Sep 11, 2009

Rebiya Kadeer addresses Human Rights Subcommittee: hearing minutes


Ms Rebiya Kadeer addressed the human rights subcommittee during its opening session September 1st 2009.

Her address focused on the current relation between Han Chinese and Uyghurs living in East Turkestan. Ms Kadeer exposed China's violations of human rights and appealed to the subcommittee for support to engage with Chinese authorities and open dialogue to reach a non violent solution to the situation.


Minutes of Rebiya Kadeer at the Subcommittee on Human Rights
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
European Parliament, Brussels

Heidi HAUTALA: Good morning. Welcome to Rebiya Kadeer. She has been invited to give her interpretation of the Human Rights situation in China. Last year, the Parliament took a clear stand on the situation in Tibet. Generally, there is interest in the Parliament for the issues concerning minorities in China. Yesterday, we heard from the Council and Presidency that the Human Rights dialogue between the EU and China was been regarded as a pilot project; to see how this type of dialogues should be carried out. Only last week, I met the ambassador of China to the EU and we had a polite business discussion on several issues. I told him that Rebiya Kadeer had been invited to the Subcommittee on Human Rights as a guest and I extended an invitation to the ambassador. Welcome Rebiya Kadeer.

There are some problems with interpretation.

Rebiya Kadeer: Good morning. First of all I would like to thank the Subcommittee and especially its Chairman Heidi Hautala for inviting me to speak here. I would also like to thank the MEPs and the press for coming to listen to the voice of the voiceless people. The situation of the Uyghur people is similar to situation in which the Tibetans are. Our land has been militarily controlled by Communist China since 1949, just like it occupied Tibetan territory in 1959. However, we have not been able to inform the world about this situation, about the suffering of our people, like the Tibetans have. But now, we have an opportunity to inform the European Parliament Members about the situation of the Uyghur people. In order to save time for the questions, I would like to ask my assistant to read the statement.

Rebiya Kadeer Statement is read out. To see a copy of it, please click here.

RK: Because of time constraints, we could not read the whole statement. Therefore, we will distribute the statement so that MEPs will have a chance to read the complete text.

HH: Thank you very much for the interesting report. I am glad that we have heard more about the situation in China. The statement is available to all members in English and there are more documents distributed for your information. Now, I invite members to ask questions.

László TŐKÉS, on behalf of the EPP: Thank you very much. I would like to thank Rebiya Kadeer, the President of the World Uyghur Congress, warmly for her speech and for visiting our Subcommittee. I would also like to thank Heidi Hautala for enabling this meeting. I am from the Hungarian Minority of Romania. I think we can say that we are the ‘Tibetans of Romania’. We, Hungarians, have very similar issues and linguistic ties with the Uyghurs, so I feel deeply related to the Uyghurs. Unfortunately, we know very little about the Uyghurs. Unfortunately, we needed the Urumqi violence to drive our attention towards them. There is an Intergroup of Tibet in the European Parliament which takes the cause of the Tibetans very seriously.  As the China-EU meeting is approaching, I feel it is very appropriate to put the Uyghurs on our agenda. We don’t even know what the official figures are; I have been told that there are more Uyghurs living in East Turkestan than the official number implies. Asgar Can, a member of the delegation that visited recently, and activists from UNPO also contacted Jerzy Buzek about this point. What we are talking about here is defending the rights of minorities, an issue that has been very bloody. By defending the cause of the Uyghurs we are also taking the cause of all those minorities that have been oppressed. This really needs to be our goal; we need to protect the rights and lives of all people who are being persecuted and who work to defend the rights of their people and their culture. For the majority of my life, I lived under a communist regime. As a result, I understand the methods used by the government; misinformation, amongst others. Thank you.

HH: Thank you Mr. Tokes. I am sure we can ask the Uyghurs about the actual numbers. I now give the word to Mr. Bastiaan BELDER

Bastiaan BELDER, Rapporteur for the Relations with China: Thank you. I think it is good to speak about the Human Rights situation in China. Actually, the Dutch press has paid attention to the unrest in Xinjiang and the legal processes. I heard from the world press that a Uyghur teacher who had warned people about the possible escalation in Urumqi was accused of separatism and therefore arrested. I heard that he disappeared. I wonder whether you have any information on this. I would like to raise this point with our Chinese relations. Second, I would like to ask the Uyghurs about the modernisation of their traditional centre Kashgar. I heard the Chinese want to make it into a museum, rather then a place where the Uyhurs will be able to express their culture. Third, the unrest in Urumqi, do you have any information on the Christians in Urumqi? What religious freedom do they enjoy? Fourth, last week a report was published about 6 churches that were going to be closed in Beijing. So, if China claims they respect the freedom of religion, this is nonsense.

