US Rejects China’s Request For UN to Cut Ties With NGO Linked to Exiled Uyghur Leader

The US delegation says China is engaging in ‘a reprisal against an individual.’

Ambassador Kelley Currie speaks during the resumed session of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations in New York, May 21, 2018.

A U.S. envoy has strongly rejected a call by China to withdraw special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from an NGO that promotes the rights of minority peoples, based on its ties to the head of an exile Uyghur group Beijing accuses of “terrorism.”

In a letter dated May 17, China’s permanent mission to the U.N. urged the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations under ECOSOC to remove consultative status for Germany-based Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), after the group named World Uyghur Congress (WUC) President Dolkun Isa as its representative during the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in April.

The Chinese delegation claimed that Isa—a German citizen of Uyghur ethnicity—had been “participating, inciting and funding separatism and terrorism for years,” adding that while participating in regional dialogues at UNPFII he had indicated that he was “representing WUC instead of STP,” despite only having accreditation as an STP representative.

“All the above actions seriously violates relevant rules and regulations of the United Nations,” the letter said, urging the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations “to uphold the authority of the U.N. Charter and withdraw the consultative status of STP.”

During the resumed session of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations on Monday, the Chinese delegation reasserted its position that STP’s status should be withdrawn, saying that the “acts of this society run counter to the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter.”

In response to the request, Ambassador Kelley Currie, the U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs to the U.N., said she was saddened to see the committee “indulging in the Chinese delegation's Islamophobia, in which they conflate the efforts of an individual to advance the religious and human rights of a persecuted minority in China with terrorism, without providing any substantiated evidence.”

Currie noted that Washington has repeatedly asked Beijing to provide proof of its allegations that Isa was involved in terrorist activities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), but had never been given “any actionable intelligence that would indicate that what they are saying is true.”

“This is not about the Society for Threatened Peoples and their contributions to the United Nations, this is about the temerity that [STP] have to allow an individual who is silenced in China—and a whole community, frankly, that is silenced in China—to speak out on behalf of the rights of that community,” the ambassador said, urging China to withdraw its request.

“Isn’t this what the U.N. is all about,” she asked. “Isn’t this whole organization here to promote self-determination?”

Currie said that reports of mass incarcerations in the XUAR were documented by looking at Chinese procurement requests on Chinese websites requesting Chinese companies to tender offers to build “political re-education camps,” and that Beijing was seeking to prevent Isa from speaking out about the issue, as well as other rights abuses there.

“This is what this is about today—let’s please not make any mistake about what we’re talking about,” she said.

Lacking any evidence of terrorist activities, she added, Washington would stand by its decision to grant Isa—“a German citizen in good standing and without a criminal record”—a multiple entry, 10-year visa to the U.S., and the right to continue to meet with U.S. officials.

“This is clearly an incident of the Chinese government using its position on this committee, and its friends on this committee, to engage in a reprisal against an individual,” Currie said.

Committee chair Jorge Dotta ruled that the U.N. would discuss China’s concerns with STP and decide whether to withdraw the NGO’s consultative status by May 25.

‘Crimes against humanity’

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service on Tuesday, Isa said China seeks to “cover up its crimes against humanity” in the XUAR, where thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in political “re-education camps” and prisons throughout the region since April 2017.

“That is why China is always afraid of the Uyghur issues raised at the U.N.,” he said, referring to complaints by Uyghurs of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

“It is no coincidence that China wants to prevent me from speaking at the U.N. by accusing me of ‘terrorism,’ a bogus charge it has never been able to substantiate.”

In February, INTERPOL confirmed that it had deleted a “Red Notice”—an international wanted person alert—for Isa, who fled China in the mid-1990s, for his involvement in peaceful Uyghur student protests in the late 1980s.

Isa, who was granted refugee status in Germany in 1996 and later gained German citizenship, learned in 1999 that China had issued the Red Notice against him, demanding his arrest and extradition back to China to face charges.

As a result of the alert, Isa said he had faced harassment—including detention and arrest—by authorities in South Korea, India, the U.S., Turkey and Italy while advocating for human rights for the Uyghur people.

Isa said that China attempts to “silence all Uyghur voices,” both at home and abroad, but “cannot break our resolve to speak the truth of its brutal rule in East Turkestan,” using the Uyghur name for the XUAR.

“I will speak in spite of Chinese harassment, resistance, and false accusations. I will continue to speak until the Uyghur issue becomes a central issue to be resolved at the U.N. and all world capitals.”

China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.

Maya Wang of the New York-based Human Rights Watch told The Guardian in January that estimates of XUAR residents who had spent time in the camps went as high as 800,000, while at least one Uyghur exile group estimates that up to 1 million Uyghurs have been detained throughout the region since April 2017, and some Uyghur activists say nearly every Uyghur household has been affected by the campaign.

Last month, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Chris Smith—the chair and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China—called on U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to visit Xinjiang and gather information on the detention of Uyghurs, which they termed "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service and by Joshua Lipes. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.