I call this meeting to order.
Welcome, everybody. Just off the bat, let me thank our interpreting team and our technical team here for getting everybody organized and ready to go.
Welcome to meeting number four of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Pursuant to the motion adopted by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on February 20, 2020, the subcommittee is meeting on its study of the human rights situation of the Uighurs.
Today’s witnesses are mainly appearing by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I'd like to outline a few rules to follow for our witnesses. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either floor, English or French.
As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to also switch the interpretation channel so it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
Should any technical challenges arise, for example in relation to interpretation or a problem with your audio, please advise me, the chair, immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them.
We have many amazing and courageous witnesses here with us today. Before we begin, I'd like to emphasize our focus on Uighurs. Several of our witnesses are experts in human rights in general, and some with an emphasis on China. There are and will be opportunities through future meetings of this committee and other government committees to address many issues in respect to China and other human rights issues. I say this because our witnesses are here to share their expertise on Uighurs. To reiterate, we need to focus on Uighurs.
Everybody seems like they're ready to go. Welcome, witnesses. You will have six minutes for your opening statements.
First, we're going to hear from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Dr. Adrian Zenz, senior fellow in China studies. Next, as an individual, we have Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, professor and journalist.
Then, sharing a six-minute slot, we have David Kilgour, former member, and former chair of this committee. We stand on your shoulders, Mr. Kilgour. We also have Dr. Raziya Mahmut, vice-president, International Support for Uyghurs. I understand it will be five minutes for Dr. Mahmut and one minute for Mr. Kilgour.
Next, as an individual, we have Jacob Kovalio, associate professor, Carleton University.
If the witnesses are ready, we are going to hear from Dr. Zenz for his six-minute statement. You may proceed, Dr. Zenz.
Thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing.
Since 2017, up to 1.8 million Uighurs and other ethnic minority groups in the the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have been swept up in probably the largest incarceration of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust. Exiled Uighurs and researchers have described this campaign as a cultural genocide.
New research gives strong evidence that Beijing's actions in Xinjiang also meet the physical genocide criterion cited in section (d) of article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”.
Starting in 2018, a growing number of female internment camp survivors testified that they were given injections that coincided with changes in or cessation of their menstrual cycles. Others reported that they were forcibly fitted with intrauterine contraceptive devices, abbreviated as IUDs, prior to internment or subjected to sterilization surgeries.
Also in 2018, official natural population growth rates in Xinjiang plummeted. In Kashgar and Hotan, two Uighur heartland regions, combined natural population growth rates fell by 84% between 2015 and 2018. In 2019, birth rates in ethnic minority regions declined by a further 30% to 56%. For 2020, one minority prefecture set a natural population growth target of near zero, specifically 1.05 per mille, a record low and a major drop in the natural population growth of that same region.
New evidence shows that drastic declines in population growth are not merely linked with the campaign of mass internment but also related to a systematic state policy to prevent births in minority regions. With many men, husbands and community leaders being detained in camps, nothing prevents the state from seizing complete control over female minority reproductive systems.
First, three different government documents show that those who violate birth prevention policies are punished with internment. Punishments for violations of birth control policies have become far more draconian, especially in 2018.
Second, in 2018, a stunning 80% of all newly placed IUDs in China, estimated by subtracting new IUD placements from removals, were fitted in Xinjiang, even though the region only makes up 1.8% of the country's population. By 2019, Xinjiang planned to subvert over 80% of women of child-bearing age in the southern four minority prefectures to birth control measures with—quote, unquote—“long-term effectiveness”. This refers to either IUDs or sterilizations.
Third, Xinjiang's health commission budgeted 260 million Chinese yuan, or $50 million Canadian, in 2019 and 2020 to fund free birth prevention surgeries. Family planning documents from two Uighur counties show specific target figures for mass female sterilization, stating respectively that 14% and 34% of all rural women of reproductive age are to be subjected to tubal ligation sterilization. The entire region-wide program had sufficient funds in 2019 and 2020 for hundreds of thousands of such sterilizations, and some regions indicated that additional central government funds had been channelled into this campaign.
In addition, in 2019 and 2020, Xinjiang budgeted about 1.5 billion Chinese yuan or $291 million Canadian for financial rewards for women who supposedly voluntarily opted for IUDs or sterilizations even though they are legally permitted to have more children.
In my estimation, all of these measures combined allow the Chinese state to permanently maintain Uighur natural population growth rates at levels that are 85% to 95% below those of the past two decades. The government can dial minority birth rates up and down at will, like opening or closing a faucet.
This new evidence is reflective not only of what we may call demographic genocide but also of a strategy of ethno-racial supremacy. Between 2015 and 2018 an estimated two million what we must assume to be Han Chinese migrants moved to Xinjiang from other parts of China, lured by lucrative job offers, free housing and free land.
I call upon the Canadian government to publicly condemn these practices, to perform a full legal determination of the nature of the atrocities that are taking place in the region and to impose sanctions on Xinjiang's political leadership.
My name is Olsi Jazexhi. I'm a historian and a scholar of Islam.
In 2019 I wanted to understand the situation of the Muslims in Xinjiang. For this reason, I visited Xinjiang from August 16 to 25. We were a group of journalists invited by the State Council Information Office of China and Xinjiang.
During our visit, which lasted almost nine days, we had the chance to get a number of lectures delivered to us by Communist Party officials, and also to visit the situation on the ground. We visited three cities: Urumqi, Aksu and Kashgar.
We stayed for around three days in Urumqi, which is the capital of Xinjiang. We were presented with a number of white papers produced by the Chinese government about the situation in Xinjiang or East Turkestan. The people who delivered these white papers were Communist Party officials, people like Xu Guixiang and Ma Pinyan.
In the historical presentations that we had, for me at least as a professional historian, the narrative the Chinese Communist Party officials were giving us was that Xinjiang had historically been Han Chinese. It had belonged to the Buddhist culture, but the native Turkic people of Xinjiang, the Uighurs, who are the majority, the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tatars and other ethnic groups were latecomers.
The official narrative of the Communist Party officials for us was that Islam was a foreign religion, a religion that was imposed by force on the Uighurs. The duty of the Communist Party of China, in a few words, was to remove any connection with the Islamic culture of these people and turn them back into their so-called native culture and religion which was connected with Buddhism and Han Chinese.
We visited the museum of Xinjiang in Urumqi, the Aksu museum and the Kashgar museum. In these museums, the Chinese government delivered the same kind of historical narrative, whereby the Uighurs and their religion, Islam, was depicted as foreign and as the source of extremism and terrorism. The whole narrative was that this region had historically belonged to Imperial China.
Apart from visiting these museums, we also visited two vocational training centres, or what we call, in the west, concentration camps.
The first vocational training centre that we visited was in the city of Aksu, the Onsu County Vocational Skills Training Center. The Chinese government wanted to present this first vocational centre to us, as foreign journalists, as being schools and not prisons. They were in fact prisons.
People have seen my videos on YouTube. I uploaded them when I was in Aksu at the time that I visited the concentration camp. I asked our Chinese hosts a number of questions.
Number one, I asked them, “Who are these people you are keeping here in these centres?” The Chinese claim was that these people were students. I then asked them, “Are these people allowed to go to their home?” The answer was no.
Number two, I investigated what they were doing in these concentration camps. These people didn't have access to a phone, Internet, or their families. These people had been taken from their homes two years before.
We entered the concentration camp, which the Chinese authorities had designed as a school. They wanted us to film these people singing and dancing in order to show the outside world that these were not concentration camps but schools. We started to ask these prisoners about their conditions. Number one, we started speaking to them in their Turkish language. We were greeting them in their native language. We said, “As-salaam alaikum” or “Yahshi mu siz,” which mean “peace be with you” and “how are you”. The Uighurs who understood us very well were afraid to respond in their native language. They responded in Chinese.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, distinguished members.
Dr. Mahmut speaks perfect French, so you're welcome to speak to her in French.
I'll be very short. I will just say that last December in Brussels at an event sponsored by the World Uyghur Congress, I made the point that forced organ pillaging from Uighurs in Xinjiang predates that from Falun Gong members, which, as I'm sure you know, began in about 2001. In 1995 surgeon Enver Tohti in Urumqi was ordered to an execution ground to remove vital organs from a wounded but still living prisoner. Appalled by what he had done, Tohti later left China.
Ethan Gutmann's book The Slaughter estimates that the organs of 65,000 Falun Gong and 2,000 to 4,000 Uighurs, Tibetans and Christians were harvested in the 2000 to 2008 period.
Finally, Dr. Mahmut is a Canadian of East Turkestan origin. She has two master's degrees, one from the University of Montreal and one from Brussels. She has a Ph.D. from Carleton in biology. She is a scientist but she is appearing on behalf of International Support for Uyghurs and in her private capacity.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and distinguished members.
It's an honour to be here.
To begin, I will go straight to our topic, which is the worst human rights tragedy in my homeland. We call it, as I know it, East Turkestan, but China calls it Xinjiang.
Uighurs have always faced systemic discrimination and have a long and painful history of human rights violations under China's Communist Party regime.
As an example, 60 years ago the region was chosen as a nuclear test site. It was the only nuclear test site used in China but it was the largest in the world. This nuclear testing had terrible long-term implications for our homeland. For example, our homeland and traditional way of life have disappeared. There is widespread environmental degradation and health-related issues are enormous. For example, the rate of cancer is 30% to 35% higher than the state average and birth defects are commonplace.
Sadly, nuclear testing has happened for 60 years. Sadly the CCP's imperialism and complete disregard for the Uighur peoples does not end with its nuclear testing ambition. Now, it's 2020 and mounting public evidence shows ongoing atrocities on an unprecedented scale in occupied East Turkestan. It's estimated that up to three million Uighurs and other Kazakh minority people are locked up in concentration camps.
The Turkic people have been detained in concentration camps where they are enduring horrific conditions, torture and brainwashing. Children whose parents have been detained in concentration camps are being sent to state-run orphanages. They are forced to assimilate. There are the invasive home stays of Chinese officials, concern around organ harvesting, beauty products made using the hair of detainees, and the list goes on.
Earlier this year, the Australians started a public initiative to uncover a mass scale of Uighurs and the other Turkic people transferred to forced labour camps, and the first manufactured consumer products for export to the west, such as textiles, automotive parts, electronics, and much more.
Very recently we learned that Beijing is conducting widespread forced sterilization and abortion on Uighur women. Dr. Zenz is an expert on this. The world has known since 2016 about the CCP's concentration camps that are part of its official strategy of dehumanization, assimilation and genocide under the pretext of the people's war on terror.
Even before then, Beijing disregarded Uighur human rights. For example, Uighur activist and Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil has been imprisoned in China since 2006.
The CCP has turned East Turkestan into a brutal totalitarian police state. Everything that makes us unique has been targeted: our language, culture, history, religion and identity. Our books and our history have been rewritten. Thousands of our mosques, shrines, graveyards and other sites of cultural and religious significance have been destroyed as the CCP targets us to erase traces of our very existence.
We Uighurs now refer to ourselves as a people destroyed.
As you know, this committee held a hearing on this issue in 2018. I was here, and it doesn't seem to have moved the Canadian government to act. Let's hope today's hearing has a greater impact.
This committee could help by issuing a formal statement demanding that Chairman Xi Jinping immediately abolish the concentration camps and release the detainees. We are calling on the Canadian government to use its Magnitsky legislation to target China's Communist officials for perpetrating gross and systematic human rights violations against Uighurs.
We are calling on the government to grant asylum to Uighurs and Kazakhs from China, with a blanket refusal to deport them back.
