The Uyghur Human Rights Crisis with Dolkun Isa

President of the World Uyghur Congress and target of intense persecution from the Chinese government, Dolkun Isa, addresses the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for his remarks.

Full Remarks

My name is Dolkun Isa and I am Uyghur. Despite living in the free world, I have felt imprisoned for much of my life. Despite being a citizen of Germany – a country in which freedom, democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech are meant to be governing principles – I have faced injustice. I have been detained and interrogated around the world. 

I have continued with one objective: Representation for the people of East Turkistan, my people who are being forced to renounce their national identity and religious beliefs in an act of genocide.  

How did I become the number one enemy of China? I still struggle with this question. I grew up in East Turkistan. By the time I was born, this great land was occupied and already a Chinese province called the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” 

In 1984, I enrolled at Xinjiang University. I was 17. And at the time, I had not thought much about my identity. But when I read the Chinese Constitution and Autonomy Law for the very first time, I remember thinking, “Wait a second, Uyghur people have rights?” I started talking with the other Uyghur students about what I had discovered. We established a Uyghur Student Union in Universities, and soon thousands of students joined. And we came up with an idea: What if, over the holidays, we traveled across our homeland, teaching Uyghur people to read and then teaching them their rights? Most Uyghurs were illiterate, and I wanted to help them wake up.  

So, during the winter semester, we dispersed across the region to teach classes. When we returned to school, we compiled a 25-page report for the Minister of Education about what we saw. For example, the students who went to the Gulja showed up to discover that the Uyghur schools there had all been destroyed by a massive snowstorm years ago. The CCP rebuilt Chinese schools immediately after the disaster. But 60,000 Uyghur and Kazak students had nowhere to go. So they stayed home learning nothing for a year. Our university students visited the schools, interviewed teachers, took pictures, and even recorded videos, which was hard to do back then. 

So we thought, what if we do a photo exhibition at the university to show everyone the difference between Chinese and Uyghur schools? In June 1988, we organized a pro-democracy student demonstration, which was attended by around five thousand students. As you can guess, the CCP didn’t like that. They put me on house arrest on campus. A few months later, expelled me from the university. 

So, I moved to Beijing. I studied English and Turkish for two years and ran a Uyghur restaurant. The CCP got suspicious. They asked me, “Why do so many foreigners come to your restaurant to eat?” And I said, “It’s because Uyghur food is so delicious.” They didn’t agree – they accused me of spying. And pretty soon, I realized it was no longer safe for me to stay in China. By then, my wife was 3 months pregnant, but she agreed that I had to leave. So I escaped to Turkey, and 6 months later, my daughter was born. In 1996, I moved to Germany. Two years later, my wife left China and sought political asylum with me in Germany. But our daughter had to stay in my homeland with her grandparents, my in-laws, until the German government could help us get her out. The first time I saw her, she was three and a half years old. She didn’t even recognize my wife. She cried all day every day. And since the CCP never allowed my in-laws to leave the country, my daughter never saw them again.   

In 1997, the Chinese regime announced their arrest warrant against me and branded me a “killer” and a “criminal.” After 9/11, they added another label: “Terrorist.” Yes, oppressive regimes can make you a criminal and even a terrorist overnight.   

The INTERPOL Red Notice was my death warrant. I was detained in Switzerland, Turkey, South Korea, Italy, and the U.S.; I was a “terrorist,” but luckily, I was never deported to China – even though there was always a good chance. In 2013, I was set to testify at the U.N. Human Rights Council session. China requested the names of Uyghur and other Chinese dissidents who were scheduled to speak. And despite this being openly forbidden by its own rules, the U.N. Human Rights Officer shared our information with Chinese authorities. So they came after my family. In 2018, I learned that my mother had died in a concentration camp at the age of 78. In 2020, I lost my father under unknown circumstances. In 2021, I learned that my younger brother was sentenced to life imprisonment and my older brother to a lengthy sentence on fabricated charges.  

I was angry, but I never lost hope. I grieved, but I never gave up.  

After Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2013, the Chinese Communist Party changed its assimilationist and discriminatory policies in East Turkistan to genocidal policies. In 2015, the CCP passed the “Counter-Terrorism Law,” legitimizing the systematic targeting of Uyghurs and Turkic people, eventually rounding up to three million Uyghurs and other Turkic people and detaining them in concentration camps. 

Uyghur children have been separated from their parents. The people in concentration camps are being forced to renounce their national identities, and they are being forced into hard labor and slavery. Since 2017, thousands of mosques have been demolished, and thousands of Qurans burned. The CCP has publicly declared war on Islam, calling it “an ideological virus that must be eradicated.” Sadly, the Muslim World is silent.  

The world was silent during World War II when the Nazis killed six million Jews. After the war, the international community promised: “Never Again.” Seventy years later, the CCP is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, but the world is still silent. 

My INTERPOL Red Notice was finally removed on February 21, 2018. Before that, all doors were closed for me. Now, I have become an activist. I have testified and spoken at parliaments of countries that treated me like a criminal, including the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, the United Nations, and several national parliaments worldwide. I have the honor of addressing you today. And the institution I proudly serve as President, the World Uyghur Congress, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2023.  

I can’t tell you how my story ends. But I can tell you that The Chinese Communist Party is not only a threat to Uyghurs but a plague against humanity, our democratic values, our human rights – and world politics as we know it. As China’s evil hands continue to reach further into the Global South and penetrate the West, my future remains uncertain. After listening to my story, you will understand that yours does too. 

Thank you. 

Speakers and Participants

Dolkun Isa

President of the World Uyghur Congress, former pro-democracy student leader targeted in China

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