Rushan Abbas’s Speech on the Roundtable “States Responsibility to Protect Before Genocide”

Campaign for Uyghurs Executive Director Rushan Abbas was a participant in the roundtable event “States Responsibility to Protect Before Genocide”, held by the Xinjiang Genocide Conference in Newcastle University. Her remarks at the roundtable below:

“Hello. I am honored to be here among such esteemed colleagues for this wonderful conference. Thank you to Dr. Jo Smith-Finley for inviting me to give my perspective as an Uyghur. 

To begin, I feel compelled to recall that there has not been an occasion of preemptive genocide determination. In every instance of genocide in recent history, we are reminded of how the international community has been late to act. We are already looking at the later stages of the destruction of Uyghur culture and the loss of Uyghurs’ very lives. The people are perishing. The concentration camps have crematoriums built nearby for a culture that doesn’t practise cremation. This is a genocide, and in spite of the Chinese regime’s best efforts, it is being carried out before the eyes of the world.  

We have the information to hold the Chinese regime accountable. Yet, because of China’s position, many so-called leaders maintain that their hands are tied. “We should cooperate with China where we can” many say. How can we cooperate with a genocidal regime? This is not the case of one faction carrying out the extermination of the other, it is deliberately constructed by the State actor itself. A regime that is publicly defending its genocidal actions, even using Western social media platforms to do so. They will never shoulder their own responsibility to prevent genocide. Fellow nation states in the world must recognize that this is not just China’s tragedy, it is all of ours. It will be our children’s, when they examine our present course and ask us what we did to stop this. 

From the Holocaust to Rwanda, the exact situations may differ, but the reasons they happen are related. The warning signs are always ignored in favor of examining the perceived value of lives compared with the dollar. We are where we are today not only because of the evil performed by the Chinese Communist regime, but likewise because of willful naivete. Many have chosen to ignore the realities of the warning signs of ultra-nationalism and the CCP’s disregard for the sanctity of human life in favor of profiting off of Chinese blood money. Academia is one of the primary areas affected. Look at the case of Jane Golley and her shoddy genocide defense. Look at Jeffrey Sachs in the U.S., commenting beyond his expertise to defend the Chinese regime! Even look at our friend Dr. Rune Steenberg, who has bravely presented his views and yet believes we are unjust in calling Chinese authorities evil for what they are doing! As someone whose entire family has been destroyed because of this genocide, I don’t appreciate the willingness to water down or cover up what is evil. There is no other word for it! 

We are also here because while most of us look at the horrors of history and believe we would have been the ones to stand up to evil, the reality is that most of us would likely accept the status quo. Perhaps we aren’t pulling the trigger, but we are accepting a reality in which perpetrators commit genocidal crimes with impunity because of apathy, timidity, or distraction.

I am speaking to you all as someone who is not analyzing the situation as a scholar or legal expert. I believe that the respected scholars who are here today have done an excellent job of that. I am speaking as an Uyghur, as a sister and a daughter-in-law  who is directly affected by the failure of the international community to prevent this genocide. In order to speak effectively on the responsibility to protect, we must examine our own failures as well. Just last week we received word that our Deputy Director at CFU had lost her younger brother, Omerjan Matsidiq in the concentration camps. He was previously healthy. My own sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas has been abducted by the Chinese regime because I spoke out to condemn their crimes against the Uyghurs. A week from today will mark 3 years since her disappearance. Each night, I lay awake wondering, where she is, how is her health and what she is eating, if she is alive, and I also ponder, asking myself what more can I do for her, what more can I do for the Uyghurs, what more can I do to awaken the conscience of the world? What more can I do to make the people understand that they are already losing their freedom and jeopardizing their own future when they are so intimidated by the CCP? While so many people continue to treat genocide as something to analyze as an intellectual exercise, Uyghurs are dying. These stories are not making the news, but they are increasingly common experiences for Uyghur families. 