The Uighur community is suffering profoundly and we hope that Canada will help us stop this horror.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I value the opportunity to participate in this virtual round table on the human rights situation of the Uighur people in China. I will address that first, followed by my assessment of the Beijing regime.
The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which the local Uighur aboriginal people know as East Turkestan, is a very large area of 1.7 million square kilometres. It is relatively sparsely populated, very rich in natural resources and located most strategically at the heart of Xi Jinping's belt and road initiative.
China has a non-monotheistic culture where religion has always been subservient to the state, unlike the Uighur culture, where Islam is an integral part of life, as Buddhism is in Tibet. The pretext for anti-Uighur policies over the past decade is what Beijing calls separatism, extremism and terrorism.
These are the measures enforced since the so-called strike hard campaign against violent terrorism in Xinjiang in May 2014, and especially since 2016, when Chen Quanguo became Xinjiang Communist Party boss. There is relentless surveillance using closed-circuit television, artificial intelligence, facial recognition and biometric data. A new grid surveillance system, where each square contains 500 people for stronger surveillance, has just been completed. There are hundreds of so-called vocational re-education as well as forced labour camps, where around 1.2 million Uighurs, including hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, are incarcerated. The focus is on Mandarin training, intense Han Chinese nationalist indoctrination and strict discipline.
Many Uighurs are forced to host Han Chinese agents into their families as so-called family members who train their hosts in Mandarin and Chinese nationalism. Beards and hijab are very strongly discouraged. Contraception and the sterilization of women, as has been already referred to, are pushed. Muhammad and Medina are not allowed as names for new babies. All these steps aim at assimilation through sinification or monoculturalism. Sinification is accelerated through Han settlers moving into Xinjiang.
What kind of a regime is the “people's republic” in name only, ruled over by the Chinese Communist Party also by name only? In an intriguing case of dire history repeated, in a process launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and completed by Xi Jinping in March 2018, China has evolved from Maoist Communism to what I call, in a purely descriptive designation, fascism or Confucian fascism with Han Chinese characteristics for the new era.
To Mussolini's “everything within the state, nothing against the state and nothing outside the fascist state”, Xi Jinping's slogan is that the country, the military, society, schools, north, south, east and west, all belong to the Communist Party state. Weiwen, preserving social stability, is the foundation of the domestic policy of the regime, the Chinese version of Gleichschaltung.
Marxism and fascism differ only on one thing, and that's private property, which fascism allows. However, unlike liberal democracies, the Beijing regime, since 2012 lorded over by the never-elected strongman-for-life Xi Jinping, because of its overwhelming political power has the last word on large private businesses as well. Most of China's top businessmen are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Marx and Mao, Xi Jinping's heroes, are probably spinning in their graves.
Thank you so much, witnesses, for your powerful testimony.
Also thank you to everybody who is watching at home. Everybody who is watching these hearings as well is part of this important history of bearing witness to these atrocities. I know those who are watching will tell others, and that's very important.
I have a couple of introductory comments.
I want to thank the clerk for putting together an incredible list of witnesses. Over the next couple of days we have a top-notch lineup of experts who are going to really help us understand and respond to this situation.
As well, I want to say that I am very keen on having the Canada-China committee up and running to look at other issues of this relationship. We're focusing today on a specific issue, which is the Uighur genocide, but we've already heard some testimony, especially from Professor Kovalio, that underlines the need for a broader and deeper re-examination. I am hopeful that through continuing advocacy we'll be able to have the Canada-China committee working as well.
I want to acknowledge that today, July 20, is also a very important day for the Falun Gong community, the anniversary of the beginning of persecution. As David Kilgour mentioned, there is a significant connection in terms of both Uighurs and Falun Gong practitioners being victims of organ harvesting, so we acknowledge the Falun Gong community and all other communities that have been victims of horrific persecution in the PRC.
We've heard the witnesses discuss a number of important issues in terms of the Canadian response to these events: legal determinations, genocide recognition and the use of Magnitsky sanctions.
I want to start my questions with Professor Zenz.
On another aspect of our response, our engagement with corporate entities, I know you had some comments on Twitter recently about Nuctech. We've just found out that the Canadian government is hiring Nuctech to supply security technology for our embassies. You've noted that Nuctech sells technology to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which is sanctioned by the U.S. in connection with human rights abuses against Uighurs.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on how we should be engaging or not engaging with the corporate entities that may be involved in Xinjiang.
Also related to that, the U.S. has passed some tough new legislation, the Uighur forced labour prevention act, aimed at sanctioning companies and addressing supply chains so that we're not complicit in what's happening in Xinjiang.
Could you speak to that, Mr. Zenz? Then if other witnesses want to weigh in on that point as well, I'd appreciate hearing from them.
This is an excellent point. There are three things that we as western countries, democratic countries, can do.
The first is that we can call the child by its name very clearly, the atrocities in Xinjiang. The second thing is that we can impose sanctions on government officials. But the topic you are raising here is, in my opinion, the most strategic one: imposing consequences.
First of all, uncovering, highlighting and naming implicated companies, Chinese companies notably, that are complicit in the atrocities in Xinjiang, such as Huawei, such as Nuctech—which I did read about, yes—and other companies, is so important. That's something we can do, because it is, in my opinion, appropriate to impose consequences on Chinese companies that are implicated in Xinjiang. There are western companies, of course, as well, but western companies tend to be less implicated in Xinjiang. These companies, however, directly supply security and surveillance technology that enable the police state. In my opinion, it would be highly appropriate for governments to name these companies and then to have debates on them. I would absolutely advocate that one would impose certain forms of sanctions or consequences or penalties on them.
I want to thank all of our witnesses today for incredibly compelling and very timely testimony on a topic that, as you know, this committee has done previous work on. We did do a study. It was in the fall of 2018. At that time, I think it was probably some of the most disturbing testimony I had heard.
At that time, there wasn't very much in the public domain. A lot of what we heard was second-hand. There was a tremendous desire by the authorities in Xinjiang to make sure that information was not getting out internationally. Today we have first-hand testimonies, and we have studies like that of Dr. Zenz, which are documenting things in a much more concrete way.
I would be very interested in hearing the witnesses talk a little bit about what has happened since December 2018, since our study. I know that in January of 2019 when we published the summary of evidence, the very next day China did allow UN observers into the camps. My understanding is, of course, that a lot of that was very staged. Could you comment on both what has happened there and what has happened in terms of some of the international observers and what they have documented?
In particular, I will start with you, Dr. Zenz. Your testimony on the sterilization was so chilling. Perhaps you could talk about how much of that we have documented and where it is moving and how much has shifted since 2018.
I visited these concentration camps in Xinjiang in 2019. Perhaps I can add to what has been said.
The Chinese government has been so much worried about what we are saying in the west about the presence of these concentration camps. I was part of a group of journalists and diplomats that the Chinese government had invited throughout 2019 in order to sell a fake story to the outside world, in particular to the west. We found out during our visit in 2019 that the Chinese government was so much worried about what we were saying in the west that they were trying a way to deceive the world.
After coming out of Xinjiang, in September I went public, as soon as I returned to Europe, condemning and describing to the world what they were doing with these mass internment camps. I was attacked by the Global Times, which is one of the official newspapers of the Chinese government, whereby I was accused as a fake reporter, among others. The Chinese authorities said they had brought, before me, around 1,000 journalists and diplomats.
Now, a big question that we are faced with in the west is why, out of 1,000 journalists and diplomats, very few are giving testimonies. The reason is that the Chinese government is very careful in organizing guided tours for foreigners, even for the UN observers.
They do not allow foreigners to interview individuals in the streets. Moreover, even for us as journalists, when they send us to these vocational training centres, they do not want us to ask questions. They only prepare shows. They want us to feel, and to show to the outside world, that China is treating the Uighurs fine, that they're happy, they're sinifying themselves and they're abandoning their language and their religion out of their own free will.
If China gave full access to investigate and question people, then there would be a huge explosion. The problem with China is that they are so worried about this, and they are spending so much—
My sincere thanks to all the witnesses. We need them at this subcommittee. Their testimony has been quite exceptional and has touched us all.
I would also like to thank the employees of the House of Commons for helping us do this work today.
I want to thank all my hon. colleagues who decided to come together and do this work. We must now ensure that this subcommittee can make an impact, beyond mere earnest talk and fine words.
I was not here in 2018. I imagine that the situation has changed, but as parliamentarians, we have a duty to propose something tangible and to be able to call things as they are. I am very happy to be with you today, and I hope that we will all truly achieve this goal together.
First and foremost, Ms. Mahmut, I would like to ask you a question.
We are talking about impact, as I just mentioned. What response do you expect from the Canadian government, right away in the short term?
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you all very much for being here and sharing your expertise with us. This is such an important topic and I'm so thankful to be able to have this experience.
Thank you to all of the members of the committee who have asked such great questions, many of which I had wanted to ask, so I was happy to hear that.
I'm a new parliamentarian and one of the things I'm a little disappointed to hear is—not disappointed but—the fact that we have done this research before, that we have looked at this issue and that there are those in the room who feel we have not done enough as the Canadian government to support the Uighur people in China.
The first question I want to ask is for Dr. Mahmut.
You spoke a little about what Canada has done in the past and your hopes for what we will do moving forward. I think you spoke about making sure that we had a very clear statement where we were naming what was happening and that we were looking at sanctions and asylum for Uighur individuals.
Could you talk a little more about what you would like to see Canada do and what we have done right? What are those things you think we have done right in terms of our response, and some of the things you've seen other countries around the world do that we could learn from or emulate?
Thank you. It's an excellent question.
Until now, Canada has done a lot of things, but it is mainly in the areas of our question on the UN and worldwide. However, it's mostly dialogue. We haven't really seen a significant action path until now.
Significant action could be.... For example, the U.S., based on the Magnitsky legislation, for Chinese officials, specifically officials working at East Turkestan and in Xinjiang, places sanctions on them. They freeze lots of companies that have provided the technology for the atrocities in East Turkestan. Lots of companies have sanctions on them. They have also identified lots of companies that are involved in making products with forced labour, this kind of thing.
The Canadian government can do the same thing.
Thank you very much. I'm very impressed with the opinions of all participants. Let me go straight to the point. Now I understand why Kashgar Airport has a special lane for organ export passengers.
There was a reference to the atmosphere, especially in those vocational, so-called education camps with children. There is a memo from 2017 regarding the way in which they are to be run by those who run them. Of course I am talking about Uighur children. It says to make Mandarin training a priority, ensure full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots, prevent escapes, impose hard discipline and punishment for behavioural violations, promote repentance and confession, and ensure that students undergo real change.
Last, but I think not least in the context of policy suggestions as it were, there has to be, in my view, at least, more co-operation and coordination with regard to applying pressure on China, a variety of kinds of pressure, so that the Uighur situation improves.
For example, Chen Quanguo, the Communist party boss, last week was sanctioned by the U.S. Congress. I think that is something that we should consider as well. In addition to that—and there is some kind of interconnectedness here—last week the U.K. announced that it was abandoning having Huawei do its 5G network and was instead moving to Japanese technology and Japanese companies.
In other words, we—meaning the democracies of Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan—should do more to reinforce or impress upon the Chinese regime, and first and foremost, of course, Xi Jinping, what we are all about, because this a dire threat, not only to the Uighurs first and foremost but also to the rest of the democratic world.
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi made a great point. I hope we take that into consideration. I am certain that if you trace the issue with the Rohingya in Burma, you'll find Chinese Community Party money manipulating the Burmese government as well, persecuting the Rohingya Muslims there, as well as the same here with Uighur Muslims. There's no doubt in my mind.
