Remarks by Carl Gershman, June 6. 2019
I want to congratulate Dolkun Isa and the World Uyghur Congress – and also the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Uyghur American Association, and the George Washington University Central Asia Program for taking the initiative to organize this important and extremely timely conference.
You had imagination and good judgment to build upon the Democracy Award Ceremony we had in the Congress on Tuesday, when so many Uyghur activists and their supporters were coming to Washington, to convene this urgently needed discussion of how the world should respond to the terrible atrocities that are taking place as we speak in East Turkestan.
I am not going to talk about these atrocities today. I did that Tuesday evening at the Democracy Award event. I want to speak this morning about how we need to respond. I want to say just one thing regarding the atrocities and the concentration camps. When I mentioned the names the other evening of the economist Ilham Tohti, the religious scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim, the academic Rahile Dawut, and the folksinger Abdurehim Heyit, I said that their disappearance, imprisonment, and – in the case of Muhammad Salih – death was evidence of the Chinese policy of committing cultural genocide against the Uyghur people. I realized when I made this point that their names are not well known, that I didn’t even know two of them until a few days before I spoke, and that we have a tremendous job of consciousness-raising to do to make the world aware of the crimes that are being committed today in East Turkestan against the Uyghur people.
We need to build a movement for the defense of the rights and the survival of the Uyghur people. What is happening is terrible – but there are opportunities and we need to know what they are and how to take advantage of them.
The current situation is very different than what it was during World War II when the Holocaust occurred. It’s not just that the Chinese are not yet trying kill every Uyghur, the way the Nazis exterminated the Jews of Europe.
The Holocaust was not widely known when it was happening. The late historian Walter Laqueur wrote a book about the lack of knowledge of the Holocaust when it was being carried out. The book was called The Terrible Secret because few people knew about the Holocaust when it was occurring. Even when some information came out about the Final Solution, it as not circulated or publicized. The information was even suppressed so that the U.S. and British governments would not be diverted from pursing the war effort against the Nazis.
Today the situation is very different. Despite the many issues of contention with China, there is no overriding priority like the war against the Axis Powers. Today there is also much more information available about what is happening to the Uyghur people. There is not enough information, and it is not widely known around the world. But the situation is very different from what it was when the Jews were being murdered by the Nazis.
Moreover, the knowledge of the concentration camps in East Turkestan has focused more attention on the Uyghur issue than ever before. Finally, there has been a dramatic change in attitudes toward China, as we saw the other evening when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that a House resolution remember the Tiananmen Square massacre and called for human rights in China passed unanimously. The issue of support for democracy in China is completely bipartisan, as is support for the rights and survival of the Uyghur people.
We need to take advantage of this and build an international coalition to defend the human rights of the Uyghur people. It should have a number of objectives:
- To raise the general awareness of the concentration camps and the attempt by the Chinese government to commit cultural genocide against the Uyghur people;
- To end the deafening silence in the Muslim world. We can do that by mobilizing our many networks of civil society activists throughout the Muslim world;
- To target companies that are doing business in Xinjiang. One example is Volkswagen, a German company that had a close relationship with the Nazi regime and whose former CEO Herbert Diess said that he was “not aware” of the concentration camps in Xinjiang. There are also 53 Fortune 500 U.S. companies operating in Xinjiang, among them Exxon Mobil, Amazon, General Motors, Ford, General Electric, and Boeing. We can work with trade unions and also business associations to let these companies know that they shouldn’t be operating in a region where the Beijing regime is committing cultural genocide against the native population.
- We need to raise this issue of cultural genocide and the concentration camps in the context of China’s hosting of 2022 Winter Olympics. Companies like Adidas, Nike, Coca Cola need to be told that they shouldn’t sponsor these games while the Beijing regime is holding three million Uyghurs in concentration camps and committing cultural genocide. Human rights organizations are already on top of this issue, and we need to work with them.
- We also need to pressure the International Red Cross to insist on access to Xinjiang to find out what is happening in the concentration camps; and
- As Congressman Jim McGovern just said, there needs to be legislation like the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act that requires our government to produce reports on the crackdown and its national security implications, calls for the appointment of a Special Coordinator for Xinjiang, and recommends the application of Magnitsky targeted sanctions against Chinese officials who are involved in the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur people.
This conference is a first step toward building an international coalition for the defense of the human rights and the survival of the Uyghur people. There are many organizations that are already engaged on this. They can be part of an international coalition. The NED is one of them and its networks like the World Movement for Democracy and the International Coalition for Democratic Renewal, that is a joint effort with Forum 2000 in Prague, can take up the Uyghur issue.
In addition, the NED’s four party, labor, and business institutes can help by reaching out to their associated networks of political parties, business associations and trade unions. These are all sectors that need to be activated and brought into the coalition. Human rights and democracy groups like Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization are natural partners We also need to build an interfaith coalition of religious organizations, as well as network of academic institutions.
Not least, there should also be an international network of parliamentarians – like the World Parliamentarians Convention on Tiber that just met in Riga – that is committed to the defense of the human rights of the Uyghur People.
The Uyghur movement has done remarkable work with relatively few people. It’s important now that it work on developing and training a new generation of activists and leaders. The building of a new coalition should provide opportunities for the growth and nurturing of a new generation of leaders, and NED can help on that.
Finally, I think this conference should be an annual occurrence. It’s an opportunity to build solidarity and cohesion within the Uyghur movement, and it also is a way to raise international awareness and broaden the movement’s outreach to new constituencies. This, too, is an area where NED can help.
We’re at the beginning of what will be a long and difficult struggle. I believe, as Ronald Reagan said in his Westminster Address (which led to the creation of the NED), that all dictatorships are inherently insecure and unstable, because they rule without political consent and therefore have no real legitimacy. Reagan famously said that the innate human desire for freedom will leave a closed and oppressive system like the dictatorship now ruling China “on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.” I believe that will happen, so don’t give up hope.
As Ambassador Brownback noted, today is the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Europe. Many thousands of Americans gave their lives in that great effort. America remains committed to the cause of human freedom. You need to remember that as you fight for the rights and the survival of the Uyghur people, you are not alone. The American people stand with you, and the support you receive from the NED is an expression of that solidarity. We’ll do everything we can to help. Thank you very much.