Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the self-proclaimed East Turkistan Government-in-Exile, speaks on Friday in Washington, D.C., to urge the U.S. government to take action. Photo by Hazel Tang/Medill News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Activists and members of Washington, D.C.'s Uighur community rallied in front of the White House to call on President Joe Biden to recognize East Turkistan as a country occupied by China, which has been accused of human rights violations against the ethnic group in the region.
The rally was timed to coincide with the end of Captive Nations Week, which has its origins in the Cold War, when the U.S. government designated certain communist countries as "captive nations." In this year's captive nations proclamation, released July 16, Biden explicitly called out the human rights situation in western China, writing, "We hear millions of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, China, who have been unjustly interned and subject to surveillance and forced labor."
The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, a U.S.-based non-profit, has called for independence for the Chinese province of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkistan. The Uighur people, a Turkic ethnic group, are native to the vast region bordering Central Asia.
"China has been illegally occupying and colonizing East Turkistan ... resulting in an ongoing genocide," said Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the self-proclaimed East Turkistan Government-in-Exile.
Hudayar was born in the region and grew up in Oklahoma. He was elected as the organization's prime minister in 2019.
"We are calling on President Biden to hear the voice of the East Turkistani people," Hudayar said. "And we urge the international community to take stronger actions," with regard to the human rights situation in western China.
In recent years, the Chinese state has set up an elaborate network of surveillance and internment camps for Uighurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. The Chinese government says the camps are vocational and training centers meant to combat extremism and promote social integration in western China. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that China's treatment of the Uighurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in Xinjiang constitutes genocide.
"'Never again' has only become empty words," Hudayar said at the rally. "Today 'never again' is happening again in East Turkistan. China is bent on destroying an entire nation."
Last week, the Senate approved legislation by unanimous consent that would ban the import of products from Xinjiang to the United States. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the bill in response to allegations of forced labor among Turkic ethnic groups in the region.
"We will not turn a blind eye to the Chinese Communist Party's ongoing crimes against humanity, and we will not allow corporations a free pass to profit from these horrific abuses," Rubio said in a statement.
The bill now awaits approval from the House of Representatives.