one of the largest cases of state-sponsored enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention in modern human history. The Chinese government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of the camps, making it nearly impossible for Uyghurs living outside East Turkistan to know if their detained friends and family members are still alive. This has deeply impacted the Uyghur community, who are desperate for news of their loved ones and are frustrated by their inability to save them.
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.
China has tried to expand its repressive regime abroad, there have been multiple occasions whereby Uyghur refugees or asylum seekers have been forcibly returned after Chinese pressure on a foreign government. In the past 15 years alone, over 300 Uyghurs have been forcibly returned from 16 different countries and have disappeared on their return.
In December 2009, 22 Uyghurs were deported back to China from Cambodia, and disappeared; in July 2015, 109 Uyghurs were handed to the Chinese government by the Thai authorities and disappeared; in July 2017, over twenty Uyghur students in Egypt were deported back to China and disappeared. More recently, in April 2018, a young 22-year-old Uyghur asylum seeker in Germany was mistakenly returned to China and has not been heard from since. Attempts from his lawyer and the German government have proved unsuccessful.
Now, many repressive governments worldwide have felt free to crack down on any form of dissent with impunity. This also applies to China, whose government under the authoritarian leadership of the China Communist Party (CCP)’s chairman, Xi Jinping, has embarked on an extensive campaign to silence political dissent and to crack down on any expression of religion or ethnicity that does not conform with the Party’s guidelines. Numerous United Nations human rights experts have raised concerns about the practice of enforced disappearance in China, including the specific use against Tibetan and Uyghur peoples.
Indeed, in light of the arbitrary detention of 1.8 -3 million of Uyghurs in internment camps over the past three years, the CCP has used enforced disappearances on many occasions against the Uyghur people, which thereby has become part of the Chinese government’s genocidal campaign to control and destroy the Uyghur ethnicity and religious beliefs in all their forms. In December 2019, UN experts raised concerns over the disappearance of Tashpolat Tiyip, an academic who was forcibly disappeared in 2017, and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Similarly, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, sister of a prominent activist, Rushan Abbas, disappeared in 2018, and was recently confirmed detained at an undisclosed place.
In light of these practices, it remains unconscionable that China continues to be able to use enforced disappearance as a tool of control and repression of the Uyghur people with impunity. 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. Every Uyghur family living abroad has in the past years suffered being unaware of the whereabouts of their relatives, losing all contact with them. At the bare minimum, the families of the victims deserve to know their fate and whereabouts.
Photo credit: change.org.