jeudi 3 avril 2008

Assessment of the Situation of the Uyghurs

Human Rights in China 2001-2007: No Olympic Medal

Conference at the European Parliament on 18 December 2007

Living in a Culture of Fear

Assessment of the Situation of the Uyghurs

By Mamtimin Ala, World Uyghur Congress

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since 1949 when the homeland of Uyghurs, East Turkestan, which the Chinese call Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, was occupied by the Chinese army with the support of the former dictator, Stalin, Uyghurs have been subjected to repressive policies of the Chinese government. As a totalitarian country, China was originally founded on the official state ideology—an ideology of Marxism—as a manipulative tool to homogenize all kinds of different discourses towards the univocal goal of the Communist state.

This ideology is now already turned into the disguised form of ultra-nationalism, promoting political authoritarianism and cultural hegemony. As the Chinese government has beefed up its efforts to suppress any form of political discourses and aspirations different from the official one, Uyghurs seeking for democracy and freedom are denied their legal, cultural and economic rights, and suffer from a growing sense of cultural dilution, economic exploitation, and religious discrimination.

The 9/11 massacre in the United States in 2001 has been a turning point not only for the entire setting of the foreign policy of the United States, but also for the modification of China’s public rhetoric and political discourse about Uyghurs and Tibetans in the name of counter-terrorism.

Over the past six years, officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have unreservedly used the highly controversial concept of the “war on terror” as a justification for their repressive treatment of Uyghurs in East Turkestan and as a pretext to slander indiscriminately all Uyghur human rights organizations around the world, which are currently active in promoting human rights abuses in East Turkistan. Although Chinese officials have placed tremendous emphasis on the threat of “terrorism” in East Turkistan, there is no compelling evidence either from foreign governments’ or Chinese sources to justify such a claim.

Nevertheless, one of the major repercussions of the frequent use of this designation is the loss of credibility and transparency of the global war on terrorism. Since the tragic events of 9/11, there has been an increase in arbitrary detentions, arrests, torture and executions, as the PRC government has implemented “counter-terrorism” policies to suppress all forms of peaceful opposition of Uyghurs against Chinese rule.

In the past six years, Amnesty International has documented that, under a series of PRC “strike hard” campaigns in East Turkestan, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law.” East Turkestan remains the only part of the People’s Republic of China where Uyghurs are still executed for non-violent crimes of political opposition to the Chinese state.

The Chinese government, by deliberately confusing violence and civil discontentment, has taken heavy-handed measures to marginalize Uyghurs in Western countries and to libel the peaceful nature of the Uyghur resistance against Chinese rule. The case of Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil, the attacks on the family of prominent Uyghur leader and human rights activist Ms Rebiya Kadeer and the death sentences recently handed to four Uyghurs in Kashgar reveal the extent and disproportionate nature of the PRC’s repressive policy against Uyghurs. As a result, so-called “counter-terrorism” policies have added fuel to Chinese nationalism and xenophobia among ordinary Chinese citizens who are duped into believing in the politically fabricated and inherently false accusations against Uyghurs.

One of the most serious and pressing issue Uyghurs are now facing is the recent forcible transfer of young, unmarried and mostly teenage Uyghur women ranging from 16 to 25 years to Eastern China under the guise of “providing employment opportunities and generating income.” Already, hundreds of thousands of young Uyghur women have been forcibly transferred from East Turkistan into Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Qingdao, Shandong, Zhejiang, and other locations.

According to the report of The Xinjiang Daily on March 20, 2007, there had been 240,000 instances of the transfer of the local labour force from the Kashgar Region to China’s eastern provinces in 2006.[1] These girls are not allowed to return freely to their hometowns and are forced to work 12 hours each day under terrible working conditions. At present, local and central government authorities continue to implement aggressively the policy of transferring young Uyghur girls to Eastern China in the name of reconstructing the internal labour market. However, the selection of Uyghur girls and their forcible displacement in no way suggest that the real intention of the government is to reduce poverty among Uyghurs, nor even that it aims to bridge a massive wealth gap between China’s eastern and western regions.

Rather, the main aim of the policy is not only to use these Uyghur girls as cheap slave labor and potential sex workers, but also, more alarmingly, to culturally assimilate them into dominant and prevalent Chinese culture by uprooting them from their own unique cultural environment and reducing their opportunities to get married with Uyghurs in their hometowns.

Finally, it is, without doubt, a well-planned strategy to reduce the size of the Uyghur population in areas where the Uyghurs are still the majority and to fill in the vacuum left after the transfer of Uyghurs with upcoming Chinese settlers.

Under PRC policies of assimilation, Uyghur language schools are being closed and Uyghur teachers are being forced out of their jobs. The religious expression of Uyghurs is strictly controlled by government authorities, including the appointment of imams by the government who are instrumentalized to promote and spread communist propaganda, the confiscation of passports in order to prevent Uyghurs from participating in the Hajj and restrictions on the establishment of religious schools.

The aforementioned violations of human rights of Uyghurs have led to an ongoing clash between the imposition of the assimilation policy of Chinese authorities upon Uyghurs from above and Uyghurs’ life-and-death struggle to maintain their cultural identity from below. It is neither a clash of civilizations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are now witnessing, but it is a profound clash between violence against human dignity and the right to maintain one’s own cultural and spiritual resources against this very violence.

In the run-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the international community has been keenly observing any progress made in the human rights situation in China since the decision of the IOC to entrust the organization of the Olympic Games to China. As was expected by the IOC, the successful organization of the Olympic Games in Beijing “could leave a legacy to China” as a great positive event to bring about Chinese society modernization and developed economy.

Unfortunately, no substantial progress and developments in the human rights situation of Uyghurs in China has ever been made to date. Uyghurs are still living in a culture of fear, facing persecution and assimilation. Finally, I would like to finish my speech by raising the following question: Is it not intrinsically paradoxical as well as apparently cynical to promote the Olympic idea of “peace, friendship and solidarity” in a country where it is brutally denied and to pretend to believe that it is universal?

[1] Radio Free Asia (RFA), Last Year Female Labour Force Transferred from Kashgar Reached 240000, Mar. 19, 2007.

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