Remarks at the 5th Biannual Congress of the Uyghur American Association by Nury Turkel
  • Sun, 05/28/2006 - 12:00

Remarks at the 5th Biannual Congress of the Uyghur American Association

Nury Turkel
Uyghur American Association
Washington DC, May 28, 2006,

Thank you all for coming today, as we celebrate our achievements over the past two years and look ahead to the challenges that we face today and in the future. Here, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to the UAA board members and UHRP staff for the wonderful job that they did in past two years. I also would like to thank the UAA members for being such staunch supporters of our work, and standing with us during the most difficult and challenging times.It has been truly a challenging but rewarding experience, and I thank you all very much for the privilege of serving you over the past four years.

Dear friends, today, we have many reasons to celebrate. The creation and expansion of the Uyghur Human Rights Project has enabled us to raise the profile of the Uyghur situation in the international community, and to thereby increase international awareness of the persecution faced by the Uyghur people in East Turkistan and in neighboring Central Asian nations.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project has made considerable progress in terms of networking and reaching out to other nongovernmental organizations over the past two years. We have been able to build on previously-established contacts within the U.S. government, including the administration and Congress. Requests for information from UAA by numerous government organizations for background and input have increased significantly. These include the U.S. State Department, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Canadian Parliament, among others. In addition, we have established connections with the staff of the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Manfred Nowak. UHRP also expanded its connections with a wide array of other NGOs throughout the U.S. and Europe, including the Rafto Human Rights Foundation, the International Campaign for Tibet, Refugees International, Human Rights First and the Center for Constitutional Rights. In addition, UHRP has increased the frequency of press releases, briefings and special reports that it distributes to groups and individuals about Uyghur-related developments.

Since the last time we met, we have had the great fortune of seeing the release of Ms. Rebiya Kadeer from prison in Urumchi, and her arrival on American soil. Ms. Kadeer’s continuing determination to speak out against the unjust persecution of our people, even after having suffered six years of unspeakable treatment in a Chinese prison, has provided us with great inspiration and hope for our cause. We were delighted to see Ms. Kadeer’s arrival to the free world and her reunion with her family, and we were overjoyed that the woman viewed as the mother of the Uyghur people would now be able to act as a strong leader figure for the Uyghur Freedom Movement. Her release also drew much-needed attention to the Uyghur situation among media organizations, NGOs and government entities throughout the world.

Late last year, Ms. Kadeer took a speaking tour of Europe that was sponsored by UAA and UHRP, Amnesty International and the Rafto Foundation. The tour took Ms. Kadeer to the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Throughout her trip, she met with positive support and comments and succeeded in raising awareness about the Uyghur struggle for democratic freedoms. European government representatives expressed commitment to give added attention to Uyghur issues, and European media organizations publicized news about her trip and about the persecution of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. In Geneva, Ms. Kadeer met with Dr. Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, on the eve of his trip to China.

The National Endowment for Democracy has been exceptionally supportive of UAA, providing us with invaluable guidance and assistance because of their genuine concern with the Uyghur cause. In addition to providing an essential funding increase that has allowed us to expand, NED has helped us to form valuable networks with other leaders and organizations, and has assisted us in organizing wonderful events like the Capitol Hill reception in January 2005 that was held in honor of the Rafto Prize being awarded to Ms. Kadeer. NED grants have allowed us to focus on conducting research, drafting reports, verifying information, and providing this information to other human rights organizations and governments. In short, NED has helped us to increase our credibility in Washington and throughout the world. We are very moved by and grateful for their steadfast assistance.

When President Bush last year called for democratic reform in China while in Japan, just before his visit to Beijing, Uyghurs were again encouraged by this administration’s commitment to democracy and dedication to ensuring the freedom of all people around the world. We were earlier reminded of the support provided to us by the Bush administration in 2001 when President Bush made it clear to the Chinese leaders that China must not use terrorism as an excuse to carry out the unjust persecution of ethnic minorities. We have also been encouraged by the US State Department’s analysis of the deplorable state of human rights in East Turkistan in its past two years’ human rights country reports. On the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington, the US State Department issued a fact sheet and stated that increasing respect for human rights is a top U.S. Government priority in China. They stated that the U.S. urges China to promote and respect the rule of law, religious freedom, and grass-roots democratization, as well as to end coercive birth limitation practices. The fact sheet made a particular reference to Uyghur issues, stating that “The government has restricted the practices of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims where it alleges links to separatist efforts, and with regard to the Uighur Muslims, has sometimes used the global war on terror as a pretext for restrictions and repression . These official statements clearly indicate that there is growing interest and concern in the US government over the worsening human rights situation in East Turkistan.

