Global recognition for the struggle of the Uyghur peoples in China has come by way of nomination of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. Lawmakers in Canada and a leader of the Young Liberals in Norway, the youth wing of Norway’s Venstre political party, have nominated the WUC. The rights group has been nominated for its work towards peace, democracy and plight of the Uyghur and other Turkic people who live under, what the nomination letter describes as a “repressive regime in China.” The Voice of America (VoA) reports that “The World Uyghur Congress has the main purpose of promoting democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur People and supporting the use of peaceful, non- violent, and democratic means to help the Uyghurs achieve self- determination.”
Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, one of two Canadian Members of Parliament who nominated the WUC, shared the nomination letter with VoA, which says the WUC had drawn global attention to China’s treatment of Uyghurs with “the overwhelming campaign of physical, religious, linguistic, and cultural repression” by the Chinese government. China has repeatedly denied mistreating the Uyghur peoples, with Xinhua describing the allegations as “lies” concocted by “anti-China forces in the West.” In a June 2021 article, the state owned media paper claimed that “Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion at all, but about combating violent terrorism and separatism,” and that the region has experienced economic and social development. Last August, the UN Human Rights office released a report on Xinjiang, which stated that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in so-called vocational education and training centres could constitute crimes against humanity. The United States and several other countries have classified human rights abuses in the region as genocide.
Meanwhile, Volker Türk the new chief of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) said his agency had documented China’s arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and the separation of children from their families. Making these comments during a global update on human rights (8 March 2023) in Geneva, Turk said his office had opened channels of communication with various actors to follow up on human rights issues in China, including the protection of minorities such as Uyghur, Tibetans and other groups. He said, “In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns, notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up.” The UN and several Western governments have remained steadfast in condemning China over its harsh policies affecting Uyghur, and Tibetans. Türk’s comments come nearly three weeks after the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or UNCESCR, grilled 40 Chinese delegates about the human rights situations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the far-western autonomous region in China where more than 11 million of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur people live.
Notably, several Western parliaments have declared the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghur and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang as constituting genocide and crimes against humanity. During an address to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (2 March 2023), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cited the report by the OHCHR and said “We remain gravely concerned about the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is committing against Muslim Uyghurs and other members of minority groups in Xinjiang,” he said. He added that the OHCHR report on Xinjiang “affirmed serious abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China in Xinjiang, including the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities, and credible allegations of torture and sexual and gender-based violence.”
Zumretay Arkin, WUC advocacy manager told VoA, “The fact that the WUC was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is proof that the free and democratic world has recognized the WUC’s work as valuable and important. Instead of defaming such organizations, the Chinese government should listen to the democratic world,” Arkin said. The WUC, founded in Munich in 2004, has a wide range of activities, including campaigning for the rights of people being forcefully disappeared, advocating for the release of political prisoners, protecting the rights of asylum seekers to prevent forcible repatriation to China, and advocating at the UN, EU, and national level. The nomination letter states that efforts of the WUC has led to the international community developing policies and actions to help secure the rights of the Uyghur.
The WUC was founded after the East Turkistan National Congress and the World Uyghur Youth Congress merged into one organization and its main objective is to promote democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur people and to use peaceful, non-violent, and democratic means to determine their political future. The group’s mission statement states that “By representing the sole legitimate organization of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad, WUC endeavours to set out a course for the peaceful settlement of the East Turkistan Question through dialogue and negotiation.
East Turkistan is the name some Uyghur prefer to use instead of Xinjiang, which means “new territory” in Chinese and is what China calls the Uyghur homeland. “It makes me very proud to see that the World Uyghur Congress’ hard work to end the Uyghur genocide has not gone unnoticed,” Dolkun Isa, the President of the WUC, said in a press statement. The nomination was also significant because it was “a show of support for the Uyghur people,” Isa said. The nomination of the WUC is thus a clear sign that the voice of Uyghur is being heard across the world. There is no doubt that WUC deserves the prize much more than the sham nomination of Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey!