Uyghur Advocate Calls For US to Cut Ties to Forced Labor, Protect Refugees at Congressional Hearing

Nury Turkel, a US commissioner on religious freedom, also calls for pressure on China to end genocide.

Uyghur Advocate Calls For US to Cut Ties to Forced Labor, Protect Refugees at Congressional Hearing

Lawmakers must act to cut U.S. ties to forced labor and expedite asylum for Uyghur refugees, and Washington should push the global community to end what it has designated a genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), witnesses told a Congressional hearing Thursday.

Speaking at a virtual hearing on “The Atrocities Against Uyghurs and Other Minorities in Xinjiang” at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nury Turkel, chairman of the board of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) advocacy group, denounced what he called a “lackluster international response” to ongoing rights abuses in the XUAR.

“The end goal of this policy is the destruction of Uyghur culture, traditions, language, and faith.  The Chinese state has criminalized being Uyghur,” he said.

Turkel, a Uyghur American lawyer and commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan and independent federal government body, told the committee that Beijing has worked to systematically crush Uyghur culture, language, and religious traditions since 2017.

Early that year, authorities launched a campaign of mass incarceration that has seen up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a vast network of internment camps in the region.

“I want to emphasize that genocide denial is in full swing. The Chinese government is not only implementing a brutal policy of state violence, causing immeasurable human suffering. It is demanding that the world praise its policy,” he said.

While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China in 2019 changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities. Former detainees have also described being subjected to torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses while in custody.

Amid increasing scrutiny of China’s policies in the XUAR, the U.S. government in January designated abuses in the region part of a campaign of genocide—a label that was similarly applied by the parliaments of Canada, The Netherlands, and the U.K.

In addition to the genocide designation, the Trump administration slapped sanctions last year on several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for rights violations in the region, including XUAR party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington had sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA).

The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them. U.S. customs authorities have also blocked imports of wigs and other products believed to be produced by forced labor in the region.

Nury Turkel, chairman of the board of the Uyghur Human Rights Project and commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom speaks at a virtual hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, May 6, 2021. House Foreign Affairs Committee

Recommendations for lawmakers, government

On Thursday, Turkel called on lawmakers in the U.S. to do more, including pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which aims to address the systematic use for Uyghur forced labor in the XUAR and ensure that U.S. companies are not complicit.

He also urged Congress to “urgently” pass the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act, which designates Uyghurs who are at risk of refoulement in multiple countries as priority refugees.

Turkel also called on the government to urge every signatory to the 1949 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to uphold their obligation to prevent genocide, which experts say the situation in XUAR meets the definition of based on China’s state-sponsored “intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

“Even without making a legal atrocity-crimes determination, Article I [of the convention] obligates states to take action to prevent an unfolding genocide,” he said.

Additionally, Turkel called on members of the committee to “ensure that American Olympic athletes are not forced to compete in the shadow of concentration camps at the 2022 Olympics” in Beijing.

He urged the U.S. to “coordinate with like-minded countries” to relocate the Olympics as long as abuses continue in the XUAR.

Lastly, Turkel urged the government to do more to prevent Silicon Valley and U.S. universities from cooperating with Chinese companies selling facial-recognition systems which are being used to monitor Uyghurs in the XUAR as part of a high-tech surveillance state.

Tursunay Ziyawudun in an undated photo. RFA

‘Scar on my heart’

Turkel was joined in providing testimony on Thursday by James Millward, professor of Inter-societal History at George Washington University and an expert on Uyghur history, and Tursunay Ziyawudun, a former detainee who described the torture and sexual violence she endured in two different internment camps, as well as efforts by China’s government to undermine her activism.

Ziyawudun said that the time she spent in detention had left “an unforgettable scar on my heart.”

She described overcrowded conditions in which inmates were constantly monitored by camera in their cells, which only had buckets for toilets, and given meals of little more than “watery soup and a bun”—all while being regularly forced to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party.

“Girls would be taken away and only brought back days later … and then I, myself, was taken [along with another woman],” she said.

“I was tortured with an electric stick pushed inside my genital tract. I could hear the other woman’s screams in the next room. I knew the guards were raping her. After that, she never stopped crying.”

Ziyawudun told the committee that she was not asking for sympathy for herself, but for governments around the world to “wake up.”

“The world should not allow genocide to continue in the 21st century,” she said.

G7 statement on China

The hearing came a day after foreign ministers from the so-called “G7 nations” of Britain, the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan called on China to abide by its obligations under international and national law during a meeting in London.

In a joint statement, the group said it was “deeply concerned” over rights violations against Uyghur in the XUAR, as well as against minorities in Tibet, while also calling for an end to increasing restrictions against pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin fired back on Thursday, dismissing what he called “unfounded accusations against China” and for interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs.

