INTERVIEW: ‘There needs to be immediate efforts to try to protect the Uyghur community’

Naomi Kikoler discusses what the international community should do to address human rights violations in Xinjiang.
By Shahrezad Ghayrat for RFA Uyghur
INTERVIEW: ‘There needs to be immediate efforts to try to protect the Uyghur community’ Naomi Kikoler (L) leads a panel discuss during an event on China's mass atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2024.
Photo: RFA

On March 22, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted an event on human rights violations in Xinjiang, titled “We Don’t Even Know If They're Alive”: China’s Mass Atrocities against the Uyghurs.

At the event, Naomi Kikoler, director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, discussed the urgent need for international attention and action regarding the crisis facing Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China.

Afterwards, RFA Uyghur reporter Shahrezad Ghayrat interviewed Kikoler, who has extensive experience in human rights advocacy, about the significance of the museum’s platform in raising awareness about atrocities committed against the Uyghurs based on their religious and ethnic identity. 

Kikoler also talked about the immediate need for protective measures for Uyghurs within and outside China, including asylum provisions and support for organizations documenting the crimes, and what role the international community should play to address the Uyghur issue.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: What is the significance of the museum hosting events like this? 

Kikoler: For the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it is so critically important that we lend our voice to communities that are experiencing some of the most horrific atrocities that can be perpetrated. 

And for us, the plight of the Uyghur community is something that has been front and center for us for a number of years. There are few communities where there is such direct targeting purely on the basis of the Uyghur community's religious and ethnic identity, where we see persecution at this level, and where we see crimes that really defy what we could even comprehend as being possible in terms of how people can treat each other. 

So for us, it was really an opportunity to show support and solidarity and use our platform to hopefully help compel much needed conversations, especially among policymakers. 

RFA: What are some key takeaways from today's discussion, and what steps should be taken to address the Uyghur crisis moving forward? 

Kikoler: There are so many things that we need to take away. First and foremost is that there needs to be immediate efforts to try to protect the Uyghur community that is facing threats in China. There were a number of different strategies that were talked about that could possibly help provide relief. 

One of the things that really struck me are the threats facing the Uyghur community outside China, the fact that people face incredible risks coming forward and sharing their experiences — the fact that individuals may have family members detained in China [and] the fact that China threatens people who are living in the United States. 

There are efforts that local police enforcement can take and that the U.S. government can take to try to provide protection to the Uyghur community. The U.S., Canada [and] a few other governments have been taking important steps towards providing asylum for Uyghurs. But we have to be talking with many more countries about how to provide safe haven for Uyghurs who are able to get out of China and who need to be protected. 

Naomi Kikoler gives opening remarks at an event on China's mass atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2024.
Naomi Kikoler gives opening remarks at an event on China's mass atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2024.

And we need to be thinking about what other types of assistance and security can be provided when there are such high levels of intimidation [and] online threats. So for me, in a very practical sense, that's important. 

Another component is just really doubling down and providing as much assistance as possible to Uyghur organizations that are trying to document the crimes that are being committed. That type of support is not just financial support and technical support, but it's also looking at what information exists, even classified information, satellite information, [or] other information that the intelligence  community has that can be released [and made public to show the true nature of the Chinese government's crimes. 

In doing so, that may help not just in the long-term efforts to advance justice, but it will also help get other governments aligned and hopefully work together to stop these crimes from happening. 

RFA: How should the international community address human rights abuses committed against Uyghurs in Xinjiang? 

Kikoler: The international community is absolutely essential in trying to come up with solutions and strategies that can help protect the Uyghur community. 

What I think is unfortunate is that China has been so deft at building relationships with key governments that they de facto silence governments from doing the right thing when it comes to protecting the Uyghur community. That's true, tragically, for many countries that we would have thought would be natural allies. 

[There are] a lot of countries that now have business deals with China through the Belt and Road Initiative. Tragically, [there are] also a lot of countries that are part of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, where you would hope there would be a natural affinity. 

You have a group of people who are being targeted not just [because of] their Uyghur identity, but also [because of] their Muslim identity. And in that regard, we need to see a much more, coordinated outcry and effort to [apply] pressure to protect the Uyghur community. 

RFA: What are the most effective strategies for advocating for Uyghurs

Kikoler: I'm in awe of the efforts that are taken by the Uyghur community. The courageous journalists [who] are trying to shed light on what is happening is an incredibly important aspect of Uyghur advocacy. The tribunals that have been created, notably the tribunal in the U.K. to shed light on what is happening to the Uyghur community, helps to galvanize public attention and draw attention to it. 

I have just been astounded by how effective the Uyghur community has been in navigating the halls of Congress and parliaments around the world, but especially in Congress, finding allies in the Senate and in the House to come up with comprehensive legislation that actually reverses the onus and puts the onus on U.S. businesses to show they're not using Uyghur forced labor. That's absolutely brilliant! We've never seen anything like that in any other instance where these types of crimes are happening. It is putting more pressure on U.S. businesses to account for how they're doing their work. 

The Chinese government is finding creative ways to get around that, and we have to be even more dogged then in the supply chain investigations and in putting a really big spotlight on U.S. businesses and what they're doing. 

I'm hopeful that they'll continue to be more legislation, including looking at dual-use technology and other forms of emerging technology, where research and design is being undertaken by American, Canadian and European businesses, and then being used to actually create conditions by which the Uyghur community is being surveilled, targeted and persecuted. 

There have been so many effective strategies already used by the Uyghur community. In a way, the responsibility now is not on the Uyghur community's shoulders. The responsibility is on everyone else to actually listen and do something about it. 

Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Apr 05, 2024 10:40 PM

Keep up the good work, folks!