The World Uyghur Congress Is Gravely Concerned Over the Enforced Disappearance of 20 Uyghurs by the Chinese Government Since Their Forcible Return from Cambodia Almost One Year Ago
The World Uyghur Congress is gravely concerned that almost one year after Cambodia’s illegal and forcible return of 20 Uyghur asylum-seekers (including one woman and two children) to China, the Chinese authorities still have not disclosed their whereabouts and legal statuses or information about their well-being. The Chinese government has disappeared these Uyghurs, despite having promised the international community that it would deal with the Uyghurs transparently upon return.
The World Uyghur Congress calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately disclose these Uyghurs’ whereabouts and to unconditionally release them. Although the Chinese government has alleged that these Uyghurs committed criminal and violent acts, the government has not produced any evidence to substantiate such allegations. The government routinely makes unsubstantiated accusations against Uyghurs of crimes and violence and also regularly equates Uyghurs’ peaceful political dissent, as well as peaceful religious and cultural activities, with terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism.
On December 19, 2009, under pressure and influence from China, the Cambodian government forcibly returned these 20 Uyghurs before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had made a determination about their refugee status. China rewarded Cambodia for its reprehensible action by signing an agreement two days after the return to provide a reported US$1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia. Cambodia returned these Uyghurs to China while being fully aware that in China, they would be tortured and persecuted on grounds set forth in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol to the Refugee Convention, of which Cambodia is a party.
Nineteen of the Uyghurs in the group had fled to Cambodia and sought protection from UNHCR there following the peaceful Uyghur protest and the ethnic unrest in July 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital of East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China). One of the Uyghurs in the group had fled to Cambodia shortly before July 2009 with a valid visa issued by the Cambodian government. Among the nineteen Uyghurs who fled after the July 2009 incidents were Uyghurs who had witnessed Chinese security forces arresting and using brutal and lethal force against Uyghur demonstrators during the peaceful Uyghur protest in July 2009 in Urumqi. A couple of the Uyghurs in the group of returnees gave such eyewitness accounts during their time in Cambodia. Even Uyghurs in Urumqi who were not present during the protest have been arbitrarily arrested and disappeared so all 20 Uyghurs had a reasonable fear of persecution just because they were Uyghur. In addition, the fact that these 20 Uyghurs applied for protection from UNHCR in a foreign country even further made them targets for the Chinese government’s persecutory measures.
The 20 Uyghurs have been disappeared since the Chinese authorities detained them on December 19, 2009 upon their forcible return. In December 2009, the Chinese authorities arbitrarily stated that they were “criminals” and claimed that many were wanted for their participation in the ethnic unrest in July 2009 in Urumqi and other incidents. In June 2010, after the group of 20 Uyghurs had already been disappeared for six months, the Chinese authorities claimed that three members of the group were suspected of “terrorist” activity. The authorities have also not produced any evidence to support any of these accusations.
“The Chinese government’s disappearance of these 20 Uyghurs is emblematic of the absence of the rule of law in China,” stated Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress, former prisoner of conscience, and multiple-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. “How can a country that claims to be a global leader do something as barbaric as disappearing people? The Chinese government must disclose the whereabouts of these Uyghurs and release them, as they have not perpetrated any crimes.”
The disappearances of these 20 Uyghurs are part and parcel of a larger pattern of enforced disappearances of Uyghurs in the aftermath of the July 2009 incidents. In October 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled, “China: ‘We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them’: Enforced Disappearances in the Wake of Xinjiang’s Protests”, documenting the enforced disappearances of more than forty Uyghur men and boys after July 2009. The organization indicated that the number of enforced disappearances was likely much higher than the number the organization was able to document. When the report was released, Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “The cases we documented are likely just the tip of the iceberg.” Human Rights Watch noted in its report that victims of enforced disappearance are particularly vulnerable to other human rights violations, such as torture and extrajudicial executions. In addition, the family members suffer continual mental anguish, as they live in fear and uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones.
In addition to directly calling on the Chinese government to disclose the whereabouts and to release these Uyghurs, the World Uyghur Congress urges UNHCR, other UN actors, governments, and non-governmental organizations to place more pressure on China to do same. At the same time, the World Uyghur Congress conveys its gratitude to the multiple UN actors, governments, legislators, and non-governmental human rights organizations around the world that have publicly condemned Cambodia’s blatant violation of international law in returning these Uyghurs to China. The U.S. State Department penalized Cambodia for this action by in April 2010, terminating a military aid program that provided surplus trucks and trailers to Cambodia. Furthermore, in response to the forcible return, U.S. Congressman Rohrabacher (R-CA) and U.S. Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA), introduced H.R. 5349, the Cambodian Trade Act of 2010 in May 2010, which would prevent forgiveness of debt currently owed by Cambodia to the United States and would ensure that no textiles or apparel produced in Cambodia would be given duty free treatment within the United States.
U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (online), “Annual Report 2010” (www.cecc.gov/pages/annualRpt/annualRpt10/CECCannRpt2010.pdf), October 2010, pp. 212-213 (citing sources).
Amnesty International (online), “Justice, Justice: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China”
(www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/new-testimonies-reinforce-call-china-investigate-xinjiang-riots-2010-07-02) (pdf follows download), July 2, 2010, p. 22 (citing sources).
Human Rights Watch (online), “HRW Brad Adams Urges the US to Take Additional Measures Against Cambodia for the Deportation of Uyghur Refugees” (www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/09/letter-secretary-clinton-cambodia-s-deportation-uighur-asylum-seekers-china), Feb. 1, 2010.
Human Rights Watch (online), “China: Account for Uighurs Forcibly Repatriated to China: Refugees Described Past Torture Before Return” (www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/28/china-account-uighur-refugees-forcibly-repatriated-china), Jan. 28, 2010.