Last year, as we witnessed the “tulip revolution and the toppling of the former government of Kyrgyzstan, our hopes were again reinforced. This latest example of a “colored revolution in a post-Soviet state, and one of the most important centers of the Uyghur diaspora, undoubtedly sent a strong message to the oppressive regimes in the region that lack tolerance for political dissent, including China. Following the departure of President Askar Akayev, we began to see signs of change. Within weeks of his fall from power, UAA was invited to meet the new Kyrgyz government by a Kyrgyz human rights organization based in Vienna, Austria.

Through the hard work of UAA Vice President Omer Kanat, UAA has established a UHRP satellite office in Bishkek, which was included in UHRP’s 2006 grant proposal. This office will allow researchers in Bishkek to gain first-hand, up-to-date information for UHRP reports, and will facilitate increased cooperation with influential human rights organizations in Kyrgyzstan and surrounding nations. The establishment of the Bishkek office was made possible through Mr. Kanat’s trip to Kyrgyzstan last year, during which he raised Uyghur human rights issues with high-level government officials and human rights organizations and updated them on the Uyghur human rights situation in East Turkistan, the United States, Europe and Turkey.

The U.S. decision not to repatriate five Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo Bay to China also sent a positive and hopeful message. The transfer of the five Uyghurs to Albania undermines Beijing’s justification for persecuting the Uyghurs, and rejects Beijing’s use of the war on terror as an excuse for cracking down on Uyghurs engaged in peaceful activities. UAA worked tirelessly towards the release of the five detainees, filing an amicus brief on behalf of two of the men in February and March to both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. We were thrilled at the release of the five Uyghurs to Albania, and we hope to assist them as they now adjust to their new lives in Europe. I visited those brothers in Tirana, Albania last week and provided them with legal and administrative assistance. They asked me to extend their profound appreciation to our community members and many American friends who sympathized with their situation and supported their release from prison.

UAA and UHRP have gained a new level of influence and credibility among media organizations in the U.S. and other countries. We have become the go-to organization for media publications who want to have background and information on Uyghur issues. Our web sites have been sited as a source of Uyghur information by BBC and Wikipedia. To that effect, I am very pleased to announce that the UAA and UHRP web sites have been redesigned, and successfully launched today for your review and enjoyment.
The issue of the Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in particular, has increased awareness about our organization and has stimulated media interest in broader issues such as China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and the intensified persecution of Uyghurs in the name of post-9/11 anti-terrorist efforts. Opinion pieces written by UAA and UHRP staff and officers have recently been featured in prominent publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the National Review. And our board members and staff have been interviewed by such well-known news organizations as the BBC, CNN, ABC, NRK, the Washington Post, and the New Republic, among others.

Despite the many achievements and advancements we have made, we continue to face tremendous challenges. Beijing labels any perceived Uyghur opposition to Chinese rule as “separatism and “terrorism , and continues to imprison and otherwise persecute anyone who criticizes the oppressive Chinese regime. It continues to expand its influence, both economically and politically, in neighboring Central Asian states, and to aggressively push for the repatriation of Uyghurs who have fled to these states. Uyghurs in East Turkistan continue to be arrested and detained arbitrarily, for such so-called wrongdoings as being in possession of “illegal religious texts, writing “separatist literature, and conducting religious instruction, even in their own homes. As the Beijing government actively promotes massive Han migration into our homeland, it simultaneously has tightened population control among the Uyghur people, including the enforcement of forced abortions and forced sterilizations. The brutal suppression of religious worship, controls on expression and association and the increased prohibition of Uyghur language instruction in East Turkistan do not provide cause for optimism.

However, as we, the members of the Uyghur American Association, work together to strengthen our organization and build up our connections with other groups in the Uyghur diaspora throughout the world, we will strengthen our ability to peacefully serve the cause of the Uyghur Freedom Movement. As new organizations are founded to promote our democratic aspirations and as we work with one voice to promote improved human rights conditions for Uyghurs, we will move closer to the realization of freedom and democracy in East Turkistan. With the increased collection and documentation of human rights-related developments in East Turkistan, we will enhance the prominence of Uyghur human rights issues in the international community.

Dear friends, I would like to conclude my remarks with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love .

In conclusion, I must say it has been a great honor to serve you and the Uyghur nation, and thank you very much once again for allowing me to be a part of this noble cause, the Uyghur Freedom Movement. Lastly, we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Good luck to you, God Bless East Turkistan, and most of all Godspeed to the Uyghur American Association!