Weekly Brief March 15

World Uyghur Congress, 15 March 2019

WUC Participates in Human Rights Council Side Event On Human Rights In East Turkistan

On March 13, World Uyghur Congress representatives attended a side event at United Nations Human Rights Council during its 40th Session. The event “Protecting Fundamental Freedoms In Xinjiang” was organised by the permanent missions of the USA, UK, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands.

The panel included Dr Adrian Zenz, one of the preeminent experts on China’s policies in East Turkistan and the securitization of the region, John Fisher from Human Rights Watch, Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and former internment camp detainee Mr Omar Bekali.

US Ambassador to ECOSOC, Kelley Currie, opened the discussion aimed at raising awareness of ongoing and egregious human rights abuses in East Turkistan. Ms Currie said the US would consider targeted measures against Chinese officials responsible for gross human rights violations in East Turkistan and urged China to reverse its policies and allow access to the region by UN experts.

Omar Bekali, a Kazakh survivor of one of the internment camps in the Uyghur region, shared his experience of his time in detention and spoke about  the horrors of the internment camps where he was deprived of food and sleep, witnessed detainees being tortured, kept in solitary confinement, forced to eat pork and applaud the Communist Party, sing songs about Xi Jinping and say thanks for the Chinese government.

During the event, Adrian Zenz said that based on his research from satellite imagery and personal testimonies, he now estimated the total number detained in the camps to be around 1.5 million. He also illustrated the use of microphones and cameras in the camps in a photo from a CCTV video from 2018. He also stated that no academic who has spent time studying the situation in the Uyghur region believes the “vocational training centre” line taken by Chinese authorities. He stressed that from an academic standpoint, the situation in East Turkistan is “nothing less than a systematic campaign of cultural genocide.”

John Fisher from the Human Rights Watch made repeated calls for action from the international community and the Human Rights Council to address the crisis. HRW, WUC, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have been calling on the HRC to take action, specifically to pass a resolution on the issue to establish a Fact-Finding mission.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, reiterated the importance of China respecting all human rights, imploring the government to grant his request for access to the Uyghur region.

During the side event, the German delegation expressed continued concerns about the situation and called China to allow independent UN experts access. The UK mission also highlighted that while China has selectively invited states and journalists to visit the Uyghur region but this is not the same as an independent international fact-finding mission.

WUC Representative Delivers Oral Statement at Human Rights Council

World Uyghur Congress Project Manager Peter Irwin made a short statement in Geneva during the Human Rights Council 40th Session. Mr Irwin pressed for a Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the arbitrary detention of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in East Turkistan. He talked about the current situation and human rights concerns noting that China, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, should be held to a higher human rights standard, not less and that the Council’s credibility was on the line if they did not take action.

Former Camp Detainee Testifies to China’s Crime Against Humanity in Berlin

Along with the Society for Threatened Peoples, the World Uyghur Congress held a press conference on Monday, March 11th in Berlin with former detainee Omar Bekali and Germany’s Bundestag Green Party member Margarete Bause to demand the international community initiate independent investigations of the camps.

On March 12th World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa along with Omar Bekali met with Dr Bärbel Kofler, commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid in Germany.

Mr Isa and Mr Bekali both talked about the current situation in East Turkistan and Mr Bekali testified to the inhuman condition of the camps and torture, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and being forced to eat pork.

Dr Kofler welcomed WUC representatives and the former detainee’s testimony which put a human face to human rights abuses. She sympathised with Mr Bekali’s tragic experience in the camps and showed support for the Uyghur case.

WUC Troubled by the Continued Intimidation of Activists Outside China

The World Uyghur Congress is troubled by reports that Serikzhan Bilash, a Kazakh activist campaigning for the release of detained relatives in China was arrested and harassed by Kazakh authorities for his work. The WUC published a press release showing concern over the news calling the Kazakh government to cease intimidation against peaceful activists campaigning for detained relatives to be released in China. The Kazakh activist was arrested on March 10th, charged with “inciting ethnic discord” and given two months’ house arrest while he awaits trial.

Bilash, who was born in East Turkistan and is now a naturalized Kazakh citizen, was reportedly staying at an Almaty hotel when he was taken into custody in the early hours of March 10th and was later taken to the Department of Internal Affairs in Astana for questioning. Despite living in Almaty, he has been put under house arrest in Astana for a period of two months while prosecutors prepare for trial on suspicions of calling for a “jihad” against the Chinese at an event last month.

Although Bilash has been transferred from jail to house arrest, the action sends a strong signal to those who have so far spoken out and has set a chill on the countless others who fear the fate of family members in the camps.

The Uyghur Congress remains concerned by intimidation and reprisals targeting actors outside the country in a bid to shut down critics and silence dissent. Chinese persecution has now extended well beyond Uyghurs in East Turkistan to all Turkic Muslims, and it’s our obligation to work in unison to support all those peaceful actors willing to push back against it.

WUC Shows Solidarity With The Tibetans On The 60th Anniversary Tibetan National Uprising

On March 10, thousands of Tibetans gathered in cities around the world to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. The World Uyghur Congress attended the rally and commemoration of the Tibetan uprising in Brussels and published a press release to show solidarity.

The parallels between recent history and issues facing the Uyghur and Tibetan people are unmistakable. Uyghurs and Tibetans are ethnically distinct people in terms of language, history, religion and culture, and have been viewed as a threat by the Chinese Communist Party and have been brutally repressed for decades. Calls from the Tibetan and Uyghur communities to have their voices heard and their human rights respected or any expressions of dissent have been consistently met with violent responses from the Chinese government.

The WUC looks forward to deeper cooperation and solidarity with Tibetan communities in the future.