“We urge the relevant countries to face up to their own problems,” Wang said, adding that the G7 should focus on ways to improve the global economy, rather than “generalizing on the concept of national security as well as other wrong practices.”

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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No Holds Barred: Myanmar Junta Grabs Family Members to Get at Wanted Protesters

One critic likened the hostage-taking tactic to “the work of a terror gang."

No Holds Barred: Myanmar Junta Grabs Family Members to Get at Wanted Protesters

Facing unrelenting popular resistance to military rule three months after they ousted the elected government , Myanmar’s junta has increasingly turned to hostage taking – grabbing family members to force wanted opponents to surrender, legal experts and rights activists said Thursday. 

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, a Thailand-based NGO that gas tracked more than 770 killings of civilians and more than 3,700 arrests since the Feb. 1 army takeover, has also document 40 people who have been taken hostage by the military to get at opponent of the junta or supporters of the shadow government.

The well-known film actor couple Pyay Ti Oo and his Aindra Kyaw Zin are now in detention at Shwe Pyi Tha Interrogation camp, charged with incitement under Section 50(a) of the Penal Code, after turning themselves in to protect their children, a friend told RFA.

“They (police and soldiers) asked the family to call them back. They threatened to arrest the children and family if they don't show up,” said a source close to the couple.

Families of members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of work stoppages by professionals including teachers, civil servants, bankers and doctors are a major target, as are relatives of supporters of the new National Unity Government (NUG), made up of ousted lawmakers and ethnic minority leaders.

In the Mandalay region of central Myanmar, the military and police raided the home of a schoolteacher involved in the anti-military movement and arrested her mother and younger brother, a second bother said.

"She is a school teacher who had joined the CDM. About 40 soldiers and police raided the house one day without any arrest warrant being issued. And our mother and brother were arrested because they could not find her,” he told RFA.

Soldiers also searched the home of Yan Naing Lin, an electrician in the Bago Division of central Myanmar, seizing his wife, mother and brother without releasing them for about three weeks, he said from hiding.

"I haven’t been able to contact them since April 15th. I can’t find out where they are detained. Their main thing is to get me. I don’t know whether they will release my family or not if I surrender,” Yan Naing Lin told RFA.

Illegal everywhere

The military has accused him of making a hand grenade, he said, adding that he is unable to produce evidence to support his innocence and he isn’t sure his family would be released even if he cooperates.

According to local media reports, incidents of hostage-taking have become more frequent, with most of those detained to force the surrender of a wanted relative remaining in custody.

Khin Maung Zaw, one of the lawyers for deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said the tactic is illegal everywhere.

"In every country, the law permits action to be taken only against the perpetrator and no one else can be prosecuted in his place,” he told RFA.

Taking hostages to pursue suspects “is not the action of an organization that works with a constitution and existing laws.” Said journalist Si Thu Aung Myint

“It is more like the work of a terror gang," he said.

The brutal crackdown on anyone who has been involved in anti-government protests have driven many demonstrators and NUG supporters into hiding. 

"Ever since we decided to join the CDM, we have considered the consequences,” said a doctor in Mandalay, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We knew we could lose our jobs, our licenses could be revoked, and we might have to go to jail. We might even get killed. But we never thought our children, our families would be harmed. This is worrisome.”

Security forces walk past shops as they search for protesters, who were taking part in a demonstration against the military coup, in downtown Yangon, May 6, 2021. Credit: AFP

Hindu, Chinese woman killed

The military's actions transcend simple human rights abuses, said Nicky Diamond, of the NGO Fortify Rights.

"Not only are they violating human rights. Their actions are so vicious that they are violating the obligations of the military to protect the people of the country,” he told RFA.

RFA tried to contact Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun to ask about the allegations but reporters phone calls to the junta spokesman went unanswered.

The family of Aung Khaing Myint, 33, were told Wednesday to inspect his body, they told RFA.

“We saw his body at the 1,000 bed hospital in Shwedaung. They said he was arrested in connection with the bombing of Innwa Bank in Sagaing and that he had died after jumping out of the car following the arrest,” said a relative.

“They didn’t show us the whole body – just the face – and we saw beating marks on his cheeks and throat and bruises on his chin,” the family member said.

“We are Hindus and told them we need to hold our religious rites but they refuse to give the body back,” added the bereaved family member

In Mandalay, junta soldiers shot two ethnic Chinese Myanmar nationals who were coming home after getting coronavirus vaccinations at a local hospital, killing one and wounding the other, said witness.

“A passing motorcyclist was showing a three-finger salute and the soldiers fired four shots at him but instead hit the Chinese couple on another motorcycle,” the source said.

“The woman was hit in the face and died on the spot but the guy who got hit near the jawline was taken for medical treatment to Nandwin hospital.  The woman’s body was taken to Chinese Yunnan Temple after an autopsy,” said the witness.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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