Congress Urged to Help Stop Uyghur Abuses in China

Experts asked lawmakers to build an international coalition of support for the Uyghurs, increase tariffs on China and work to prevent U.S. companies from profiting off of forced labor.

A guard tower and barbed wire fences surround an internment facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) —  “I feel like I must speak up as a survivor for all those who have not survived.”

Tursunay Ziyawudun is a Uyghur, someone indigenous to the Xinjiang region of China — known to them as East Turkistan. She is also a two-time survivor of Uyghur concentration camps, where the Chinese government has held up to 3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, subjecting them to rape, forced labor, sterilizations and political indoctrination. 

“I’m not asking for sympathy for myself, I’m asking for governments around the world to wake up,” Ziyawudun told lawmakers Thursday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “The world should not allow genocide to continue in the 21st century.” 

The United States and several other nations classified China’s actions as genocide back in January, putting pressure on the new administration to negotiate China’s record of human rights violations. 

“Instead of working with the international community to investigate these atrocities and bring an end to the genocide, the Chinese government has endorsed an attitude of deflection and disinformation,” said Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, chairman of the committee. 

In Ziyawudun’s somber and tearful testimonial to committee members, she spoke of her 10 months in a concentration camp where she was starved, given unknown injections, endlessly forced to swear loyalty to the Chinese government and reject her faith, and tortured with an electric stick pushed inside her genital tract.

“It has left an unforgettable scar on my heart,” she said, through the help of a translator. 

When Ziyawudun was finally let go in December 2018, she was warned by guards that there would be heavy consequences if she ever spoke about her experience. She was put under surveillance even after she left the camp.

“It wasn’t until I came to the United States that I could tell my full story,” Ziyawudun said. 

Committee members listened intently in the hearing that was held to discuss the atrocities committed by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs and other minorities in East Turkistan as well as ways to put an end to them. 

“Genocide is a term we reserve for history’s most serious crimes against humanity,” said ranking member Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. “It is essential we get our response right.”

Last month, Meeks and McCaul introduced a resolution condemning the genocide and calling on the Biden administration to urge the United Nations to investigate and invoke multilateral sanctions against China at the U.N. Security Council. 

Uyghur experts at the hearing asked lawmakers to implement across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods and prevent American corporations from cooperating with the Chinese Communist Party. 

In a March 2020 report titled “Uyghurs for Sale,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Uyghurs were sent out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands, including Apple, Gap, Nike, Samsung and Volkswagen. 

The report found that forced laborers undergo organized Mandarin and ideological training, cannot participate in religious observances and are constantly surveilled. In one case study, a factory that manufactures shoes for Nike was found to have 600 Uyghur laborers who are required to attend night school to receive “patriotic education.” 

“This has been an ongoing practice in at least the last 20 years,” Nury Turkel, chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told lawmakers Thursday.

Turkel was born in a Uyghur concentration camp and came to the United States in 1995 as a student. “We just came late to the game to find out about these practices,” he said.

Shortly after the report was published, Nike stated that it did not source products from Xinjiang and has not found evidence of employment of Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities from China. 

McCaul said that the committee asked representatives from Nike to testify at the hearing but they declined. 

“There’s a number of U.S. companies and individuals who are profiting off of the atrocities of the Uyghurs,” said Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Experts also asked committee members to work to ensure that the 2022 Olympics is not held in Beijing. 

“It seems to me that the change in venue is still a viable option if there is the political will,” said Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican. “The fact that corporate America is going to be aiding and abetting an Olympics at a venue where there is a current day genocide occurring, plus other massive human rights violations, is absolutely unconscionable.”

Witnesses at the hearing asked for the United States to build an international coalition of Uyghur allies, especially because genocide denial is in full swing across the globe. Even many Muslim majority countries have sided with the Chinese Communist Party, Turkel said. 

“The genocide of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities by the hands of the Chinese Communist Party is the moral test of our time,” said McCaul. “There are few other issues that demand this level of attention, not just from our own committee, but from the world.”

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