Rising Powers and International Rights Compliance: Case Study of China with Rebiya Kadeer

Rebiya Kadeer, is an advocate of greater autonomy for China’s Uyghur population and a human rights activist, addresses the 2nd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Rebiya Kadeer: First of all, I would like to congratulate all the women for their very special day. I would also like to thank the ambassador for introducing me to all of you. 

The international community is not quite aware of the situation of the Uyghur people, but it’s our intention to let the international community understand the plight of the Uyghurs and to support us. 

The name of our country is East Turkestan, and it is 1/6th of today’s China. Historically, just like the Tibetans, we had our own independent state and country. The Chinese communists officially took over East Turkestan in October, 1949. Since then, East Turkestan became a part of China, and we have been under Chinese rule. We believe there are around 20 million Uyghurs, but the Chinese statistics put us around 9.6, and again, the size of the territory is one-sixth of China. Uyghur people have a very unique language, culture, history, and traditions, unlike those of the Han Chinese, and we have had our own separate civilization throughout history. 

After the communist Chinese occupation of East Turkestan, five years later they changed the name to what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and the Chinese authorities promised the Uyghur people self-rule, which has never materialized.

In 1949, when the Chinese communists occupied East Turkestan, there was only a 2% Chinese population in the region. The rest are Uyghurs and other ethnic groups who have traditionally lived with us. After the Chinese took over the region, the Chinese Communist Party promised that they would respect the Uyghur people’s language culture, history, and traditions and will do their best to work for the welfare of the Uyghur people. 

Under 60 years of Chinese communist rule, the Uyghur people have never enjoyed any kind of democracy, human rights, freedom – all the freedoms, including the freedom of speech, assembly, etc.. And also, the right to educate in their own language, religious freedom, even economic freedom. In short, they have not enjoyed any kind of peace under China’s six decade long brutal rule.

In fact, the Chinese communist government has used the autonomy framework as a legal tool to forcibly assimilate the Uyghur people into the Han Chinese culture and oppressed and persecuted the Uyghurs for standing up against such terrible policies.

As you may have heard, I was once a member of China’s political consultative conference. I was also one of the very wealthiest [people] in China. But because of my campaign for the human rights of the Uyghur people, the Chinese authorities imprisoned me for nearly six years. What the Chinese government is doing in East Turkestan in fact violates both China’s constitution and the autonomy law. 

In my family alone, under Chinese rule, four people have been imprisoned. My husband was in prison for nine years; I was in prison for nearly six; currently, my two sons are serving [in] Chinese prisons — one for seven years, and another for nine years. All the Uyghurs who have been arrested by the Chinese authorities and imprisoned do not enjoy any kind of legal due process, and they could not hire any kind of attorneys, and all the charges are trumped up, so the government can punish Uyghur political activists severely. 

For the past 60 years, the Chinese government arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and executed all those Uyghurs who peacefully resist against China’s brutal communist rule in the region. One of the examples is what took place on July the 5th of last year, when young, mostly middle school and high school and college students, took to streets to protest against China’s policies, even holding in their hands China’s red flag to prove their peaceful intention and not to separate the country. The Chinese authorities sent in fully armed Chinese security forces to crack down upon them, arbitrarily detained, arrested, and executed hundreds of these people. And the situation of East Turkestan today is extremely terrible. It’s worse than the rest of China. And because of time, I will stop here, and my assistant will finish my prepared remarks. Thank you.

Assistant: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, and fellow fighters of human rights. I would like to thank the organizers of this very important human rights summit. Such a distinguished gathering of human rights defenders is testament to our common purpose and to the pressing human rights crises across the globe.

In this context, the interest in the plight of the Uyghur people at this summit will shine a light into one of the darkest corners of the world. The rise of China as a power in global affairs, should I witness the corresponding acceptance of this importance in protecting and advancing human rights. However, in striving to maintain its brutal rule over the world’s most populous country, the Chinese Communist Party has taken an opposing path that’s not only undemocratic, but that also endorses repression before the universal principles of human rights. 

This is a path that provides a negative model of governance for emerging nations worldwide, and which strikes at the very heart of realizing human rights for all people.