Chair, this will sound like I'm going wide but I'm going to go narrow quickly.
Dr. Kovalio, Mao Zedong, through the Cultural Revolution, through the Great Leap Forward, through numerous purges, through the Hundred Flowers, was responsible for tens of millions of deaths of Han Chinese and minorities. Xi Jinping seems to me to be the leader who best replicates Mao Zedong these days. Would you agree with that, Dr. Kovalio?
Yes, Mr. Sweet. I appreciate your question; it's very pertinent.
I'd like to reply to your very thoughtful question by saying that it's all our fault. We in the west have, without second thought that I'm aware of, agreed to conduct normal relations, not only economic but also political, with a regime, the core thinker and founder of which is without any doubt the worst, most genocidal leader in the second half of the 20th century and even earlier than that, whose picture adorns Tiananmen Square and is splattered on bank notes, without thinking even for a moment. The way I look at it at least, there is some kind of a disconnect there.
How do we conduct regular relations with a regime that embodies genocide, first of all of its own people, for goodness sake, in the Great Leap Forward in the so-called Cultural Revolution, and in “smaller numbers” in 1989 Tiananmen? Now, because of this terrible pandemic, the origin of which is in Wuhan without any doubt and hit us, maybe we'll start thinking in deeper ways as to how to reappraise and change very significantly our relationship with the Chinese regime.
I'll just pick up on that point.
You mentioned there's a huge body of evidence that has established that there are leaks from the Chinese Community Party that allow us to independently verify this. It's not simply anecdotal information as it was before.
We know that the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was of December 9, 1948, commonly known as the Genocide Convention, in article II(d) says, “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. It gives a number of examples: “Killing of members of the group”, “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”. It continues on to section (d), which is “prevent births within the group”. Section (e) is about “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Given what I've just mentioned, which is the convention on genocide, of which both China and Canada are signatories, and given what you just mentioned, Dr. Zenz, around the new information we have for the Ph.D.s and professors, do you feel now that we can say with confidence that what we are seeing in front of us meets the definition of genocide according to the convention?
To an extent, yes. There has been a campaign. China is concerned about its image, perhaps even more so among belt-and-road countries. China, I think, is now looking even more to secure its status and image in belt-and-road countries. It is especially careful not to alienate Muslim countries, because it knows that Muslim populations could quite significantly turn against China, which would be a real problem.
However, I think the impact has been a bit cosmetic. There has been no real policy change. I would have to give a very sober assessment of the real-world impact of western attention on Xinjiang, in Xinjiang itself. In my opinion, a much stronger prospect to actually change the situation on the ground is through focusing on forced labour and the ethics of forced labour.
Earlier, I mentioned that western companies are not as implicated; I meant that in respect to the police state and the security technology. Western companies are implicated in terms of their supply chain, especially in textiles, and to an extent in other products. This is also special because Uighur labour is being shifted to other provinces and is used in other factories, in other parts of China. I think that focusing on forced labour and the ethics of forced labour, on consumer awareness, is a very important avenue.
The second really important avenue is the Muslim countries. As was mentioned before, the OIC, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, on a high level has been co-opted by China. It has been bought by China, so to speak, so increasing awareness in the general population of these Muslim countries, finding a way.... And, of course, if countries like Canada impose sanctions and do big things that get in the news, that could be very helpful.
I just wanted to respond to your question and to Jacob when he asked, where are the OIC, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan?
There is something that we are not doing right when it comes to the question of Xinjiang and the Uighurs. Number one is that the United States has taken the lead. We have to know that in Muslim countries the United States doesn't have a very good image. What China is doing now is trying to portray this as a kind of imperialist intervention in its internal affairs.
What we should do as Canadians is help Muslim countries and civil society organizations speak up about what is going on with the Uighurs. As I mentioned before, these people are Muslims, after all, and there is a great level of sensitivity in the Muslim world. We have seen protests and articles from Bosnia to Indonesia. But what China does, in a very smart way, is corrupt the leaders of many of these countries. It gives them weapons, high tech and technology, and tells them, “Look, things are fine in Xinjiang. We are doing nothing to the Uighurs, but the Americans are lying.” The thing is that we're not very smart about approaching the Islamic countries and telling them to stand up.
You have to know something, after all. After coming out of Xinjiang, I wrote an article with the title “What can the Muslim world do to save the Uighurs and Islam in China?” One week later, the Chinese ambassador in Ankara responded to me that I was attacking them, the Communist Party of China. They claimed that I was a liar. I responded to the Chinese ambassador in Ankara. I told him that I have facts; I have videos.
You have to know something: The Chinese are much more worried that the Muslim world would stand up against them, because this is where it will hurt them—
That's a good point. Thank you for the question.
There is a significant worsening of the situation across the board, particularly when it comes, in this context, to the Uighur situation—as well as the Tibetan situation, by the way. Exactly what he did in Tibet—and I'm talking about Chen Quanguo—was to squeeze Tibetans and their economy wishes and import some of those same methods into Xinjiang. That is why, as I was mentioning earlier, he was sanctioned last week by the American Congress.
In general, the kind of state that Xi Jinping has been trying to build in China since December 2012 has involved forcing upon non-Han Chinese whatever form of Han Chinese-like identity he can. That, of course, technically would start with the language. That is why there is pressure, constant pressure, regarding instruction in a variety of ways, not only in schools but also by bringing Han Chinese into Uighur families so that those Han Chinese can train their families, if you will, in the Chinese language, and of course in Chinese nationalism, which has become extremely strong again since December 2012. The same kind of policy can be seen in Tibet as well.
When we talk about the difference between Uighur tradition and Chinese tradition, this is something we cannot overlook, and it is very fundamental. When we talk about a very significant aboriginal group like the Uighurs, who are monotheistic, and the Chinese tradition, which is not only non-monotheistic but one in which religion has always been—at least for 2,000 years, if you will, in the context of Confucianism, which is not a religion—totally subservient to the state, there's a clash of values, for want of a better word, that comes to the fore every single time and that is going to make for a very significant difficulty going forward in trying to find some more humane modus vivendi, if you will, between the Chinese Xi Jinping regime and the Uighur aboriginal population of Xinjiang.
I'm not considering the future in very positive terms, not at all.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm going to try to share some of my time with Mr. Sweet.
It might seem a bit off, but I think it's an important point. I think it's worth underlining that Confucianism doesn't in any way inevitably point towards the kind of system that exists in China. South Korea and Taiwan are deeply influenced by Confucianism. Authoritarian leaders want to misuse Confucian ideas about filial piety, but they ignore the injunctions to rulers to be benevolent and the requirement for that as being very much embedded in Confucian philosophy. I think that's important for countering some of the propaganda narratives we get from the PRC on Chinese culture and Confucianism.
I want to follow up on Ms. McPherson's points about supply chains and ask Mr. Zenz if he has thoughts on the Uighur forced labour prevention act out of the United States, and whether this provides a good model.
Also, I wonder if anyone wants to give some further feedback on the issue of engaging with Muslim countries. It seems to me that we have to make a distinction between the leaders of Muslim-majority countries and the peoples of those countries, because the leaders of those countries have, unfortunately in many cases, chosen to look the other way, and in some cases have even been complicit in promoting anti-Muslim narratives in other countries, perhaps as a way to justify their own domestic oppression. I think we could play a big role in trying to engage civil society leaders in Muslim-majority countries and build coalitions, not exclusively at the government level but at the civil society level, to push these issues forward. Is that something that Canada or other countries in the west could play a leadership role in?
So, on those two points, supply chains and engaging civil society in Muslim-majority countries, I'd appreciate hearing from Mr. Zenz and anyone else who wants to weigh in.
The scope is.... In most instances, you have one parent taken away and one parent still at home, although they're put in full-time labour. One very problematic scenario is where the husbands are in camps or in faraway labour placements, and the women are in factories, local satellite factories that have nurseries, and there are preschools, so even babies are cared for by the government, at least in the daytime.
You have an increasing percentage where both of them are in internment and the children are virtual orphans, being cared for either by relatives or by the government. There are documents that show they're placed in orphanages, welfare homes. This is quite big, but the even more common scenario is where all children, even where all parents are at home or whatever the situation is, are moved towards boarding school, and longer and longer boarding school. From preschools up, but especially primary.... Primary schools are being moved into middle school compounds, because these are big compounds. They have dormitories, facilities. They're kept all week long, and maybe they can come home one day a week. In some instances, however, it's every other week.
With the securitization of the entire society, we also need to look beyond the internment campaign and see the long-term impact of the long-term practice of separating families and children, even when there's no internment or parents have been released. It's huge. That's a very long-term, intergenerational scheme of separation.
I call this meeting to order.
I want to thank everybody. We just heard from an excellent first panel, and I'm sure this one will be no different.
Welcome to meeting number four of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today's witnessers are mainly appearing by video conference, and proceedings will be made available for all our viewers via the House of Commons website.
Should any technical challenges arise, for example with interpretation or your audio, please advise the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them.
Now I would like to welcome our witnesses. Our first witness is going to be Rayhan Asat, president of the American Turkic International Lawyers Association. Then we will have Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, and then the Honourable Irwin Cotler, founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
With that, I thank the witnesses. Each witness is going to have six minutes for an opening statement, and we will start with Rayhan Asat.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I appear before you today as an attorney, an advocate, a sister and a member of the Uighur community.
The year 2020 marks four years into the Uighur human rights crisis, a crippling genocide, and yet here we are. I hope we will emerge from this hearing with an understanding that we no longer have the luxury of time to raise awareness. We need action.
A little over four years ago, I was about to graduate from Harvard law and start my career as a lawyer in D.C. I had big hopes and dreams for my future. Never had I ever thought that I would spend the next four years of my life searching for my brother and wondering if he was alive.
My brother, Ekpar Asat, is the founder of a multi-faceted media platform, Bagdax, and is a philanthropist. Above all, he is my anchor and best friend. In 2016, he came to the U.S. along with eight Han Chinese in a State Department sponsorship which many people benefited from for decades.
After returning from the State Department's trip, he was thrown into the infamous internment or concentration camp and later reportedly in prison. It was another hopeful future cut short. My brother was praised by the local government as a bridge builder and a positive force for his contribution to society, but since he is Uighur, he suffers the same fate as millions of others. My brother's case should dispel any illusions we have over whether this is about making model Chinese citizens out of Uighur people.
The feelings of loss are still raw and painful. I learned how to cope with this; however, his absence is evermore felt. The words written by Michael Kovrig from his small prison cell speak to me on a personal level: “Rest assured I remain resolute and resilient. You must be relentless.” I can't help but think my brother is asking for the same. I am therefore relentless and so should you be.
Shining a light on the truth can be a matter of life and death when it comes to China. As I'm speaking out today at this time, I am terrified whether my brother will be subjected to torture, waterboarding or electrocution, as these are common patterns of cruel treatment detainees have to endure in these internment camps.
What's most agonizing is that my brother's forced labour has perhaps entered into global commerce and tainted the global supply chain. Our corporations are unknowingly or knowingly profiting off of Uighur forced labour, and we as consumers are complicit in using these products. According to the New York Times, masks produced by forced Uighur labour have now even reached North American shores.
The road to basic human dignity for the Uighur people for the world to see us has been long and torturous. The world may finally be waking up to the mass atrocities that are happening in Xinjiang due to recent highly public events that shock the conscience.
