Today, the United States co-sponsored with Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom a panel discussion on “The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang” on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, UN Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect Karen Smith, and others delivered remarks. Speakers expressed alarm about China’s ongoing repression campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. They called attention to the mass detention of more than one million individuals in internment camps since April 2017, and recognized the credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment taking place in these camps.
U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel D. Brownback moderated the panel, which featured victims of China’s repression campaign, including a survivor of the camps and individuals who are fighting to learn the fate of missing or detained family members. They shared heartbreaking and deeply personal stories of their experiences and the abuses those in Xinjiang endure on a daily basis.
Speakers called on members of the international community to speak up and urge China to change course, release all those in the camps, and demonstrate respect for the human rights of all its people. They also encouraged the United Nations to demonstrate leadership on this issue and to closely monitor China’s human rights abuses, including the repression of freedom of religion or belief.
U.S. State Department
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all. I want to thank the many world leaders who are here today. Thank you, Vice President Pence, for your work on this issue. I especially want to thank President Trump for being a champion of people of faith all around the world. The Bible says that “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” And that’s what we are all doing here today.
As you heard, religious freedom is under threat all around the world, and I now want to invite three individuals to tell us about their struggles on behalf of this first freedom, this important and unalienable right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And finally, let’s hear from Jewher Ilham, whose father is serving a life sentence in China as a prisoner of conscience.
MS ILHAM: Thank you, Secretary Pompeo. My name is Jewher Ilham, and I am Uighur. I am grateful to the United States for the opportunity to speak for millions of Uighurs in western China who remain silenced. It has become a crime to be Uighur in China. My father, Ilham Tohti, is a well-known economist and scholar. He never advocated for separatism but is now serving life in prison because he chose to speak out about the right to believe what you choose to believe, the right to worship the way you want to worship, and the right to think what you want to think. The only thing he was guilty of was publicly calling for peaceful dialogue and reconciliation.
The Chinese Government targets religion to ensure that people of faith do not answer to any greater power than the Communist Party. In China, authorities have defaced or demolished churches, temples, and mosques throughout the country. Crosses and minarets have been replaced with hammers and sickles. Spiritual images have been removed in favor of photos of authoritarians. The Ten Commandments have been taken down to make room for government propaganda. Children are forbidden from attending religious services. We are witnessing the systematic eradication of ethnic and religious minority identities in China.
Beijing believes Islam is a sickness to be treated with an iron fist. Uighurs are detained for praying to God, fasting during Ramadan, wearing a beard, or simply saying as-salamu alaykum. Every day, millions of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China are being abused, drugged, and indoctrinated in the government’s concentration camps. Outside of these camps, they’re monitored and tracked using high-tech surveillance. Chinese officials conduct intrusive home stays, looking for signs of religious practice.
Beijing claims it is combating extremism. Praying to God is not extremism. Beijing claims it is training unskilled Uighurs to be productive workers. Medical doctors and university scholars, professors do not need vocational training. Beijing claims it is fighting separatism. Practicing religion and speaking native tongues is not separatism. Chinese authorities believe that religion and people of faith are a threat to peaceful societies. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Faith is an antidote to hatred, discrimination, and brutality, because faith breeds love, compassion, and tolerance.
America has shown me the true meaning of the universal rights and value enshrined in the UN Charter. These rights are worth fighting for in China and everywhere else in the world. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jewher, thank you. Thank you for telling us that powerful story, and to the other survivors persecuted for their beliefs who are in the audience today, we want to recognize your incredible courage as well.
As we close here today, I want to focus your attention on what President Trump mentioned earlier: the International Religious Freedom Alliance the State Department announced in July. It is the most ambitious human rights project launched in a generation. We aim to bring together likeminded countries, faith leaders, civil society groups, and international organizations around the world to promote religious freedom in a more consistent, organized, and powerful way. The foundation of the alliance is Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”
So if you’re a country that takes human rights seriously, understanding its many benefits for peace, security, and prosperity, please come join us. If you’re a country that stands for human dignity and for freedom of conscience, please come join us. And if you’re a leader simply moved by the stories you’ve heard from these brave survivors today, come join us. Turn your sympathy for them into freedom for others. Please reach out to our Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. He’s ready to take your calls on all religious freedom issues.
The United Nations is only as strong as its sovereign members determine it will be. Our belief in our principles is only as strong as our confidence to express them. I ask – indeed, I pray – that you will help be a voice for the voiceless by joining the International Religious Freedom Alliance. May God bless the survivors who are here with us today, may God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the nations who have gathered with us here this morning. Thank you all. (Applause.)
edited by staff