UHRP/WUC Submission to Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism

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February 28, 2023

Submission to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Call for inputs: Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Civil Society and Civic Space

Submitted by the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the World Uyghur Congress

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) write in consideration of the “Call for inputs: Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Civil Society and Civic Space” to provide country-specific information on the negative impact of counter terrorism and counter extremism laws and policies by the government of the People’s Republic of China (“Chinese government”) against members of the Uyghur community in China and in the diaspora. We attempt to respond to questions 6 and 9.

Question 6: Descriptions, examples, or assessments of any instances where your organisation faced acts of intimidation or reprisal for engaging in human rights activities, including engagement with UN or other international stakeholders. Such acts can include sanctions, travel bans, threats and harassment … 

In 1999, the now-president of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, learned that the Chinese government issued a Red Notice against him through Interpol, demanding his arrest and extradition back to China to face politically motivated charges. As a result of his Red Notice, he has faced difficulties including arrest and detention in South Korea, India, the US, Turkey and Italy. In July 2017, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “Dolkun Isa is a terrorist wanted under the red notice of Interpol and by the Chinese police.” After a long process appealing the case, the Red Notice was deleted by Interpol in February 2018, but the impact of the designation continues to linger. 

World-Check, a database including individuals and organizations purported to be of “heightened risk,” included information from the Red Notice in a file on Isa, which prevented him from sending or receiving money internationally. Although the issue was ostensibly settled in 2021 following the deletion of the Red Notice, Isa is still unable to exchange money in most airports and unable to transfer or receive money through Western Union. The same issue extends to the WUC, where the organization still cannot receive money transfers including donations from certain countries.

Dolkun Isa has also encountered serious obstacles engaging with the UN system in Geneva and New York. In April 2005, he was stopped by Swiss national security agents and briefly held into custody and interrogated during a UN Human Rights Committee Session in Geneva, Switzerland.1Die Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (April 20, 2005). “Protest gegen Verhaftung eines uigurischen Menschenrechtlers bei der UN-Menschenrechtskommission,” online. The arrest was reportedly based on information from the Chinese government.

The WUC and UHRP have actively supported the work of OHCHR for many years and have both submitted applications for consultative status with ECOSOC, but with no success. In 2019, the World Uyghur Congress submitted a formal application for consultative status. Several weeks after submission, WUC received a letter from the Acting Chief of the NGO Branch of UN DESA rejecting the application, stating that “Upon consideration of the answers provided to the application form and the documentation presented, we understand that your organization promotes the establishment of an independent state within the sovereign territory of the People’s Republic of China. This position is inconsistent with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.”

On April 26, 2017, Dolkun Isa was attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Despite holding accreditation to participate in the meeting, Isa said that after leaving proceedings in Conference Room 4, he was confronted by UN security in the hallway who told him to leave the premises immediately. He was given no reason for this, and although his accreditation remained valid, he was not allowed to re-enter the building later that day or when the forum resumed on April 28.

At the next session of the Permanent Forum in April 2018, Isa once again gained accreditation for the session weeks ahead, but was informed that his accreditation for the event was “pending approval” due to “security concerns.” Isa was prevented from entering the UN premises to participate in the first day of the Forum, and when asked for an explanation, UN security were unable to elaborate further on the justification for the refusal, citing “security concerns” a second time. 

Pressure and intimidation surrounding UN access has also extended to organizations providing credentials for WUC attendees. During the 2018 resumed session of the NGO Committee, the Chinese delegation took the floor to make accusations of terrorism against Dolkun Isa and tried to withdraw the ECOSOC accreditation of the Society for Threatened Peoples, who provided credentials for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Other instances of intimidation at UN meetings include raising points of order in response to speakers from the World Uyghur Congress. The Chinese delegation raised a point of order after Zumretay Arkin spoke during the Intersessional Meeting on the Prevention of Genocide on February 15, 2021, calling the WUC a “terrorist organization.” During a meeting of the 15th session of the Forum on Minority Issues on December 1, 2022, the Chinese delegation interrupted WUC Vice President, Zubayra Shamseden, stating that the WUC is linked to a terrorist organization and should not be allowed to attend the Forum.