One is an authoritative report documenting the systematic mass forced sterilization of Uighur women. The second is video footage of hundreds of blindfolded, shackled and shaved Uighur men being led onto trains in Xinjiang. Some may not even realize that this footage is from nearly a year ago. The methods of eradication have surely increased since. The third is the seizure of 13 tonnes of human hair suspected of being forcibly removed from Uighur prisoners. As a Uighur western-educated woman, when I'm confronted with such abhorrent practices, it truly breaks my heart. It could have been me had I not left home over a decade ago.
The Chinese government is carrying out a multipronged, technologically advanced, systematic program of destroying Uighur people as a whole. Last week in Foreign Policy, I published an article with human rights lawyer Yonah Diamond from Canada's leading human rights NGO, the Wallenberg Centre. It lays out the overwhelming evidence amounting to genocide under the UN genocide convention, including the mass sterilization of women and detention of men, widespread torture and detention and state-sanctioned abduction of Uighur children.
It should be noted that Han Chinese men are even assigned to monitor Uighur women in their bedrooms while men are held in internment camps.
Beijing's campaign is now having the desired effect. Birth rates in Xinjiang are plummeting and forced sterilizations are skyrocketing. Women unable to bear and men unable to leave; they need us and it will be too late if we don't take urgent action.
I therefore kindly ask the Canadian government to formally declare that what is happening to the Uighur people is genocide. Calling it a genocide would catalyze other countries to join in a concerted effort to end the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. It would also prompt consumers to reject the over 80 international brands that profit from genocide.
I further ask the Canadian government to impose Magnitsky sanctions on the architects of the genocide and assemble and lead a coalition of countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution so the UN can dispatch a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang to further document and preserve evidence of genocide.
I hope that in all your bilateral meetings you'll please speak up for my brothers and sisters.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
This subcommittee's study of the staggering human rights crisis faced by Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is welcome and urgently needed.
The crisis is,of course, not new. China's unrelenting repression of the Uighur people goes back for decades. For decades, however, governments, including Canada, failed to make it clear to China that this was unacceptable and had to stop. This is symptomatic of the failure by the international community to put human rights at the heart of our relationships with China, consistently prioritizing trade and investment prospects to the detriment of concerted human rights advocacy and diplomacy.
The scale of the suffering is unimaginable. Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have been engaged in a massive campaign of intrusive surveillance, arbitrary detention, torture, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation, targeting the region's Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim people. Well over a million people have been held in so-called “transformation through education” or 2vocational training centres” where they have endured a litany of human rights violations.
Consider these headlines from six Amnesty International urgent actions over just the past eight weeks, which are reflective of the unrelenting nature of the repression: “70-year-old editor Qurban Mamut held incommunicado”; “Uighur businessman Abuduaini Kadier imprisoned in secret trial”; “Grave health concerns for missing Uighur Gulshan Abbas”; “Mahira Yakub, a Uighur indicted for money transfer to her parents”; “Uighur Ekpar Asat jailed for 15 years in secret trial”; and “Uighur academic Iminjan Seydin reappears in a state broadcast after three years of incommunicado detention”.
The crackdown has been decried by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and exposed by investigative journalists. Faced with undeniable evidence of mass internment, arbitrary punishment and torture, the Chinese government eventually acknowledged the camps, but absurdly claimed that they are voluntary vocational training centres. The true scope and nature of what has been taking place in Xinjiang is not yet fully known because the Chinese government steadfastly resists calls to admit independent monitors into the region.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has pressed for “full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions” in Xinjiang. Over the past year, including just three weeks ago, Canada has joined in three unprecedented statements at the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, with more than 20 other countries, echoing that call for unhindered access and independent investigations. The Chinese government has ignored all of those interventions.
Around the world, Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic Muslims are desperate for information about family members in Xinjiang. Many have been reluctant to speak, fearing retaliation. Amnesty has collected hundreds of accounts documenting how Chinese authorities in 22 countries have systematically harassed them.
As a member of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, which was established more than 20 years ago, Amnesty International released a report in May, following a similar report in 2017, documenting an intensifying campaign of interference, threats and violence against Uighur and other human rights defenders in Canada who actively draw attention to China's atrocious human rights record. None of the coalition's recommendations for action to the Canadian government have yet to be implemented.
There are important ways that Canada must and can make a difference in individual cases. Three Uighur men, Ayub Mohammed, Salahadin Abdulahad, and Khalil Mamut have endured more than 20 years of human rights abuse, first in Xinjiang and then five years of unlawful imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, and now, despite exoneration by the U.S. government, forcible exile in Albania and Bermuda, where they have been waiting for more than five years, protracted years, while the Canadian government delays their applications to be reunited with their wives and children who are Canadian citizens. This failure to bring their human rights nightmare to an end is unconscionable.
You will hear today from Kamila Talendibaevai and her family's lawyer, Chris MacLeod. In 2006, Kamila's husband, Uighur Canadian Huseyin Celil, was arbitrarily arrested, subject to unlawful deportation, tantamount to rendition, from Uzbekistan, and now remains unjustly imprisoned in China. For 14 years this Canadian citizen has not been allowed even one consular visit by Chinese officials. Kamila has had no contact with Huseyin's family in China for the past four years. She knows nothing of his fate and is particularly fearful about his health
It is of course important that the Canadian government is pressing hard for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. It is crucial to press equally hard for freedom for other Canadians unjustly imprisoned, including Huseyin Celil, who has missed 14 years of his four young sons growing up.
Let me end with six quick recommendations.
First, the Canadian government should implement a whole-of government human rights strategy for our relationship with China, ensuring that human rights concerns, including the Uighur crisis, are prioritized consistently in all of our dealings with the Chinese government and Chinese business interests.
Second, develop a comprehensive response to the Uighur crisis including bilateral and multilateral efforts to press China to immediately release all persons held in “de-extremification” and “transformation through education” facilities and repeal all measures that restrict the exercise of human rights by Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. Take advantage of all avenues for exerting pressure, such as the possible imposition of individual sanctions under Canadian law and ensure that throughout their supply chains Canadian businesses do not contribute to or benefit from human rights violations that may be associated with forced labour in Xinjiang.
Third, work with the international community to increase pressure on the Chinese government to allow independent and unrestricted access to Xinjiang for fact-finding missions by international observers.
Fourth, take immediate steps to counter the harassment and intimidation of Uighur and other human rights defenders working on Chinese human rights concerns in Canada.
I want to join my remarks to those of Rayhan and Alex and commend each of them for their tireless advocacy and commitment.
We meet at an important moment of remembrance and reminder of bearing witness, as this hearing is doing, and of taking action as both Rayhan and Alex have called for.
We meet on the 21st anniversary of the launch of the eradication campaign against the Falun Gong. For 21 years now, the Falun Gong have been subjected to persecution and prosecution, to extrajudicial executions, torture and the like for nothing other than espousing ancient Chinese values of truth, compassion and tolerance.
We also meet in the aftermath of the imposition of draconian national security legislation on the people of Hong Kong, a watershed moment in the assault on global rules based on the international order, and which has implications as well for any international advocacy, either on behalf of the Falun Gong or the Uighurs, which could be criminalized under this legislation even if it is undertaken in Canada.
We meet on the occasion of the brutal mass suppression of the Uighurs, involving as has been said in your hearings today, the mass incarceration of 1.8 million Muslims in detention camps.
Rayhan has compellingly described mass surveillance with respect to slave labour, torture and abuse, the massive population control and suppression techniques involving massive sterilization, forced abortions, coercive injections, the forced separation of over half a million Uighur children from their families and the massive assault on their religion, culture, identity, traditions and their memory. The case of Ekpar Asat, as Rayhan has shown, is a looking glass, a case study of the disappeared and these massive human rights violations.
What can we do?
One, we need not only to unmask and expose these crimes against humanity, but to act upon them, to secure justice for the victims and accountability of the human rights violators.
Two, we need to invoke and implement the responsibility to protect. We are meeting on the 15th anniversary of the unanimous adoption by the UN of this doctrine. Canada is one of the architects. We now have to implement this doctrine with respect to the pain and plight of the Uighurs.
Three, we need to impose Magnitsky sanctions. The evidence here is clear and compelling. Join the U.S. and the U.K., which have already begun on this path and join the call of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China of which I am one of the co-chairs, along with Garnett Genuis from Canada. It now has over 600 parliamentarians calling as well for the invocation of such Magnitsky sanctions.
Four, explore interstate remedies before the International Court of Justice.
Five, Parliament should take the lead in finding that these mass atrocities effectively constitute acts of genocide. We were the first Parliament to define what was happening to the Rohingya as a genocide. We should become the first Parliament to define what is happening to the Uighurs as a genocide.
Six, we need to call out the illegal and forced harvesting and pillaging of organs of the Uighurs along with the Falun Gong, which Chinese Human Rights Defenders recently called out as crimes against humanity, if not acts of genocide. We need to utilize UN special procedures and remedies for purposes of justice and accountability.
Finally, we need to take up the cause of Huseyin Celil and seek his release. As Alex mentioned, he has been languishing for 15 years in a Chinese prison. We need to take up the case of Ekpar Asat, Rayhan's brother who has disappeared, as a looking glass into these mass atrocities. Both serve as a remembrance and a reminder of the call to action that we have to undertake along with the international community.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to shift to the point of forced labour.
We know that an Australian institute, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, noted that 27 factories, nine of which are in Chinese provinces, are taking forced labour transfers of the Uighur people. We've heard of upwards of 80 companies, including Apple, Dell, Mercedes-Benz and Nike, that are benefiting from supply chains that are taking forced labour materials. What steps do you think businesses can do to prevent this from occurring? Second, what steps can governments take, in particular Canada?
I'd like to hear opinions from the panellists. Feel free, please.
Thank you very much for that opportunity, Ms. McPherson.
The final two comments were very much focused on individual places of concern. I think there is obviously a need for strong multilateral action. There is the need to be working at the United Nations. There is the need to be canvassing what kinds of measures need to be brought into place around sanctions and the role of businesses and all of that.
At the same time, as Ms. Asat has powerfully reminded us, at the end of the day, this crisis is about what is happening to individuals and individual families, and we need to keep very much focused on what is possible in that regard as well.
I highlighted two situations with very strong Canadian connections where I hope we could see much more robust Canadian responses. The first was the case of three individuals, Ayub Mohammed, Salahidin Abdulahad and Khalil Mamut, who in the past were detained unlawfully at Guantanamo Bay. They have been released, forced into exile in Albania and Bermuda, and for more than five years now, their applications to be reunited with their wives and children, who are Canadian citizens, have been protracted and delayed, and the anguish and injustice that has befallen those individuals and families is frankly unconscionable. Canada could solve that situation in a few days or weeks, and I would urge that this happen right away.
The other is, of course, the case of Huseyin Celil, who has been, for 14 years now, unjustly imprisoned. This has been 14 years during which his four sons have grown up without him, 14 years of separation from his wife Kamila, and 14 years during which the Chinese government has refused a single consular visit, and now it's been four years with absolutely no news of his fate.
Canada needs to intensify its efforts. Prime Minister Trudeau should become involved in insisting that, at a minimum, a health and welfare visit be allowed without any further delay, and we need to look at some innovative strategies, such as appointing a well-connected special envoy who can begin a full-time effort to bring this 14-year tragedy to an end.
I think as the Canadian government has held out as a priority for us the protection of a rules-based democratic international order, then we have a responsibility to hold to account those who are engaged in a massive assault on this rules-based international order.
