Photo: World Uyghur Congress

International Forum in Brussels dedicated to the situation of Muslim Uyghurs in China

The first “International Uyghur Forum” took place in Brussels on Wednesday. The aim was to make the genocide of the Uyghurs more visible and to discuss possibilities for action.

Photo: World Uyghur Congress, Facebook

(IslamiQ/iz) – In East Turkistan, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are oppressed with the help of so-called re-education camps and forced labour. More and more states are judging the Chinese government’s actions as genocide and not just oppression.

To draw attention to the crime against the Uyghurs, guests from all over the world gathered in Brussels this Wednesday, including well-known experts from politics, business, civil society, media, academia and law, as well as representatives of the Uyghurs.

The “International Uyghur Forum” was organised by Hasene International, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the International Union of East Turkistan Organizations.

The main objective of the event was to reflect on a “unified global political response to the genocide of the Uyghurs,” said the organisers’ press release. Further, the forum aimed to promote cooperation and formulate a global response needed for the “plight of the people of East Turkestan.”

The forum addressed the questions of what the UN and its member states can do about China’s human rights violations, and what role civil society and the media will play in responding to the Uyghur genocide.

Major challenge

The opening session of the Uyghur Forum began at the European Parliament. Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, said in his opening speech that the silence of Muslim-majority governments such as Indonesia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan is “particularly disappointing.”

Kemal Ergün, chairman of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), also called on Muslims to act in his welcoming speech. “The persecution of the Uyghurs presents us with a great challenge: should we ignore the situation of the Uyghurs, their destroyed mosques and the suppression of their religious identity, or should we stand up for human rights and equality for all?” said Ergün.

Fight for freedom

In addition to Ergün and Isa, MEPs Ismail Ertuğ, Miriam Lexmann and Raphael Glucksmann also spoke at the forum. “If you don’t fight for freedom everywhere, there will be no freedom anywhere,” said Lexmann.  Ertuğ criticised the Chinese government’s actions. “The internment and re-education of thousands of people will not solve the problems, but rather increase them,” Ertuğ said in his short speech.

After the opening speech, survivors reported about their suffering and the torture they experienced in the re-education camps. “I strongly believe that one day we will have freedom,” declared survivor Gülbahar Xaitiwaji.

Expectations of the international community

The first panel was about expectations from the international community and the European Union regarding the genocide against the Uyghurs. “It is appalling that some Muslim countries have rejected the UN resolution to investigate human rights violations against Uyghurs,” said Kelley Currie, former US ambassador to the UN. An attempt to push through a debate on the UN High Commissioner’s report on human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang region failed in October. 19 Council members voted against the motion, 17 in favour and 11 abstained.

Muslims must speak up

Hamid Sabi of the Uighur Tribunal also sees Muslims as having a duty. “I don’t believe in the Western powers. They have done some things, but not enough. But it is also time to stand up to some Muslim-majority countries and condemn them. They have done nothing. They have even sided with China,” Sabi said in the second panel. There, the focus was on international legal, political, and economic responses to the genocide.

For British MP Afzal Khan, it is “immoral and irresponsible” for people to close their eyes to the suffering of the Uyghurs. Especially when new studies and reports appear every day to support this accusation.

Furthermore, the reactions of international civil society and the media to the genocide in East Turkestan were debated. “Our stance is against the Chinese government, not against the Chinese people. This point is important,” said Mesud Gülbahar, Chair of Hasene International, at the beginning of the panel. Journalist Marco Respito stressed that unfortunately many journalists repeat the propaganda of the Chinese state without questioning it. “We have to go beyond the usual methods,” explained René-Cassin Director Mia Hasenson-Gross. “This is the only way to win other people over,” she added.

* Following the panels, a declaration is to be published on Thursday.

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