In addition to obstacles to advocacy, Dolkun Isa’s family has faced severe retaliation. Before 2017, on more than one occasion, Chinese police visited his family ahead of a Human Rights Council session to request his non-participation in meetings at the UN. In 2018, Isa’s mother died in an internment camp, and in April 2019, Isa learned that his older brother, Yalkun Isa had been sentenced to 17 years in prison. In January 2020, Isa also learned of the death of his father through Chinese media. In May 2021, it was reported that his younger brother, Hushtar Isa, was sentenced to life in prison. 

Finally, the WUC and UHRP have faced obstacles bringing evidence to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In the lead up to the 3rd cycle review of China, information submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was removed from the final document intended for UN member states to draft recommendations for China’s review.

The OHCHR—tasked with compiling stakeholder information into a summary document—initially released a Stakeholder Summary dated September 3, 2018. The document listed 85 individual submissions including from the World Uyghur Congress (WUC). Shortly after the first Stakeholder Summary was posted, however, it was removed from the OHCHR’s website for several weeks. Citing “technical reasons,” on October 16 the OHCHR re-issued an updated version of the report (version dated October 10) which removed all references to reports from WUC and UHRP, along with several other submissions.

The concerned organizations reached out individually to the OHCHR with concerns from October 22 to 26; in response, OHCHR officials wrote: “As a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly, the HRC and the UPR Working Group (UPR WG), must adhere to the official United Nations position and terminology as reflected in relevant General Assembly resolutions and within the context of the UN Charter, and therefore, must respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the State concerned.” Further requests to explain in greater detail specific issues with the seven reports went unanswered.

The OHCHR did, however belatedly, issue a Corrigendum document on November 2, 2018 including previously removed citations of reports by WUC and UHRP, along with several other civil society organizations.

Question 9: Descriptions, examples, or assessments of any instances of misuse of technology used for terrorism, counter-terrorism, prevention of (violent) extremism laws, policies, or processes. This may include misuse of artificial intelligence, biometric collection, advanced passenger information and passenger name record data, digital surveillance, electronic monitoring, unmanned aircraft systems or drone technologies, etc.

The Chinese government makes use of digital technology as a means of monitoring, tracking, and controlling the Uyghur population in the Uyghur region. The Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a centralized data system that stores data on all residents in the Uyghur region, plays a significant role in this.2Human Rights Watch (May 1, 2019). China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App. Online. The system serves as a platform for collecting information on individuals across the region and is operated through a mobile app used by police and government officials. Information logged by the app includes an individual’s physical characteristics, health information, online search history, personal behavior and relationships, and also location data of their phones, ID cards, and vehicles, along with their use of electricity and gas for their vehicles.

The IJOP system carefully monitors Uyghurs, who are targeted for “extremism” and “terrorism” for quotidian activities and behavior. In December 2014, the regional government published a list of “75 behavioral indicators of religious extremism.” Many of these behaviors have nothing to do with “extremism” at all, including people who “store large amounts of food in their homes,” “those who smoke and drink but quit doing so suddenly,” or “those who buy or store equipment such as dumbbells . . . boxing gloves, as well as maps, compasses, telescopes, ropes, and tents without obvious reasons.

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About the Uyghur Human Rights Project:

UHRP promotes the rights of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim peoples in East Turkistan, referred to by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, through research-based advocacy. UHRP publishes reports and analysis in English and Chinese to defend Uyghurs’ civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights according to international human rights standards. 

UHRP documents violations; highlights human rights defenders, survivors, and victims; and researches avenues for defense and positive promotion of Uyghurs’ human rights, especially in the arenas of policymaking, grassroots action, and cultural rights promotion. We emphasize bringing forward Uyghur voices and Uyghur experiences to international fora and decision-makers.

About the World Uyghur Congress:

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is an international umbrella organisation that represents the collective interests of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan, referred to by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and abroad. The WUC promotes freedom, democracy and human rights through peaceful, nonviolent and democratic means to promote the right of the Uyghur people to determine their political future. 

The WUC carries out advocacy efforts within the United Nations and European institutions, as well as with national government and parliaments to raise awareness, defend Uyghur human rights and to advocate for the adoption of policies to protect Uyghurs. We also offer capacity-building trainings for Uyghur youth in the diaspora and support human rights defenders.