As mentioned, the recent imposition of draconian national security legislation was, in my view, a watershed event, a crossing of a red line, an open frontal assault on the rule of law in violation of an international treaty that we have a responsibility to uphold. The U.K. signed a treaty that has been clearly violated, not to mention the criminalization of fundamental freedoms and the violation of the Hong Kong Basic Law and the like.
This takes me to the Uighurs. We are witnessing, and have been witnessing for some time in Xi Jinping's China—and I use that to distinguish it from the people of China, who are otherwise the targets of mass oppression—a state-orchestrated culture of criminality and corruption, and no less important, an impunity that will be underpinned and nourished if the community of democracies does not take concerted action.
That's why I'm pleased that we established an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China to bring together parliamentarians from the community of democracies. A democracy alone, whether it be Australia or Canada or New Zealand or the like, can individually be bullied, but if we stand together as a concerted alliance of parliamentarians, a concerted intergovernmental alliance, what I would call at the very least, a “D10”—the G7 accompanied by Australia, India, South Korea, and I would add others—so that Magnitsky sanctions will be imposed in a concerted way, we can secure justice and accountability with whole-of-international-government democracies acting in concert.
The time has come to put Xi Jinping and the leadership of the Chinese government in the docket of the accused. The time has come for us to leave the targeted docket of Xi Jinping and become plaintiffs, advocates, claimants who protect the rules-based international order, who hold the Chinese leadership to account on behalf of the Chinese people and who take the necessary actions.
Alex has mentioned the particular individuals whom we can help at this point, whether Huseyin Celil or the three Uighurs who have been separated or Ekpar Asat, Rayhan's brother. We need to act as if these individuals are a looking glass into the larger crimes against humanity that continue to be perpetrated. If we don't act, they end up being perpetrated through our silence or indifference.
Welcome back, everyone. This is our third panel.
Thank you very much, Dr. Turpie, for your patience. Technology is a bumpy road. We all know that, and we're experiencing that more often than not, especially during this COVID-19 time.
I want to start off on that note. Should any technical challenges arise—for example, in relation to interpretation—or should a problem with your audio arise, please advise the chair immediately. The technical team will try to work with you to resolve those problems.
This is meeting number four of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today all three witnesses will be appearing by video conference. This video conference will be made available via the House of Commons website.
I will introduce our next three witnesses, who will make their statements in that same order.
First, from the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, we have Mehmet Tohti, executive director. From Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need, we have Dr. Irene Turpie. Appearing as an individual, we have pharmacist Hasimu Ailixiati. I hope I pronounced that correctly. If I did not, I hope you will let us know—oh, sorry; our pharmacist will not be present. He is not able to make it today.
Mr. Tohti, you have six minutes for your opening statement, please.
They're sterilizing 80% of Uighur women, holding 80% of Uighur males in concentration camps, prisons, or in slavery in mainland Chinese factories, and separating Uighur children from their families. Uighurs will be erased within a span of only one generation.
Arkin Kurban, a man from Montreal, had 76 of his immediate and extended family members disappear. Abdukerim Seyit, a Uighur refugee in Toronto, had more than 30 of his family members locked up in camps, including his 25-year-old daughter. Four of his relatives were killed in the camps. Nuriam Abla is a Uighur Canadian living in Ontario; her oldest sister, Malikim Abla, 63 years old, was killed in a concentration camp with five of her immediate family members in the camps. My mother, 78 years old, and 38 of my relatives disappeared four years ago. Today I received a chilling computer message from an unknown Chinese agent, saying, with f-words, “Your f---ing mother is dead.” The list is long.
I want you to visualize 13 tonnes of human hair. It takes more than 300,000 Uighur women's hair to make 13 tonnes. The Auschwitz memorial museum displayed piles of hair taken from Jewish victims after they were murdered in gas chambers. The Chinese state has just commercialized them by selling every organ of Uighur victims.
I won't go into details. Instead I would like to go to my own proposals.
Continued silence on the Uighur genocide is the tacit approval of genocide itself. The United Nations and government officials around the world are now on notice. The time is over for reasoned concerns raised privately with Chinese officials and within the scope of human rights while conducting business as usual. The scale and depth of evil the CCP is committing should shock the conscience of the civilized world, yet what we know so far is only a drop in the ocean.
I want you to remember that Uighurs are paying the highest price because Uighurs are seen by China as an obstacle to its dream plan of expansionism through the belt and road initiative.
Here are some proposals I would like to make for the least our government can do.
The committee needs to recognize the atrocities committed to Uighurs as a genocide and to lead the world's conscience to stop it. This committee has to issue a strong, actionable proposal to our government on the Uighur genocide. Let Xi Jinping and Beijing know that our government is under pressure from the Canadian public and parliamentarians alike and that we're united. A strong, actionable proposal is necessary to strengthen the hand of our government to safeguard our national interests with China.
Impose Magnitsky sanctions, as others already mentioned. We severely undermine our own credibility by applying this act to some individuals from some countries but set it aside when it comes to China.
Ban all products coming from China that are associated with Uighur forced labour, as the U.S. proposed and did. The onus should be on the companies to prove that their products and supply chains are not related to forced labour.
Demand and pass an organ transplant bill to ban any human organs originating from China, as Israel, Spain and recently Belgium did.
Urge our ministry of immigration to accept the nearly 2,380 Uighur refugee families and stateless children trapped in Turkey or who are vulnerable in other countries, as they face deportation to China at any time.
Remind the Immigration and Refugee Board to accept the claims of Uighur refugees made here in Canada without further delay, as long as their Uighur identity is proven. There is no need to compel those Uighur refugees to tell their horrible stories in pain and in tears before their adjudicators. I have witnessed a number of such hearings at the IRB, and it is painful. For that reason, Sweden decided to accept all Uighurs as refugees collectively. This is the right move, because China is targeting all Uighurs, and all Uighurs are at risk indiscriminately.
CIC is still asking Uighur refugees to provide all official documents from China, which China has been denying, to process their family sponsorship program. For that reason alone, Uighur refugee families are shattered, divided without unification. Can we adjust some technical requirements like this to the actual situation on the ground and make it easier for the Uighur refugees to unite with their families without seeing double penalties?
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for allowing me to speak to you. It's a privilege to join you and to be able to speak on behalf of Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need. This is a multidisciplinary, multifaith group.
I'm not going to apologize for repeating things you've already heard today, because I think they're worth repeating.
For some time now, our group in particular, as other groups, has been deeply concerned about the human rights situation in China. For the last six years at least, there have been credible and repeated reports of systematic and widespread repression of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwestern China.
Muslim Uighurs have been subjected to a ruthless campaigns of repression, population control, mass detention, forced labour and high-technology surveillance. They have been persecuted for practising their religion, a basic human right. Their children have been taken from them and placed in orphanages, which should be a red flag to us as Canadians.
A million Chinese Community Party officials have been forcibly billeted in Uighur homes. Most mosques have been destroyed and shuttered. The Uighur language has been banned in schools—again, something that we should remember carefully—and between one million people and three million people have been detained in concentration camps—or re-education centres, as they're called—where they are physically mistreated, subjected to psychological abuse and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese.
China's police deploy some of the world's most sophisticated surveillance technologies to control and restrict every aspect of the Uighurs' lives. Crowds are monitored with facial recognition cameras; all communications are intercepted and inspected with artificial intelligence programs; and individuals are classified, accounted for and tracked through DNA databases, fingerprints and voice prints.
However, it's two particularly cruel and crucial elements to this repression that are of particular concern to the CSRDN.
First, we are concerned about the many reports of forced birth control, sterilization, tubal ligation and abortion, which are dramatically changing the demographics of Xinjiang. In the last three weeks, there have been two complementary reports—and you've heard from Mr. Adrian Zenz this morning, and from the Associated Press—documenting these activities. The British Foreign Secretary made a comment in Parliament this weekend about this very thing, as you probably all know.
The results of these policies have been a huge decrease in the Uighur birth rate in three years.
Second, there is predatory practice of organ trafficking that for years has seen China engage in large-scale harvesting of human organs from prisoners to support a lucrative organ transplant program. Over the past year, we at CSRDN have waged a specific campaign against the growing information and the growing fear that China is using Uighur prisoners of conscience for their organs to support a booming trade in organ transplants. We have sent a letter to the United Nations, with the signatures of more than 1,000 physicians from North America on this petition.
Organ transplants, as we know, are often difficult to find in Canada, but they're easily available in China and are advertised internationally, with perfect matches based on DNA analysis available within three weeks of application, yet tracking the source of such organs is difficult and indeed deliberately deceptive. There is highly compelling evidence that the numbers are being falsified.
Last year, as you've already heard, the independent China Tribunal, which is based in London and led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, who previously led the prosecution for crimes against humanity of Slobodan Milosevic, unanimously concluded that China continues to rely heavily on forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience to fuel a billion-dollar-a-year organ transplant business.
We urge Canadian parliamentarians to unequivocally condemn these crimes against humanity and to take action to eliminate any possible Canadian involvement in Chinese organ harvesting. We ask you to act immediately to pass Bill , which is an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with regard to organ trafficking. This bill, as you know, despite having the unanimous support of both Houses, died at the end of the last Parliament. The bill, while not directly specifying China, would essentially bar Canadians from travelling abroad to purchase or receive organs for transplantation against the donor's will. It would amend our immigration laws to make a permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible to Canada if they participated in unsanctioned and unauthorized organ harvesting.
You have the power to fast-track Bill now and to strike an immediate, practical blow to China's genocidal treatment of the Uighur people.
Thank you very much, Dr. Turpie and Mr. Tohti.
I'd like to follow up a little. First of all, please know our sympathy to you about your mother, but also to so many people who have that fear and suffering. The intimidation and harassment.... You went so far as to say that they're using family members as hostages. First of all, let me just say that we really admire your courage in speaking out.
I know a lot of people would be afraid and are afraid. One thing that was remarked to me when I was talking about this previously to some Canadian students is that they don't know about the Uighurs. If they knew that the products they're consuming are made with forced labour, I think the Canadian public would certainly take action on that. But there is less awareness than there is, for instance, with the Rohingya and others. Is this in part because of the harassment of journalists, CSOs and Uighur activists? If that is the case, what is it that Canada...?
We heard this morning that we could help CSOs in other countries to speak out. What can we do to protect and empower people like you, who are so courageous in being willing to speak out even if it risks their families?
Canada should, as earlier speakers have mentioned, just look at the overall China policy. Canada should have some mechanism to protect dissidents like me and others because we are speaking up about the atrocities committed by one of the strongest authoritarian regimes. It is not easy, as you said. You have to sacrifice everything just to tell one word of truth, one sentence of truth. That is what we have been doing, all exiled Uighurs and the Tibetans.
There is a need for protection. If you look at the Uighur human rights policy act passed by the United States, there's a provision to protect the American citizens of Uighur origin and their family members, and we don't have that kind of protection.
Oftentimes many politicians and others think that China is a normal country. China is not a normal country. When we deal with other countries around the world, we have a rules-based approach and freedom and democracy, kind of universal values, and we can use those values to approach them, but China is a totally different regime. Deception, cheating and undermining western democracy are the core mission of the Chinese Communist Party, so speaking up against this regime is a great risk.
In this regard, Canada should have at least a legislative provision to protect not only Uighurs, but Tibetans, the pro-democracy China movement and others. This is a huge chunk of the Canadian community.
That is 2,380 families, the families in dire need. Yes, there are maybe 30,000 or 40,000. There is no clear statistic on this; I don't know the exact number. In November 2017, our organization sent two Canadians to Turkey just to interview and talk with people about their problems. Most of the children born in Turkey became stateless because the Chinese government did not offer them any identity papers. The Turkish government just gave them a birth certificate. The Turkish government did not give them any identity documents, so they became stateless, born in stateless status.
