Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the Uyghur people in East Turkestan.
What Is the UHRP?
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) was founded by the Uyghur American Association (UAA) in 2004 with a supporting grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). UHRP’s mission is to promote human rights and democracy for the Uyghur people, and to raise awareness of human rights abuses that occur in East Turkestan, referred to by the Chinese authorities since 1955 as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). In 2016, UHRP became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.
What Are the UHRP’s Goals?
UHRP is a human rights research, reporting and advocacy organization. The organization focuses on promoting human rights and democracy for Uyghurs and others living in East Turkestan.
Who Are the Uyghurs?
Uyghurs (alternatively spelled Uighurs, Uygurs, etc.) are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people living in the areas of Central Asia commonly known as East Turkestan. The area is vast, constituting one-sixth of the total land area under the control of the People’s Republic of China. The Uyghurs have a rich cultural history going back almost 4,000 years. Before embracing Islam in tenth century, Uyghurs believed in Buddhism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity. Today, Uyghurs practice a moderate form of Sufi Islam and lead predominantly secular lives.
East Turkestan has a rich and distinctive history, enhanced by its position along the Silk Road bridging mainland China and the ancient Arabic, Persian and European cultures to the west. Since 1949, East Turkestan has become a nuclear testing ground for the Chinese military, it is home to large numbers of Chinese military and paramilitary units, and it is the site of numerous forced labor camps administered by the Chinese authorities.
The population of approximately 19 million includes several Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic groups, of which the Uyghurs, numbering more than eight million, are the largest. As a result of Chinese government policies, the percentage of ethnic Chinese in East Turkestan has grown from four percent in 1949 to more than 40 percent at present, constituting some 7.5 million people.
Much like Tibetans, Uyghurs in East Turkestan have struggled for cultural survival in the face of a government-supported influx of Chinese migrants, as well as harsh repression of political dissent and any expression, of their distinct identity, however lawful or peaceful.
Reports from East Turkestan document a pattern of abuse including political imprisonment, torture, and disappearances. With only a few extremely rare exceptions, Uyghurs continue to be the only population in China consistently subjected to executions for political and religious offenses. Mosques are summarily closed and the Uyghur language is banned from use in schools. Uyghurs are subjected to compulsory unpaid labor on infrastructures, such as oil or gas lines to transfer East Turkestan’s resources to mainland China.
Why Is There a Need for UHRP?
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regularly express concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in East Turkestan. However, due to the Chinese authorities’ right controls on information, accurate and timely analysis of developments in East Turkestan is extremely difficult.
Human rights activists agree that without critical support from Uyghur-run human rights organizations, very little information from within East Turkestan will emerge. Some information collection and documentation has begun in a sporadic way in Uyghur communities across the Diaspora. It is hoped that these important contributions will be enhanced by the establishment of a human rights organization specifically focused on the Uyghur situation.
M. Omer Kanat was born in Ghulja city in East Turkestan. He helped found UHRP in 2003, as well as the World Uyghur Youth Congress, where he served for two terms as President from 1996 to 2000. He helped found and has served as the Vice-President of the World Uyghur Congress since 2006, prior to taking up the position of Director of UHRP in 2017, Mr. Kanat simultaneously served as the International Outreach Coordinator for the World Uyghur Congress, Director of the International Uyghur and Human Rights and Democracy Foundation (IUHRDF) and Vice-President of the Uyghur-American Association. From 1999 to 2009 Mr. Kanat was the Senior Editor of Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service, where he covered the War in Afghanistan and Iraq, edited Uyghur-language news, conducted exclusive interviews with prominent figures in Inner Asia, including his holiness the Dalai Lama, and reported on breaking news from around the world. In addition, he served as the Editor and later Senior Editor of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service. Mr. Kanat is fluent in English, German, Uyghur, Turkish, Persian, Tajik, Dari, Uzbek, and is functionally proficient in the Kyrgyz and Kazakh languages.
He holds a B.A. in History from Istanbul University’s Faculty of Science and Literature with a focus on political history, and studied at the Munich Institute of Economics and Trade. He holds certificates in human rights, advocacy and journalism from the American University, RFA, and RFE/RL.
Omer Kanat can be contacted by email at kanato[at]uhrp.org or 202-478-1901 (work)/202-304-2070 (cell)
Henryk Szadziewski is the Senior Researcher of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Mr. Szadziewski has a B.A. (Hons.) in Modern Chinese and Mongolian Studies from The University of Leeds, a DipTESOL from Trinity College London, and a M.Sc. (Econ.) in Development Management from The University of Wales, where he was awarded a distinction for his work on Uyghur economic, social and cultural rights. Mr. Szadziewski has authored numerous research and opinion articles on Uyghurs, Central Asia and development economics for publications such as Inner Asia, Asia Sentinel, Open Democracy, Asia Times and the Caucasian Review of International Affairs. He has spoken at academic conferences in Europe and the United States, as well as given testimony to the European Parliament on Uyghur issues. Mr. Szadziewski regularly offers commentary to broadcast and print media, such as Time, Deutsche Welle, C-SPAN, Global Post, Radio Free Asia and the Washington Times. He lived in China for five years, three of those in Kashgar, and has traveled across Central Asia. He is proficient in Mandarin, and has also studied the Uyghur language.
Henryk Szadziewski can be contacted by email at hszad[at]uhrp.org.
Nicole Morgret is the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Project Coordinator. She has extensive experience living overseas, and a background that includes work on political campaigns, in NGOs and as a teacher. Before joining UHRP she spent four years in China, including several in Nanjing earning her Master's degree from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Her undergraduate degree is from the American College of Thessaloniki.
Nicole Morgret can be contacted by email at nmorgret[at]uhrp.org or by phone at +1-202-478-1902
Chinese Outreach Coordinator
Ms. Zubayra Shamseden is the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator. She has been campaigning for the human rights and political freedom of the Uyghur people since the late 1980s. Before joining UHRP, Ms. Shamseden worked as Administrative Officer, Researcher and Translator at the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation. Ms. Shamseden has translated professionally between Chinese, Uyghur, English and Russian languages for nonprofit and government work in the US and Australia for over two decades. She also has experience with multicultural education and community liaison work. Ms. Shamseden has a certification in Chinese from the Industrial University of Xinjiang, a bachelor’s degree in Information Science from East China Normal University, Shanghai, China, a diploma in Russian language and literature from the State University of Eastern Kazakhstan" (Восточно-Казахстанский Государственный Университет), and a master’s degree in International Studies from the University of South Australia, for which she focused on the modern history of Uyghur human rights. She is fluent in English, Uyghur, Chinese, Uzbek and Russian and has a working knowledge of Turkish.
Zubayra Shamseden can be contacted by email at zshams[at]uhrp.org or by phone at +1-202-478-1903