We are gathered here this morning because very grave offenses against the fundamental human rights of hundreds of thousands of peaceful Uyghurs are being committed by the government of China and it is time for our government, our media, our political leaders, and all of us to stand up and call out the Chinese government for this massive violation of international law. There are compelling and credible reports that between 800,000 and a million Uyghurs have been rounded up and detained in so-called “re-education” camps. This staggering number makes this the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.
This mass round-up of innocent, peaceful individuals is part of a deeply concerning deterioration of basic rights in the XinXiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) that has included reports of torture, deprivation, and even death in these camps where people are imprisoned behind barbed wire and high walls secured by guards. One of those known to have died while in custody was the admired and respected religious scholar, Muhammed Salih Hajim. Salih disappeared into police custody along with his daughter and other relatives, 40 days before his death. We do not know whether Salih died in one of those concentration camps or in a hidden Chinese jail cell but China’s very refusal to reveal where he was held, how he died, and to release his body to his family members tell us all we need to know.
A particularly vicious aspect of China’s illegal mass round-up is the way China has targeted the family members of prominent Uyghurs living and working in the United States. In a cruel and transparent attempt to silence internationally engaged activists and journalists, authorities have been ruthless in detaining and disappearing their extended family members. More than 30 family members of Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uyghur leader who I am honored to be here with today have been caught up in this bitter pattern of collective punishment. The relatives of the 6 RFA journalists have been similarly detained.
Imagine for a moment the pain, worry, and anguish of these US based family members who know that their beloved relatives are being taken hostage in an effort to intimidate them and silence them from telling the truth about what China is doing.
We are here today with members of the Washington, DC Uyghur community who have brought letters that we are asking the Chinese Ambassador – Cui Tiankai – to deliver to their family members. In presenting these letters today we are putting the Chinese government on notice that the disappearance of these prisoners has not gone unnoticed. We want the imprisoned to know that there are loving and dedicated family members who are fighting for their release – and those family members are not alone. We want to commend Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith – the co-chairs of the bi-partisan Congressional Executive Commission on China – who have taken important steps to urge our Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, to investigate disturbing reports out of China and to begin assembling the evidence regarding those individuals responsible for these abuses against the Uyghur community. The US government has a powerful tool to use against those who trample on the basic human rights of their citizens – the Global Magnitsky Act – and we believe sanctions against Chinese officials in XingXiang may well be warranted. We also want to thank the bi-partisan Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Congressman McGovern, & Congressman Hultgren for their leadership on this matter and for their continued vigilance in speaking out about human rights abuses around the world.
Finally, I would like to invoke the memory of my late father, Congressman Tom Lantos, the founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and one of our nation’s most forceful and eloquent advocates for human rights and justice. He understood and lived the truth that we are indeed our brother’s keeper and he left us with the following admonition and duty – he said :
“The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardian’s and we can never rest.”
We shall never rest until the 100’s of thousands of peaceful Uyghurs are freed from unlawful detention and these family members can once again know that their relatives are safe and free.
WE WILL NEVER REST!