For Uighur families, these 2,380 vulnerable families, the husbands are in concentration camps or have disappeared. Mothers, single mothers, are left without any support. The UNHCR office closed. There is no place to apply for protection. There's an immigration office in Turkey, under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry. It is not like the impartial authority we have in Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board. So then they apply to this Turkish immigration office. It is up to the political parties to evaluate the relationship between China and their own interests. If there is some loan agreement or any financial interest, they easily deny the application. When the application is denied, they have to be deported back. For that reason, Uighurs cannot apply for Turkish immigration, and there is no UNHCR office. If you remember, in 2018, I raised this issue before this committee.
At least our 's father brought nearly 3,000 Tibetans in the 1970s. Those Tibetans became very good Canadians. In these circumstances, why can we not help those vulnerable Uighurs? Altogether, across Canada, we have maybe 1,500 to 2,000 Uighur Canadians, including children.
The Chinese government banned our language, history, everything. This population is not sustainable to keep our culture. You are talking about thousands of years of culture. Western countries became the only venue for us to preserve our culture, teach our language and keep our culture for the next generation; otherwise, China will totally erase them. In this regard, Canada should help bring in those 2,300 Uighur families.
First, I would like to thank you, Mr. Tohti and Ms. Turpie.
You are doing essential work. We must inform civil society of the unacceptable situations being experienced by the Uyghurs. That is the key. If we want to change this situation, we must constantly keep civil society informed. I do not think we hear enough about what is happening. In particular, you talked about sterilization and organ harvesting. This is particularly striking in its infamy.
Mr. Tohti, I was also very touched by your story. You said you were the target of threats. Earlier, you talked about this hostage diplomacy that has developed over the past 10 years.
I would like to know if this state of affairs is at all documented. In your opinion, what could the Canadian government do to help improve this situation, at the very least, or to provide you with some support?
One thing I have to emphasize here is that the last visit I made to Ottawa was my 117th visit in 20 years. I have spoken with government officials at Global Affairs and all high-level officials. On January 17, for example, I gave to the sanctions division of Global Affairs the list of Chinese officials to be sanctioned. On March 9, I spent nearly an hour and a half with during a luncheon on China-Canada and an evaluation meeting on the Canada-China relationship. I told all horrible stories. On December 11, 2018, I chatted briefly with the . I frequently speak with . He's in my riding, my neighbourhood, and when I wrote a letter to him, he said he conveyed the message to .
There's no excuse that politicians in Canada do not know about this. They know all about this. I am proof of that. I personally spoke to them and personally raised this issue. But even if you speak a thousand times, if they do not want to listen, or if they do not want to take action....
I am simply one Canadian. I have only one vote. I am a taxpayer. Take especially the $180 million for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the bank that funds the Chinese government's imperial dream for expansionism. Why should my tax dollars fund Chinese expansionism and the suffering of Uighurs today just because of the Chinese belt and road initiative? My tax dollars support the Chinese persecution of my own people.
As I mentioned, I have raised this case more than anyone else in Canada, on my own time and at my own expense. Just for a half-hour meeting, I travelled 10 hours to Ottawa. Honestly, I don't know what else we can do. We've testified at Parliament. This is my fourth testimony in this Parliament. We've raised this issue. There is a record.
I personally prefer to follow the procedure and the law. It is quite clear.
I raised the issue of Uighurs because it is a very special situation. Uighur refugees are making claims here, and they are leaving their relatives or spouses and children behind in some insecure countries. Those spouses are facing the danger of repatriation to China at any time. For that reason, not only is the reunification of family a better option for them, but at the same time it is important to secure their safety. Now, because of COVID-19, everything is postponed and it is a lengthy period. This is one dimension I want to emphasize.
Second, I've participated in a number of hearings. It is heartbreaking. People are in tears and in pain, recalling the atrocities that their family members and they personally have gone through. Why are we compelling those people to repeat this pain and horror in front of an interpreter and adjudicator? The whole world knows what's going on. The whole world knows that China's government is targeting all Uighurs indiscriminately.
Sweden declared it would accept all Uighurs as refugees as long as they prove their identity as Uighur. Why don't we follow the example of Sweden and at least give those people some comfort?
Thank you, Mr. Tohti and Dr. Turpie, for your testimony today.
Mr. Tohti, I just want to say that last year I was at MuslimFest in Mississauga. I just want to thank you and the Uighur community here in Canada for showcasing the beauty of the culture and traditions. I understand your frustrations, but you are absolutely having an impact. You are absolutely raising your voice and you're preserving that culture. I thank you for that.
I will go to Dr. Turpie really quickly.
Dr. Turpie, in December 2019, a statement was made by representatives of the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province that people had been released or that they had graduated from these re-education camps. I'm hoping that you can tell us what that was all about.
Then also, we heard reports of Han Chinese who are settling in Xinjiang. We also heard that Uighur communities are being moved out of that province. Can you explain what this movement of people is all about and whether or not people are being allowed, ultimately, to leave these re-education centres? Thank you.
Thank you, witnesses, for speaking to this committee here.
Mr. Tohti, as Han Chinese, I can tell you that I am not proud of what the CCP did, has done and is doing in the name of China. I and many, many other Canadians are very sympathetic to your people's plight. We're working very hard to stop it and undo some of the damage it has done.
In my riding, there is a “highway to heaven”, a large, long stretch of road that aligns religious institutions and faith gathering places. Among them, three are classified in the Muslim faith. I've been trying to bring the suffering of the Uighur people to their practitioners' attention. Literally, these have fallen on deaf ears. Why is that the case? How do you suggest to counter that to make people more aware and be on your side?
Thank you for the question. Thank you for your support, first of all.
As I said, we don't have a large population; from coast to coast to coast there are 1,500 Uighurs, not families. All of them are new immigrants. They have some language problems. They are barely getting by and are working to support their families. We don't have that many activists. We can't just, wherever we are, do advocacy work and explain in a public gathering with public speakers. That is one issue. I'm running from place to place. This is one element.
It is part of our community. We cannot catch up at every event in every community. We are doing our best just to spread the word in Canada, just to educate our fellow Canadian friends, citizens across the country, and work with different faith groups.
I went to your riding a number of times. There is one mosque. The Islamic Institute of Toronto, I think, is in your riding as well. I went there for a conference. I spoke with the leading voices there.
We are constantly working, but at the same time it is really difficult to get rid of people's preconceptions on China or the Chinese government.
I think a number of our parliamentarians have on their personal websites a Uighur window, or an instant update on the situation of the Uighurs, and they post it on their own parliamentary or personal website. This is one way. Honourable David Kilgour, he has on his website one Uighur window, and every day he is updating it and spreading the news. Maybe you can do this.
Second, during a town hall meeting with your own constituents in your own riding you can talk about this. This is about our future. I try to emphasize this. I have a son, just two weeks old. My son is going to grow up here in Canada. He's going to live in this world. If China becomes a global boss with this ambitious plan, what kind of world will our future generations live in? It is not about the Uighurs' situation or tragedy. It is about all of us.
We would like to have a peaceful world for our next generation. We have the rule of law, freedom and basic democratic values, and we have to preserve those. China is a challenge to our values. You have to look at the issue from a broader perspective and educate your ridings and the people around you. Just talk about this issue. Maybe this is the best way to start.
You know what? Gandhi said that every journey begins with one small step. I think we've given you lots of ideas today about things you can do. I certainly hope you'll consider Bill .
Other countries, I think Sweden is one and the U.K. is one.... I think even the United States has put sanctions and things into action. There's no reason Canada shouldn't do that.
It would be wonderful if Canada had the courage to call this a genocide, which it did not do for the Rohingya. It was left to a little African country to do that. I think we could stand up for that.
In particular, please do something about the forced organ harvesting. I'm a physician. I took an oath that I would never do harm. I wouldn't harm patients. If I stay silent on this, if we stay silent on this, we are doing harm. Please let's do something about forced organ harvesting.
Welcome back, everybody.
We've all come to learn that technology is never easy. As we've said, it's quite a bumpy road. We are trying to get one of our witnesses online, and we're having some trouble with that.
To everybody who can hear and see us, welcome. This is the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today's witnesses are appearing by video conference. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
Should any technical challenges arise, and I don't say that lightly, in relation to interpretation, for example, or should a problem with your audio arise, please advise the chair immediately. The technical team will work to resolve them.
Consecutive Kazakh interpretation will be provided by Gani Stambekov via Zoom. Translation is consecutive because of interpreter availability and technology considerations. There needs to be six booths for a consecutive third language, and because of physical distancing, it is only possible to have four booths. When asking questions, please pause to allow for interpretation time. We're trying to hold the maximum amount of speaking time to about two minutes before the consecutive interpretation then starts by Gani via Zoom. Thank you for that.
Our fourth panel will be going until 5:45 p.m. today. Then I understand we have consensus from all members that we will go in camera for the last 15 minutes.
On that note, I'd like to welcome our witnesses in the order they'll be making their opening statements. We have Mr. Chris MacLeod, lawyer and founding partner, Cambridge LLP.
Welcome, Mr. MacLeod.
We have Ms. Kamila Talendibaevai, Uighur rights activist. We are working to make sure that Kamila can come online.
We have as an individual Ms. Jewher Ilham, author and human rights activist.
As well, we have as an individual Ms. Sayragul Sauytbay, East Turkic minority activist and recipient of the 2020 International Women of Courage Award.
I apologize for my mispronunciation of your names. You will be able to share with us the correct pronunciation when you have an opportunity to speak.
We will begin with Mr. MacLeod. If we can get Ms. Talendibaevai online, they will be sharing their time.
You have six minutes, please, Mr. MacLeod.
I've been acting as legal counsel for Huseyin Celil and his family since his detention in 2006.
First, thank you for covering this important topic. I appreciate time is tight so I will speak quickly to cover as much ground as I can, and then turn it over to Kamila, Huseyin's wife.
Let's begin. I think it's worth giving some background on Huseyin Celil's case. I know that some members were not in the House in 2006. I know that member of Parliament David was and has been active and engaged in the file.
Huseyin Celil was raised in northwestern China. He's a Muslim Uighur within the Uighur community. He speaks out in China in favour of his ability to practise his language and his faith. For this he faces persecution and detention in China. Ultimately in the late 1990s he leaves and treks across Asia into Turkey. In the city of Istanbul he declares and is given UNHCR refugee status. This time he and his wife Kamila and their three boys ultimately immigrate to Canada as UNHCR refugees in 2001, become permanent residents and ultimately Canadian citizens.
In 2006 Huseyin, Kamila and their three boys decide now that they are Canadian citizens to travel on Canadian passports to Uzbekistan, with temporary travel permits obtained from Uzbekistan, to visit Kamila's family. While there one of their boys falls ill. Huseyin decides, in accordance with proper regulations, to renew that travel visa. When he goes to the appropriate authorities in Uzbekistan to renew that on his Canadian passport he's red-flagged because Uzbekistan and China, unknown to Huseyin at the time, have a treaty. They're part of the Shanghai besh, seven countries that share information on political dissidents.
Huseyin, on March 27, is detained in Uzbekistan. There's a period of about 90 days when he's in Uzbekistan, and people in Canada and on the ground are trying to determine what to do. The Uighur community in Canada is loud and clear, as are we to the Canadian government, that this is the moment to get Huseyin out. It's China that wishes to obtain him. Ultimately, Uzbekistan transfers Huseyin to China in or around July 2006. He faces a trial. He is sentenced to death, and ultimately through the interventions of the minister of foreign affairs at the time, Peter MacKay, that death sentence is commuted to a life sentence.