Within the borders of China, the Chinese Communist Party’s 60-year record to safeguard the welfare of the Uyghur people is abject. In all policy spheres, political, economic, and social, Uyghurs have been subject to mismanaged and malevolent policies. 

Recent unrest [in] Urumchi, East Turkestan’s regional capital, on July 5th of last year has highlighted not only the Chinese government’s systematic abuses of Uyghurs’ economic, cultural, and social rights, but also the political repression it enforces to silence Uyghur freedom of expression. Since the unrest in Urumchi, the Chinese government has conducted a fierce crackdown on the Uyghur people. By mid-July alone, more than 4,000 Uyghurs were arrested in sweeps of Urumchi’s Uyghur neighborhood. In the following months, thousands more of the Uyghurs were imprisoned by the Chinese government. It’s unclear at the moment how many Uyghurs had been arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or executed. 

Beatings of Uyghurs in detention have become commonplace. [Protestor’s name], a Uyghur detained on July 6th of 2009, was beaten to death in custody. His body was returned to his relatives covered in wounds, scars, and bruises. When three of his relatives dared to inform the media of his brutal killing, Chinese officials detained two of them. 

China signed the UN Convention Against Torture on December 12, 1986. However, as Amnesty International has reported, the use of torture against Uyghurs in detention to extract confessions is endemic. In a clear signal to stifle political dissent, Uyghurs are almost the only people in China executed for political crimes. Time and again, the Chinese government has ignored the calls of the international community to ensure due process of law for those Uyghurs tried and sentenced in connection with the unrest in Urumchi. So far, 34 men have now been condemned to die after closed, secretive trials and a hasty judicial process. At least nine of them have already been executed by the authorities. We have learned that many more have been tortured to death in prisons or left to die because of their wounds. 

Also, in order to cover up its crimes against the Uyghur people, the Chinese government has cut both internet and telephone communications since July until early January, for nearly seven months. 

The detentions, torture, and executions that followed the Urumchi unrest underscores Chinese officials’ approach of reprisal and intimidation in dealing with legal rights claims. While Chinese officials view this approach as an effective response to silencing immediate Uyghur dissent, the repression also pressurizes the Uyghur population into compliance over long-term measures employed by the Chinese government to eradicate Uyghur economic society and cultural identity. 

The UN documents lower incomes and higher poverty rates for the Uyghurs compared to Han Chinese settlers in East Turkestan. Job opportunities in the public and private sectors are few for the young and talented Uyghurs graduating from universities, and the Chinese government encourages a mass migration of Han Chinese into the region. 

State policy recruits young Uyghur women from majority Uyghur areas of East Turkestan and transfers them to work in factories in urban areas of East China. Under the policies, thousands of Uyghur women have been removed from their families and placed into substandard working conditions thousands of miles away from their homes. Already, hundreds of thousands of young Uyghur women have been forcibly transferred from East Turkestan to Eastern Chinese cities. 240,000 of them have already been transferred from Kashgar region alone, in 2006. And the eventual goal of China’s eleven-year policy is to transfer some 400,000 of these women. 

The mass migration of Han Chinese settlers into East Turkestan and the transfer of Uyghur women to East China have changed the demography of East Turkestan. Today, the Uyghur people are becoming a minority in our own homeland. 

I was once a political prisoner of the Chinese government. I spent nearly six years under China’s inhuman conditions in prison. In prison, I saw the torture and cruelty enacted upon the Uyghur prisoners. I believe Chinese government repression and undemocratic practices are not solutions to the East Turkestan issue. The Chinese government must stop the detentions and executions. It must also stop the suppression of Uyghur culture, allow Uyghurs to truly share the growing economic prosperity of China. The creation of political space so that Uyghurs can genuinely and meaningfully advocate for their rights is a positive step the Chinese government can take to ease the tensions in the region. The Chinese government must listen to the Uyghur grievances and also resolve the East Turkestan issue through a constructive dialogue. 

Thank you very much.

Speakers and Participants

Rebiya Kadeer

Human rights advocate and former President of the World Uyghur Conference


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