The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) hosted a discussion with Nury Turkel (Hudson Institute) on July 26, 2022, No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs. Centered around Mr. Turkel’s eponymous book, the conversation focused on violence, repression, and targeted efforts by the authorities in Beijing to erase the Uyghur population in East Turkistan. The conversation was moderated by Christopher Walker (NED) and featured introductory comments by Damon Wilson (NED).
The PRC government is carrying out a campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan and overseas. Around one million Uyghur civilians have been imprisoned in concentration camps, where they are subjected to torture, sexual abuse, family separation, and more. Inmates are made to work in factories; the products they produce are integrated into global supply chains and are purchased and sold by mainstream brands. In the wider region, the Beijing authorities are orchestrating a concerted campaign to forcibly assimilate citizens and wipe out Uyghur culture.
Beijing has built an extensive surveillance infrastructure to monitor citizens in every aspect of their day-to-day lives. Using technology developed in open societies, authorities have weaponized facial and license plate recognition, mobile phone monitoring tools, and more. This has granted the authoritarian government an enormous degree of intrusive control over the region—scaling up mass violence against an ethnic population to an unprecedented level. This surveillance infrastructure extends across borders, as those in the Uyghur diaspora find themselves cut off from family within East Turkistan and fear that their conduct abroad could have ramifications for their loved ones at home.
Nury Turkel implored the international community to recognize the urgency of this human rights catastrophe and take measures sufficient to match the scale of the crisis. Thus far, the global community has largely failed to recognize, condemn, and deploy appropriate responses that safeguard Uyghur lives, freedom, and culture. Although the crisis has generated bipartisan support and legislation in the United States, international institutions and many prominent European governments have not responded in a meaningful way. Moreover, for-profit companies, scholarly institutions, cultural and entertainment entities, and others must stand up for Uyghur rights, even at the potential cost of economic engagement with the PRC. Average consumers can spur companies to act by refusing to purchase products which were developed using forced labor. A multilateral, multisectoral response from state and non-state entities alike will be crucial for mitigating the human rights calamity unfolding in East Turkistan.
About the Participants
Nury A. Turkel is an attorney, foreign policy expert, and rights advocate. He is currently serving as Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom after being appointed as a Commissioner by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in May 2020. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, speaking about Uyghur internment camps, and advocating a legislative response to China’s atrocities. His policy recommendations have been incorporated into U.S. laws and pending bills relating to Uyghurs and China. As a rights advocate, he has led efforts to raise the profile of the Uyghur cause. He is the Chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which he co-founded in 2003 with the support of NED. He is a senior fellow at Washington think tank, the Hudson Institute, where he works on U.S. foreign policy and national security issues. He is also a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has written essays for major publications such as Foreign Affairs, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Foreign Policy. He has provided commentaries on domestic and international programs including CNN, BBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and NPR. In 2020, he was on TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list, and in 2021, he was listed as one of Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders.
Christopher Walker is Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. In this capacity, he oversees the department responsible for NED’s multifaceted analytical work. He is an expert on authoritarian regimes, and has been at the forefront of the discussion on authoritarian influence on open systems, including through what he terms “sharp power.” His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and the Journal of Democracy. He is co-editor (with Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner) of the edited volume Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), and co-editor (with Jessica Ludwig) of the report Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence (NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, 2017).
Damon Wilson is President and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining the Endowment, he served as executive vice president at the Atlantic Council. Wilson’s public service includes serving as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council; as the Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq; as the Director for Central, Eastern, and Northern European Affairs at the National Security Council; and as Deputy Director in the Private Office of NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. Wilson also worked in the Department of State’s Office of European Security and Political Affairs, on the State Department’s “China desk,” and at the US Embassy in Beijing. He completed his master’s degree at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; served as the first Hart Leadership Fellow, working in Rwanda for Save the Children; and graduated summa cum laude from Duke University as a Benjamin N. Duke Leadership Scholar.
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