The Canadian government has never had consular access to Huseyin Celil. Kamila and the family had updates from Huseyin's family in northwestern China up until 2016 when all went dark. We haven't had any word from Huseyin's family there. We've never had direct communication with him. This is really a long-standing Canadian tragedy where we have a Canadian citizen detained in China, who didn't travel to China on a Canadian passport, or at all. He went to neighbouring Uzbekistan as a Canadian citizen to visit his in-laws. There, and this is where we have a case of rendition, Huseyin was ultimately transported by the Uzbeks to China, or the Chinese came into Uzbekistan and picked him up and transported him there.
The trial was had. At the time, then prime minister Harper ordered the embassy staff out of Beijing to go to the courtroom and wait every day to find out when there would be a trial and try to gain access. They ultimately were never allowed in to hear the trial. An appeal was taken.
That's been the long and unnecessary saga of Huseyin's case.
We've always asked, and I'm going to ask again, for two things. One is that the appoint a special envoy specifically tasked with seeking the release and return of Huseyin Celil. We want a special envoy, as opposed to the embassy and the ambassador, because the single task of the envoy will be to seek the release and return of Mr. Celil, figure out what needs to be done to make that happen. It's been 14 long years.
As for Kamila, I'm not sure if we have her in the room at the moment, but we'll now go into additional details about the challenges she's faced with her four young children. The four boys, Hussein's children, Kamila's children, haven't seen their father in 14 years. One, Zubeyir, was actually born after his father's detention. This is a Canadian tragedy. It's been long languishing. When the crackdown on the Uighur community in northwestern China commenced, we already had no consular access. We've now had absolutely zero information since 2016 on his state and his situation.
Number one, a special envoy should be appointed by the seeking Huseyin Celil's release and return. The second would be that we have all-party co-operation in this regard. I recall when the Conservatives were in power, Minister MacKay commuted the sentence from death to a life sentence. Member of Parliament Sweet and member of Parliament Kenney were two active Conservatives at the time. Member of Parliament has also been active, but we haven't had non-partisan action where all members of the House in unanimity are all rowing in the same direction.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having me today.
My name is Jewher IIham. I come to you today not as a scholar or expert on Chinese politics and policy, but as the daughter of someone who was, and still is, a victim of human rights abuses targeting Uighurs in China.
My father is Ilham Tohti, the 2019 Sakharov Prize laureate. He also has been recognized with numerous other awards. He has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. I haven’t seen him since February 2, 2013, when I left him in a tiny white room at the Beijing airport and boarded a plane to the U.S. We were on our way to Indiana University, where my father had been invited as a visiting scholar. I was 18 years old.
At first I refused to go without him. I did not think leaving my father alone at the airport under those circumstances was a good idea. I didn’t know what was going to happen to him. Would he be interrogated? Would he be tortured? Would I ever see him again? A million questions were running through my mind. He insisted that I get on the plane. Soon I was bound for the U.S. where I knew no one, had nothing and did not even speak the language. I was terrified to go to an unfamiliar place and start a new life from scratch, but today I'm not here to talk about myself; I'm here to talk about my father and the Uighur people.
My father was born in 1969 in Artush, a small town in the Uighur region known for producing some of the area’s top business people. He was a successful businessman who spoke many languages, as well as being a highly regarded economics professor at Minzu University in Beijing. He's well read, a compassionate soul and a good father. My father was, and always will be, a firm believer in equality for all people.
Prior to his arrest in 2014, my father devoted most of his time to promoting dialogue among ethnic minorities and the Han majority in China. He travelled to many countries, discovering that diverse people can live together in harmony. He wanted that for China. My father created the website Uyghurbiz.com as a place for the free exchange of ideas. He hoped it would help Han people understand the many aspects of Uighur life, the rich culture, the beautiful language, as well as the social and economic disparities. He also gave many interviews in China and around the world. He published articles to draw attention to this issue and promote conversation.
This was all in a good faith effort to counter China's state-backed media and school textbooks that portrayed the Uighurs as entertainers, pickpockets, thieves and now violent extremists.
My father was detained for three days after we shared our last goodbye at the Beijing international airport. He spent the next 11 months under house arrest. While I remained in Indiana, we spoke at least three times a day, making sure the other one was safe and adjusting well to our new circumstances. He warned me that he would probably be arrested. A few months later he was taken away, on January 15, 2014.
I was born into my father’s world. I had no choice. While living as a young girl in China, I experienced the intrusions of state security into our home, the constant surveillance, the restrictions on schooling, the detainment in the countryside and the death threats multiple times, all because my father was dedicated to promoting peaceful dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighurs.
In 2013, the choice to leave China was mine. With that choice came the opportunity to keep my father’s work alive. He knew that the Chinese would attempt to silence him by labelling him a separatist and locking him away in solitary confinement. In fact, my father was the first political prisoner since the Cultural Revolution to be given a life sentence in China. I want to emphasize he was trying to bring people together, yet he was charged and convicted as a separatist.
When this all started, I felt I was among the few, but by 2017, I came to understand that I was part of a generation of Uighur children who did not know where their parents were.
Over one million Uighurs are now estimated to be locked up in concentration camps. As you likely know, that has been documented through surveillance satellite photos, leaked videos, leaked party documents and the testimony of survivors.
You already heard from Mr. Adrian Zenz earlier today about using forced sterilization to reduce or even eliminate the Uighur population in western China.
This needs to stop. The systematic targeting of Uighur people is a complete destruction of my culture, my tradition, my language, my religion and my ethnicity. Many people ask whether my father has been transferred to a camp. It is the type of question so many of my fellow Uighurs are being asked these days, and my answer is that I don't know where he is and I don't even know if he is alive. No one has had contact with him for almost three years and I just don't know.
But I do know that my father is a wise man who knew that unity around a common cause is more powerful than isolation. The time has come for all of us to find each other and unite in our demands for freedom. With that, I offer a few calls to action that Canada can take.
First, stop allowing the Chinese government to politicize the situation of thousands, of millions, of Uighurs being held in camps. We all know that this is not an internal affair. This is a global mission, and Global Affairs Canada needs to be raising the issue on a regular basis with its counterparts in Beijing. It must let them know that the Government of Canada will not tolerate these human rights abuses. They need to call on China to close the camps and stop the persecutions, and on a personal note, release my father, Ilham Tohti.
Second, they need to speak up on behalf of the estimated over one million prisoners in the camp. Two years ago this committee urged the Government of Canada to address this escalating crisis and over that time the Chinese government has continued to lock up people like my father and silence others. I urge the Government of Canada to create formal legislation such as the recently passed bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in the U.S.
Third, encourage Canadian manufacturers to stop all business with suppliers and subcontractors that sell materials produced through forced Uighur labour. I would encourage all Canadian citizens not to buy products from brands that continue to rely on goods made by Uighur prisoners. Those lists are easy to find on the Internet.
As I said in my opening, I come here as a Uighur and as the daughter of Ilham Tohti. I believe it is not just my duty but the duty of all of us to protect the fundamental rights of those who are being persecuted.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak to the committee.
[Witness spoke in Kazakh, interpreted as follows
Dear guests who are participating at the current conference, ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy to be at this conference with everyone.
My name is Sayragul Sauytbay. I am an ethnic Kazakh. I would like to say thank you so much to the Canadian government which is organizing this conference. I am very grateful to everyone who helped to organize this conference as well.
Again, my name is Sayragul Sauytbay. I am an ethnic Kazakh, and I am a live witness for the 21st century's fascist concentration camp, mainly organized by the Chinese Communist Party.
I was born in the native land of my people, which was originally called East Turkestan. After the Chinese Communist Party's acquisition, they changed the name to so-called Xinjiang. I was working there as a doctor, teacher and director of a school.
After the Chinese Communist Party started destroying our people's daily lives, my family and I decided to move to Kazakhstan. When I tried to move with my family to Kazakhstan, they forcibly took my passport and they didn't let me move to Kazakhstan with my family.
After my family moved to Kazakhstan, I was in contact with my family via WeChat, a social media application, and after that the Chinese Communist Party forcibly stopped me from contacting my family via WeChat.
The fascist Chinese Communist Party started their genocide policy to destroy, to kill all the East Turkestan people at the end of 2016. Officially they started this policy at this time. With a lot of false claims, they arrested innocent people and imprisoned them in concentration camps and prisons.
Even though I was not guilty, just because I'm Kazakh and because my family live in Kazakhstan, I became a victim of the cruel policy, and in January 2017, as I said, because my family was living in Kazakhstan, they came after me every midnight to my home. They took me from my home. They were investigating me, scaring me, beating me and pressuring me.
In November 2017 I was forcibly sent to one of the concentration camps that were organized by the Chinese Communist Party, where Kazakh people and Kurdish people were forced to live in prison, and I was teaching them the Chinese language. Because I was a teacher at the concentration camp, I was also forced to sign a secret contract. According to it, if I leaked any information of what I saw inside the concentration camp, I would be sentenced to death.
In the fascist concentration camp where I was imprisoned, there were about 2,500 people just in one concentration camp, and all of them were innocent people who were sent to the concentration camp with fake claims. The age range of the imprisoned people was between 13 and 80 years old. They cut hair off all of the imprisoned men. The imprisoned people were handcuffed hands and feet, all of them. Every corner of the prison cell had CCTV cameras, and the middle of the prison cell had one CCTV camera. All the corridors had cameras as well, and they controlled our every move 24 hours a day.
The prisoners of the concentration camp were forcibly taught and learned Chinese traditions, Chinese culture and songs. Also they were taught the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, the notions of the Communist Party and prisoners were praising the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping.
These Chinese concentration camps were oppressing people. They were destroying the souls of imprisoned people, and they were torturing all prisoners. Also in these concentration camp prisoners were forcibly sterilized, and they were forcibly given special medication. After that, women lost their ability to menstruate and men lost their ability to have a future family. This kind of torture would unfold. All women, young women as well, were raped daily by the workers in the concentration camp.
Also at that concentration camp they had a special so-called black room or black house where there were no cameras. People who went there were badly tortured and there were different kinds of torture in that black room. When I was teaching, sometimes guardians or security came to my class and started speaking to prisoners and they took them away to that black house, the black room. After that, when I was teaching, we would all hear their screaming, their voices. They were begging and asking for help—
I'll go to Mr. MacLeod.
Please do give our best to the Celil family. I'm sorry, it looks like we may not be able to hear the testimony directly from them.
I want to ask you about your engagement with the Government of Canada right now. We had some frankly very disturbing testimony at the Canada-China committee back in February, where I had asked our ambassador about the Celil case. He initially seemed unaware of it, and then he said:
I'm looking into that case. I call him Huseyin. Basically, because Huseyin is not a Canadian citizenship holder, we aren't able to get access to him on a consular service side. We've tried, because he's someone I would like to see. I know it has been a long-standing file, but—
That's a quote from our current Ambassador Dominic Barton, in Beijing. I replied to correct him to say that Mr. Celil is a Canadian citizen.
It just floored me at the time. In a way it still does, that in testimony specifically where the ambassador spoke regularly about a number of important cases of Canadians detained in China, not only would he not mention the Celil case proactively but that there was that misstatement about Celil's citizenship.
I know it's important for you to work with the government on this, Mr. MacLeod, so I'd like to ask this: Have you been able to have any follow-up engagement with Ambassador Barton? Has he recognized the reality of Mr. Celil's citizenship, and is he taking it up with the same seriousness that he is taking up the cases of other Canadians detained in China?