While I desire disengagement with this genocidal regime, I do not advocate for isolationism because I still believe in the concept of democratic leadership.  We in the West also have a responsibility to address what is very clearly also our own issue because of economic ties with this vicious regime. We live in a world that is already tightly interconnected, and isolationism is not an option. Issues like that of the Uyghur genocide are very much the responsibility of Western countries to address and prevent because of the ways in which we profit off of them. For this reason, the idea of a league of democracies is a very valuable one. Shared value countries must prevent such crimes against humanity together. 

We should also recognize that the executors of atrocity crimes do not accept the intervention or authority of the international community, and should be prepared to respond accordingly. Because of the pluralistic nature of many of our own Western societies, we find that it is difficult to respond in the face of authoritarian threats. One of the major obstacles is that citizens of our own nations may not understand these threats adequately enough to demand a response from their own leaders. As such, civic society education remains a vital piece in creating the accountability for states to shoulder their responsibility. 

In his message, Secretary-General of the UN Guterres recently highlighted that the imperative to prevent genocide is “foundational to the United Nations”, and yet, he still refuses to make any significant remarks on the genocide and crimes against humanity being boldly carried out by the CCP. Again, pluralism which allows a criminal an equal seat at the table, effectively allowing a criminal to judge his own trial, renders many of our international bodies largely ineffective. 

It’s time to stop pretending that there were no opportune moments in which this could have been stopped. The Chinese regime has demonstrated its true character in demanding that various ethnic groups conform to standards of uniformity defined by the CCP for decades now, and under Xi Jinping all the warning signs were present early on. 

If we examine the risk factors for genocide as laid out in the UN framework of analysis for atrocity crimes we can easily identify that the Chinese regime has met so many…their record of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Weaknesses of State structure. The motives have no doubt been discussed adequately but are present. Their capacity to commit such crimes has been demonstrated. There is an absence of mitigating factors due to the absolute authority of the State and lack of access by journalists and human rights bodies including the U.N. Ultranationalism and deliberate construction of the false terrorism narrative have provided the enabling circumstances and actions. Intergroup tensions and discrimination have been present for decades. During the 1950s, Uyghur elites and rich business people were targeted as nationalists and many were executed. During the 60s, the era of my father and grandfathers, Uyghurs were labeled as counter revolutionaries and persecuted, then later they were called separatists if they expressed any dissatisfaction with the CCP. For the past 2 decades Uyghurs have been labeled as extremists or terrorists. We have always been treated as “other” and as free-thinking threats to Communist rule.   

Is the CCP characteristically more evil than the governments of the United States or United Kingdom for example? I heard the point raised here by Dr. Rune Steenberg that we should be careful not to categorize the Chinese regime as inherently more evil than other governments. I understand his concern, after all, I have also at times felt very disappointed in my own government. However, as concerns active genocide, I want to ask this: can we say that the Nazis were evil? Can we say that genocide is evil? Others have also carried out genocide yes, but just because a term is politicized does not mean it is inaccurate. There is a particular kind of “intellectual” that feels they are being superior by maintaining “neutrality.” But, how in the world can one compare the UK and the US to China? For people like Dr. Steenberg, who is living in the democratic free Europe, and telling us the CCP is not worse, there is an Uyghur proverb that I want to share with them: “Ogzige chiqiwalghan, ittin qorqmaptu”-which means “the person standing on top of the roof, is not afraid of the biting dog below”. Many of his arguments are mere “whataboutisms.”

We can and do criticize the failures and ill actions of the governments of the United States or United Kingdom. There is no such opportunity for moral outrage in today’s China. Therefore we can accurately say that this restrictive government which openly defends its genocide is allowing the worst side of human nature to flourish, and the most corrupt to lead the country with no means of address. Yes, one system is categorically more flawed, although this doesn’t mean that the alternate system is perfect.

In closing I want to remind each of us today of the responsibility we bear not merely as scholars but as citizens of humanity to use our intellect and our voices to call attention to the truth. The horrors as what we are witnessing unfold today have massive implications for the future of all. For the life of my sister, for the lives of all Uyghurs, and the future of freedom and free discourse, we must do more. It’s our ethical and moral responsibility to do what is right. Standing up and holding China accountable today, is defending the future of this free world that your parents and grandparents sacrificed so much to establish! 

Thank you.”

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