HH: Thank you. Here I have a 28 August 2009 Report of Amnesty International report on the Uyghur professor. Amnesty International says that he was released on 23 August 2009 and that he remains under official surveillance. According to the report, he had not been tortured or mistreated, but he had been interrogated day and night. He was accused of ‘adding fuels to the flames’; his words are said to have partly led to the violence.

BB: Thank you, I am happy to hear that news. What I got from press releases is that he was not an extremist professor. He just highlighting the appalling the situation. I think we should pay attention also to academic freedom of expression. Chinese authorities should aim at building a harmonious society.

HH: I agree with you.

Nirj DEVA, Chairman of the EU-CHINA Friendship Association in the European Parliament: I am very concerned about making a difference about fundamental Human Rights in China and issues dealing with separatism. Personally, I am puzzled by her personality. I understand she is one of the richest women of China. How it is possible that her Human Rights were violated and if she was discriminated against when indeed she became so rich and when she became a member of one of the most prestigious communities in China, Chinese National Committee? And if the Uyghur language is banned, how come she still speaks the language so well? And with China’s one-child policy, how is it possible that she has 11 children? All these in this climate of so called repression. One last question: I understand that in the past, Xinjiang was part of the silk- road. Then how can Rebiya’s statement that Xinjiang was once separate province be true?

HH: I now give the word to Barbara LOCHBIHLER.

Barbara LOCHBIHLER: Thank you Heidi Hautala and Rebiya Kadeer. I think it is brave of you, Rebiya Kadeer, to come here and to represent your case despite the accusations and political implications. Apparently international pressure has been used well in the case of the University professor, who has now been released. It is good that in that case we have been able to play the Human Rights situation. I am wondering, to what extent does Rebiya Kadeer maintain the demand of an independent investigation? I believe it is necessary to find out what happened and who was responsible for that. Because only condemning the use of force will not help solving the ongoing situation. The Chinese representative at the United Nations spoke against racism in August, saying that 718 people were still under arrest. We have to find out what the charges were laid against these detainees and under what circumstances they are held. A UN investigation would be useful. So, what does Rebiya Kadeer expect from us as MEPs?

HH: I give the word to Rebiya Kadeer.

RK: Thank you for the questions. In response to the first question, the question about the professor who was released on the 23rd of August, I can say that I am pleased that he has been released but that we may not forget that there are still many other people in jail. The professor was the owner of a website to open the dialogue between Han Chinese and Uyghurs. Many owners of such websites are still in prison, suffering in their custody and they are frequently tortured by the Chinese.

Chinese authorities have been pursuing a repressive policy for 60 years in East Turkestan. They are trying to ruin our culture. The cultural centre is one example of how they try to do this. Although may people in NGOs spoke out about the situation of Kashgar, which is the heart and hub of the culture and tradition, China did not listed to these demands and started to destroy the city.

China has been using the ‘War on Terror’ to blame the Uyghurs of being terrorists. As a result, there is a trend that of Uyghurs converting to Christianity. These Christians are now a minority in East Turkestan. Similarly to the Muslims, they are often persecuted by Chinese authorities.

Moving on to the next question on why I was able to become rich if there is discrimination against Uyghurs, I can say that there are still people who benefit from the economic development, despite the discrimination. There are also Members of Parliament that are of Uyghur ethnicity. In fact, China wants to use them to show the world that they are respecting the rights of the Uyghurs. I was one of these people, like a pupil of Chinese authorities. However, I didn’t live according to their rules: I spoke about the situation of the Uyghurs. Then, I was stripped of my position.

It is correct that I have 11 children. All of them but one were born before 1987 when the policy of China was launched. One of my children was born during that policy, after the Family Planning Policy. For giving birth to that child, I was fined for 20.000 Yuan and my husband was stripped from his position as professor at a university.

The Chinese authorities ban the language. It is not allowed to study Uyghur or to study in Uyghur at Universities. China launched a policy in 2003 to ban the language as a language of instruction at University, and furthered this policy at elementary and middle schools. However, we have been using our language for a long time and of course the language is used amongst Uyghurs.

Turning to the last question, I can say that we have had our own state twice in the last century, in 1933 and 1944. And before East Turkestan was invaded by the Manchus in the 18th century, we had our own state. We were invaded by the Chinese Communist authorities in 1949. However, we are in many respects different from the Chinese. We are Central Asian people: we maintain close relationships (cultural and linguistic) with Central Asian countries with regard to language and culture. In the past, we were part of Turkestan. We were the eastern part, so we were called East Turkestan. The other states (five republics of Central Asia republics) were called West Turkestan. According to Chinese official figures, there live little over 9, 600 Uyghurs in East Turkestan. However, we believe there are between 18 and 20 million there.

