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The “laboratory of repression” in East Turkistan: the action agenda | Remarks by Omer Kanat

Uyghur Human Rights Project, December 13, 2019

UHRP – Remarks by Omer Kanat
Executive Committee Chairman, World Uyghur Congress and 
Executive Director, Uyghur Human Rights Project
December 10, 2019
The Uyghur Crisis: A Laboratory for Rights Abuses
Brussels, Belgium
Conference at the European Parliament

I would like to warmly thank the organizers, my fellow panelists, and the audience members joining us here today.

Action Agenda for Medical, Scientific, and Technical Fields

Many speakers today have made it clear: The medical and scientific fields must recognize the huge risk of complicity in horrific human rights crimes in East Turkistan.

UHRP has also collected evidence that may point to another kind of medical crime. A camp survivor told us that every two weeks, prison guards wearing white medical lab coats would come to her cell. They would draw enough blood from her forearm to fill 5 large tubes. These tubes were much larger than normal blood-testing containers. We didn’t understand this testimony at first. So we asked this question: If not for blood testing, then why was so much blood drawn? One possible explanation is that a blood-products supply company could be regularly obtaining plasma from Uyghur prisoners. If this is indeed the case, Chinese medical supply companies are profiting from the concentration camps. UHRP is calling for further research on this.

UHRP joins the call for immediate retraction of medical and scientific research originating from China if it does not meet international ethical standards. It is not the responsibility of human-rights researchers to find documentation of ethics problems. The burden of proof lies with the researchers, to demonstrate that they are following ethical standards.

This burden of proof clearly applies to the entire organ transplant industry. It is long overdue for the international medical field to act. We do not need direct documentary proof of large-scale killing of prisoners to obtain organs. Unless the Chinese medical system creates a transparent and accountable system for organ procurement, its entire transplantation industry must be regarded as unethical. 

It has already been demonstrated that China’s organ procurement system does not meet international ethical standards. Therefore, the world must end business as usual. All cooperation with the organ transplantation industry in China should be suspended. Transplant surgeons based in Chinese hospitals must be denied prestige. Transplant research conducted in China should be banned from publication in international journals. Transplant surgeons should be banned from attending international conferences and professional exchanges.

Every international hospital and medical journal needs to ask this question: Given the fact that China has no system guaranteeing ethical organ sourcing, how can we be sure that any transplant organ was *not* taken from one of the millions of Uyghurs who have disappeared into the camps and never seen again?

International biotechnology companies are also at major risk of complicity if they participate in Chinese government or university programs. As you know, Thermo Fisher Scientific supplied DNA sequencers used by the authorities in East Turkistan. 

Beyond medical professions and companies, universities must also take serious action. Universities must conduct a strict assessment of all projects conducted with Chinese counterparts. Are their researchers involved in Orwellian “predictive policing” and racial profiling? Are their researchers working with Chinese institutions on facial recognition, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, “safe cities,” or “smart cities?” All research using human tissue samples or DNA is also a serious concern.

Some international scholars may feel this goes too far. They may say that their research partners are genuinely working for life-saving goals. But it is a delusion to expect that some research can be separated from the repression and totalitarian ideology of the Chinese state. It is unacceptable to continue business as usual with a country that is using the latest technology for horrific crimes against humanity. 

This is the one big lesson the world must learn from the “laboratory of repression” in East Turkistan. In the hands of a state that is capable of locking up 2 or 3 million Uyghurs in concentration camps and forced-labor factories, it is impossible to ensure that innovative technologies will be used in a way that respects human rights. The lesson is very simple: business as usual must not continue.

Action Agenda for Governments

Governments must also stop business as usual. Following the New York Times leak, it is “game over” for the Chinese government cover-up of its crimes.

It was good that the New York Times documents prompted European leaders repeated their demand for access to East Turkistan by independent. But it is very unlikely that an independent delegation will be able to go to East Turkistan. 

Therefore, the UN must conduct an investigation without waiting for a trip to the region. There is an overwhelming body of credible evidence already collected. The newest evidence consists of Party leaders’ own secret speeches. Other evidence has been confirmed over and over again for more than a year: satellite imagery, witness testimony, and government bidding documents for concentration-camp equipment. We have evidence of online databases, tracking millions of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. We have drone footage of secret prisoner transfers.

In short, EU and UN authorities need to go beyond the demand for access. Ending the suffering of the Uyghur people cannot wait for the Chinese government to agree to international monitors.

In addition to writing a conclusive report, what should governments do? It is time for sanctions.


UHRP welcomes the recent U.S. sanctions. . On October 1, The U.S. Customs and Border Protection commission imposed sanctions on October 1 on Hetian Taida, a private company proven to be using detainee labor for its clothing factory. Much more must be done to stop trade with companies are profiting from the crisis. That one company is obviously a drop in the ocean.

On October 7, the U.S. Department of Commerce prohibited American exports to 28 Chinese companies and government agencies. These companies were determined to be, quote, “implicated in human rights abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others.” Unquote.

On October 8, the U.S. State Department announced a visa ban on officials responsible for the gross abuses in East Turkistan

The U.S. Senate and House have now voted on two Uyghur bills by an overwhelming margin. The Senate bill passed unanimously on September 11. The House passed a slightly different bill on December 3, by a margin of 407 to one. The Senate has pledged to quickly follow up on the House action, to pass a bill with the same language, so that legislation will be sent for the President’s signature before the end of December.

Given these historic votes, European governments should move quickly. There can be no reason for hesitation any longer.  

Governments should jointly impose coordinated sanctions, so that the Chinese government cannot single out one or two countries for reprisals. Sanctions should include visa denials and freezing of assets. Governments should update the EU-U.S. Tiananmen sanctions, to add additional restrictions. They should suspend funding for educational and research exchanges. They should take aggressive action to ensure that no forced-labor goods enter their countries, especially cotton and textiles. Importers should not be able to make profits by contracting with companies using Uyghur and Kazakh prison labor and slave labor. 

Governments must ban their own companies from exporting high-tech tools being used by the Chinese government for surveillance and racial profiling. It is not enough to call for “due diligence.” Due diligence is impossible in a region where people are sent to torture cells for a single word that is contrary to government orders. 


In conclusion, the “laboratory of repression” in East Turkistan demands action by a long list of institutions. Our conference today makes it clear that universities, hospitals, and medical companies cannot claim ignorance. The cotton industry and tech companies are on notice. The World Bank and the Olympics are also in the hot seat for complicity. History is watching. The lesson is very simple: business as usual must not continue.