Uyghurs Elbowed Out of Homeland

World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer says Uyghurs face ‘cultural genocide.’
2012-07-25
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Rebiya Kadeer in Melbourne, Australia, Aug. 5, 2009.
AFP

Beijing is stepping up the influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang while transferring ethnic Uyghurs out of the northwestern region, exile Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said Wednesday, labeling the action as part of a Chinese campaign of “cultural genocide” against the minority group.

Kadeer, president of the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC),  condemned a new plan unveiled this month to formally grant residence to six million Han Chinese spurred into migrating to Xinjiang under government economic policies.

A decade-old policy to transfer Uyghur women out of Xinjiang to work in eastern China is still in place even though Uyghurs are becoming a minority in their homeland, she added.

“Compounded by the near elimination of the Uyghur language in the education system and restrictions on cultural practices, the Uyghurs face losing their ethnic distinctiveness,” Kadeer told a U.S. congressional hearing in Washington.

“In a physical manifestation of this cultural genocide,” the Chinese authorities are also demolishing Uyghur neighborhoods across the region, she said, citing restrictions on the Muslim Uyghurs’ adherence to the Islamic faith as well.

Government policies, including a new Xinjiang economic development strategy, adopted in the wake of July 5, 2009 clashes in the region that were China’s worst ethnic violence in decades, have also exacerbated ethnic tensions in the region, she said.

“The unrest in 2009 has led to the implementation of policies in the region that have not only engendered an atmosphere of fear, but have also accelerated the assimilation of Uyghurs and their homeland into a greater Han China,” she said.

She urged China to abide by its existing regional autonomy laws, saying curbs on language education and religion, including stringent restrictions on celebrating the Muslim month of Ramadan, are endangering Uyghurs’ cultural identity.

Rights violations

Given China's increasingly “repressive” policies, she said, American lawmakers should press China harder on human rights issues, suggesting they pass legislation denying visas to Chinese officials involved in any violation of Uyghur human rights.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang have experienced an “intense period of human rights violations” since the 2009 unrest, she said.

She said China should be pressured to reveal the fate of Uyghurs who were forcibly “disappeared” amid mass detentions in a crackdown in the wake of the clashes.

Kadeer had said previously that some 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the violence three years ago.

“The Chinese government has been continuing this practice without fear of censure from the international community.”

At the same time, other countries that extradite Uyghurs fleeing political persecution in China because of Chinese pressure should be held accountable, she said.

“Once the refugees are back in China, they all disappear,” she said.

Kadeer’s calls followed the conclusion on Tuesday of the two-day U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Washington.

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said Wednesday that he had raised the issue of Uyghur rights in the talks with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for International Organizations and Conferences Chen Xu.

"The overall situation of human rights in China continues to deteriorate," Posner told reporters, adding that he had raised at least two dozen Chinese rights cases in the talks,  including those of lawyers, bloggers, NGO activists, journalists, and religious leaders.

Meeting Obama

Kadeer said U.S. President Barack Obama could show his administration’s support for the Uyghur movement by meeting with her.

“I certainly hope I have the opportunity to meet President Obama,” said Kadeer, who met several times with former U.S. President George Bush.

Obama had met with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 2011, drawing criticism from Beijing.

Chinese authorities have accused Kadeer, like the Dalai Lama, of inciting “terrorism,” saying that she orchestrated the 2009 violence and that Uyghur exile groups encourage separatism.

Chinese authorities often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network, but experts familiar with the region have said China has exaggerated the threat and cited a “war on terror” in attempt to take the heat off of domestic policies that cause unrest.

Kadeer dismissed suggestions of any financial support received by Uyghur groups from Iran or Saudi Arabia for staging terrorism against China.

“None of the Uyghur groups ever received any money from Iran or Saudi Arabia,” Kadeer said, adding that both countries were China’s allies.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.