HH: I have more names on my list, amongst others the Iranian videoguest that will address the Subcommittee on Human Rights this morning. Can you all please ask brief questions?

Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ, Vice-Chairwoman: Thank you. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the situation in East Turkestan. Alarming signals have reached us last July. Last year, our delegation visited Xinjiang. On a number of occasions, we received positive statements about the Chinese society. However, in events in July 2009 we found that very brutal methods are used to eradicate the culture and religious rituals and the traditions of the Uyghurs. We have to live up to the expectations of the international community. This means that we have to respect minority rights. The Chinese Government has policies that do not live up to the expectations of all people, the current policies are updated. Ms. Kadeer, I have looked through your statement. I have not found practical steps that have to be taken to resolve the issue. Can you provide us with some steps to pursue for the MEPs?

Eduard KUKAN: I appreciate the discussion. I think it should conclude as the inspiration for our guest in her difficult situation. My question: the current president of China can go down to the bulks of the history of China  if he starts this dialogue  about the history and culture of all peoples in China. Is there a real possibility to achieving this? Are you, Rebiya Kadeer, willing to help him?

Charles TANNOCK: China does not have a good record when it comes to Human Rights, but it does allow the Uyghurs the right to have larger families and to build thousands of mosques. Which is actually better treatment that Christians minorities. And is it not true that some of the militant Uyghurs have been involved in terrorist attacks, linked to Al-Qaeda? Some of them have been arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay. I believe these riots were started by Uyghurs provocateurs, but of course there were excess coming from the Chinese authorities. We are committed to the ‘One China Policy’ and all the EU member states I believe that in the European Parliament, we should not be supporting secessionist and Islamist terrorist groups.

HH: The invitation of Rebiya Kadeer, as a representative of  the WUC, to speak here at the Subcommittee on Human Rights does not mean that I support of Uyghur secessionism.

Jörg LEICHTFRIED: In many cases, the language that is used benefits the Chinese: secession, terrorism, extremism. Self-determination is hotly debated in international law: Who has the right? What is the nature? What does is mean in practice? Devolution, autonomy, independence… How do you identify the group? And how do you secure the rights of minorities? And the simplistic language that has being used is not helpful. I would like to know what the aims are of the WUC. In the BBC, Rebiya Kadeer said she was ‘fighting for rights and political self-determination through peaceful, non-violent and democratic means’. How are these rights and self-determination of the political future translated into precise political aims?

HH: I give the floor in conclusion to Rebiya Kadeer, but please keep it short.

RK: First of all, I would like that the European Union puts pressure on Chinese authorities to launch an independent and true investigation into what happened in Urumqi and into how many people were killed, how many injured and how many arrested. According to Chinese authorities, 197 people were killed. However, we do not trust their numbers. We have been receiving information from Uyghurs from which it becomes clear that the numbers are much higher than the announced ones. I would like to see that China eases the tension in East Turkestan. However, they resort the oppression. It has to be made clear to them that they cannot solve the problems using force. A better way to ease the tension would be for the Chinese authorities to open a true dialogue with the Uyghur representatives in the world. 

So, I would like the European Union and the European Parliament to put pressure on the Chinese authorities to respect the Human Rights and the rights laid town in the Chinese Constitution and their autonomy laws and to start a dialogue with the Uyghurs.

There was a question about the policy of China towards minorities. It was said that there is freedom of religion for Uyghurs in China. However, this is not true. In 2008, the Chinese authorities announced that they arrested more than 50.000 religious figures in East Turkestan. Also, religious education for people under 18 is banned in East Turkestan. Students and teachers cannot go to mosques to pray. If the Chinese authorities would indeed respect the Human Rights of the Uyghurs, the 5 July accident would not have happened in China.

Furthermore, I can say that there is no link between the Uyghur movement and Al Qaeda. In fact, the Uyghurs are victims of Al Qaeda. We condemn all use of violence, we are against all kind of violence. About the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, the United States Government has acknowledged that they were innocent and therefore they have relocated them to other countries. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They fled to Afghanistan as refugees and then they were sold by the Pakistani bunker hunters for 5.000 dollar each. They were also victim of Chinese repressive policy that implies that all Muslims have links with terrorists in the world.

HH: Thank you Rebiya Kadeer, your visit has been really interesting.  We have received valuable information from you on the Urumqi events and it is in the interest of all of us that an independent investigation take place and we must promote peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups in China. We should now proceed with the debate on Iran. (…)