Thanks for the question. It might be an opportunity to have Kamila speak for a couple of minutes.
Following that—which I agree that it was disappointing that the ambassador had not been properly briefed—is that at the early stages in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and onwards, you'll recall that there was very deep engagement. Prime Minister Harper was pushing hard, with Minister MacKay, Minister Kenney, Mr. Sweet and many others, so it was disappointing to hear that the ambassador hadn't been fully briefed.
However, I know, and Kamila I think would speak to this if we can get her on today—to give at least a couple of minutes, I think it would be warranted—that the ambassador did call her and spoke to her directly and personally about that slip and clarified the record. He acknowledged, of course, that Huseyin is a Canadian citizen, which is why I wanted to take at least two minutes when I commenced my remarks to the committee to remind everyone that Huseyin has only flown on a Canadian passport. Most troubling is that some of the issues, and the reason he was detained, may well have arisen again because of his activities in Canada, speaking about religious freedom and religious freedom of expression.
Thank you for raising that right now. It's one of the reasons we've also always called for a special envoy. An ambassador has multi-faceted roles in any embassy, particularly in China where the relationship is so multilateral and so multi-faceted. A special envoy who would report directly to the , or perhaps to the committee, to say what we need to do to obtain the release and return of a Canadian citizen languishing in prison in China—
[Witness spoke in Kazakh, interpreted as follows:
For the people who are imprisoned in concentration camps, as she said before, in all the prison cells, everywhere, there were constant cameras, CCTV cameras.
For the families who lived outside and hadn't yet gone to the concentration camps, the Chinese government divided all families into three different categories. The first is the dangerous family category. The second one is medium-dangerous, middle-dangerous. The third one is not dangerous, safe. The safe-category families were ethnic Chinese, Han.
The first two categories, dangerous and middle-dangerous or medium-dangerous, were ethnic Kazakh, Uighurs, Tartars and Uzbeks, the native people of East Turkestan. All people, families and parts of families who lived outside the concentration camps will eventually go. They will be sent to concentration camps as well. It's just a matter of the time, the question of time.
The Chinese government's documents show that all of them, 100% of dangerous and medium-dangerous families, will be sent eventually to concentration camps. They didn't send them all because they don't have enough places to place them, but it's just a matter of time. The mayor of East Turkestan, Chen Quanguo, makes it scary by pushing people who live outside the concentration camps.
If you would like to go from one village to another just to visit your relatives, you have to go through seven or eight different departments, and you have to get their permission just to leave your house or to leave your village. Also, all your phones, texts and everything are 100% controlled by the government.
In general, all families, all people,100%, live in censorship. It's one big prison.
I was saying to you that we had to extend our visit in 2006 in Uzbekistan, and that same year, in July, he was deported to China. Chinese courts ordered him to be deported to China, and now, since 2006, I've had no communication, no mail and no calls from him. You know, it's been 14 years.
I have been keeping in touch with his family two or three times a year since it began in 2014. Since 2016 I have lost communication with his family in East Turkestan. His family lives in the city of Kashgar. They used to come every six months to visit him in Urumqi.
He doesn't have consular access, and he's never been approved for consular access, which we keep asking for every year from the Canadian ambassador. You know, we have to check his health, how he's doing, if he's alive, how he is doing in the prison in China. We didn't get any answers. We were getting little by little, you know, every six months, a little information about his family, from his family. Right now, how many years is it now? It's four or five years, and I don't have any communication, no information. I cannot call their phones or WeChat, WhatsApp, as those kinds of apps are blocked. I don't have any information from his family.
It seems when we can't change his case...I don't have anything to say. It's very frustrating. You know, it's been 14 years I've been bearing a big strain and then the biggest frustration.
I have four boys. They have grown up. They became teenagers. They're all in high school. They are preparing for university. It's been very difficult. I cannot describe in one or two words my last 14 years and what I went through in these 14 years.
I want to thank all the panellists for their strength and testimony here today. It's very touching to hear you and to see you and to see the emotion come through on the camera. Thank you for this.
I wanted to highlight a point that was made by Huseyin Celil's lawyer, Mr. MacLeod. I think it got slightly lost, but we hear media reports that the Chinese government frequently says that Huseyin Celil is only a Chinese national, whereas according to the nationality law of the People's Republic of China, articles 3 and 9 together say.... First, article 3 says, “...China does not recognize dual nationality.” Article 9 says that when somebody has adopted another nationality or been naturalized outside of China, then they automatically lose their Chinese nationality.
Just for the record, I want us to establish that Huseyin Celil is in fact only Canadian, not a Chinese national right now, according to China's own law. I want to highlight this point because we often hear our Canadian officials saying that Huseyin Celil is, according to the Chinese, a Chinese national, whereas in fact by China's own laws he's a Canadian national.
I want to ask this to both Kamila and Mr. MacLeod: Is there anything that you have seen different, in terms of the circumstances globally or internationally with respect to China and the Uighur people, or locally within Canada since 2015 in terms of advocacy around Huseyin Celil's case? What can we do to strengthen advocacy for him, aside from what you mentioned with respect to a special envoy?
I'll start, and then I'll turn it over to Kamila.
From 2015 onwards, we have the harsh hand of China against the Uighur minority, but we've also had more of a vacuum on the Canadian political front. The current government, in my submission, has not done all that it can, or enough. Much more needs to be done. A special envoy is number one, and number two, as much as possible, is bipartisanship across the House.
My point would be for the special envoy to do what our American friends to the south have done so often in the past: Utilize former heads of state in Canada. We have Prime Minister Chrétien, Prime Minister Harper, Prime Minister Mulroney and Prime Minister Martin, to name four who would be great special envoys. Former members of Parliament, whether Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat, may have had a prominent place and role in international human rights. Let's lean into our Canadian strengths and get a special envoy. Get one now. It's been 14 years.
I'll turn it over to Kamila, but to your point, he is a Canadian citizen. He flew on a Canadian passport, for crying out loud, with an Uzbek visa, so you nailed it. Chinese law itself says he's a Canadian and Canadian alone.
[Witness spoke in Kazakh, interpreted as follows:
First of all, I'm very grateful for your question. I'll give you a little more detail about the sexual violence.
In the concentration camps, the Chinese Communist Party guards rape the women and girls they want. It's daily. They just come and pick up any woman they like and will bring her back the next day.
In one of the examples I remember, I was giving a lesson at a class on the Chinese language when they brought back a young lady. When she entered the class, she couldn't even sit on the chair. She just fell down on the floor. They started calling everyone by number. Every girl has a special number. They don't call them by their names; they call them by their numbers. When they called that girl by her number, she said, “I'm not a girl anymore, because they raped me.” I remember this very horrible situation.
I would like to give you another example. It's a very horrific example. One day the guards of the concentration camps brought about 200 people to the hall, and they were testing us. They made experiments. Every time they made experiments they checked to see if we changed our minds, if we become normal or not.
In this example, they brought 200 prisoners to the hall, and they picked out one young girl, about 20 years old, and they forced her to accept the guilt for something that she never had done. She was crying and she was saying that she was guilty even though she was not guilty. She accepted it in front of the 200 prisoners. Then the Chinese guards started raping her, one by one, in front of all these 200 prisoners. They went down the line and raped her one by one in front of all the people.
If some of these 200 prisoners showed pain on their faces or in their eyes, or hesitation or any negative emotion, they will say that this prisoner didn't change, didn't become normal, and they will pick these prisoners from the crowd and later they will start torturing them because they didn't change.
After we saw that, we had to accept it and we had to praise the party. This is one of the examples that I was a witness to.
It's very difficult to go after that testimony.
First of all, I want to thank all of you. I can't imagine what you have to go through, to not know where your father is, or where your husband is. Excuse me....
I'm incredibly moved by your bravery to be here and your bravery to share these stories. I'm sorry that you have to relive this pain by sharing this with us.
There are a few things I wanted to ask. One is for Kamila. I know that you are raising your family alone and that you have not been able to see your husband for 14 years, and you don't know where he is or how he is.
I know that Christopher MacLeod was able to talk a little bit about what Canada could do now and what we could do to help bring Mr. Celil home. I wonder if you wouldn't mind taking some time as well. I know we didn't get a moment to hear from you on what you would like to see Canada do now to help with your husband's case. I would really welcome hearing from you, if that's possible.
First of all, I'm raising four kids, four boys. They became teenagers. I was pregnant when they arrested my husband. I was three months pregnant, a mother. Can you imagine for a moment?
It's been 14 years, and now my son is going to be 14 in August. I can't see....
It's been so many long years. Months, weeks and years passed. Even if you had a communication, a little bit of information, like emails or calls through his family, that kind of information.... A little piece of information would be a relief to us, a little bit of keeping in touch with their father. He's still alive, but he's in prison. They are trying to bring him back where he belongs.
In this 21st century, with so much technology, we have nothing . We have no calls, no information, no mail, no letters, nothing.
But I'm very thankful for the Canadian government. I'm lucky I'm living in Canada. I'm growing my four boys [Inaudible—Editor] four boys in Canada. I'm giving all my best to give them a good education, the best education in Canada, but I always tell them they have to be very proud of their dad. He has spent 14 years away. I don't want to say how long he's going be there. I don't even want to think about one year or two years in this pandemic world with what's going on in China right now, because in Canada how we are living right now, in the pandemic....
To the Canadian government, first of all, I want to say thank you. They raised every opportunity. The Conservative board mandated all its best, but China is a different country. China was rejecting my husband's Canadian citizenship, and then not giving consular access. They tried, but it was not enough. At that time it was not enough. When they helped the first year, they had to act quickly, immediately, but they were late to act.
Now it's been 14 years. My husband is in prison. I don't know what kind of conditions he may be in. I cannot even.... We don't know if he's alive or not, since 2015. Maybe they have been brainwashing him with Communist laws, making him study Communist laws and join the Communist Party, that kind of thing. It might happen in China.
My last word is to the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP. They all need to be together in that case. I don't want them to push that case away from the table. There's the two Michaels case, I know, and I want to raise the case every time, to bring that to the table in the House of Commons. I want to raise that case. Members of Parliament, what's going on with that [Inaudible—Editor] case? What's going on? What are we going to do? They have to see it on the table and make the decision to send...I agree with Chris MacLeod to send a special envoy to China.
There are a lot of Uighur people working on human rights right now for the concentration camps. There are multiple people working on human rights.
My suggestion is that the Canadian people need to be aware of this case, be aware that he's a Canadian citizen. All Canadian people need to be aware and put pressure on the Canadian government, and then work together.
The parties also need to work together on this case. They should not push from only one party. The Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP have to work together, and then connect with Amnesty International. With human rights, we are all together.
We are sending letters. As much as we can, we are sending letters from high schools. We did a lot of presentations in high schools and in the communities. At least we are sending them. We don't get anything back from the Chinese authorities, but the Canadian government sends us word that they are still working on this case, that they didn't forget about it. What's most important is that the Canadian people need to be aware.
That concludes our fourth panel of witnesses.
On behalf of all the committee members, all the staff here—the interpreters and the technicians—and those watching online, I want to thank the witnesses for their compelling testimony, which has gone on record. I think we've all been truly moved by your testimony. Thank you for your courage, and thank you for sharing your very personal stories with us here today.
Tomorrow we will have our second day of panels. They will start at 11 a.m. and go throughout the day, for those who are viewing online and want to see those proceedings.
At this time we are going to move in camera. I believe I have consensus from all members to do so.
[Proceedings continue in camera]