Thursday, September 24, 2009

As Muslim-Han Violence Recedes in China’s Xinjiang, an Exlied Uyghur Longs for Freedom in Delhi’s Bylanes

Shivam Vij
[A shorter, edited version of this story appeared in Open magazine on 16 July 2009)“Ey pekir Uyghur, oyghan!” (Hey poor Uyghur, wake up!]

- Abduhalik Uyghur (1901-1933), killed by a Chinese warlord for inciting Uyghur nationalism through his poetry.

“Kashmir ke peechay hamara mulk hain,” says Abdullah Dawood, 49, sitting in a guest house in Nizamuddin, in a room hired by a fellow-Uyghur visitor from Istanbul. “Just beyond the Karakoram pass,” smiles the vistor, Osman Uzturuk. Uzturuk adds in Turkic, and Abdullah translates: “In the olden days, much before India’s independence, we had great links with India.”
As Uzturuk fills us with information about the riots in Xinjiang since 5 July, Abdullah’s mind returns to that night twelve years ago in the old city of Ghulja, officially known as Yining. 5 February 1997: Abdullah, who ran a grocery store, let go of his reticence about politics and decided to join a rally demanding freedom. The protests were sparked by the execution of 30 Uyghur independence activists accompanied by the crackdown on attempts to revive traditional Uyghur culture such as traditional gatherings called meshrep. The demonstrations were crushed by the People’s Liberation Army, who killed nine.

The trigger for Abdullah to join those protests was the enforcement of the two-child norm. Abdullah had four daughters and had just adopted a son, and though he could get away with bribes, those who couldn’t, had to see their children killed, he says. Plainclothesmen made videos and took pictures, and Abdullah got wind that the army would come knocking in the night looking for all those who took part. Fearing that he may become part of the long list of the ‘disappeared’, Abdullah ran away – first to ürümqi (pronounced Oroomchi), the capital of the province 800 kms away, then to Tibet, and from there to Nepal. In 2003, when Nepal was threatening to deport him to China despite his refugee certificate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he came to India.

“Xinjiang” is Mandarin for “new territory”; the local Muslim population still calls it “Turki” and separatists want to establish a new country, “East Turkestan”. This is part of a vast swathe in Central Asia once called Turkestan. The region today is divided between the West Turkestan countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – countries once part of the Soviet Union. Culturally, the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs of Xinjiang are closer to these people. “All the nations Russia had captured are free today,” says Abdullah, “Only we are still chained.” Abdullah looks at a map of China and shows how much smaller China would be without Xinjiang, whose land area is double of Pakistan.

Under the Qing dynasty, even before the formation of the People’s Republic of China under Mao, the Uyghurs tried several times, in armed uprisings, to be free from the control of Chinese warlords. The Chinese Republic’s main strategy of dealing with the separatism of the Turkic Muslim Uyghurs has been, like Tibet, to give incentives to the majority Han to settle in Xinjiang. Today, there are 7 million Han Chinese in the area, and 8 million Uyghurs. The capital ürümqi has 75% Han Chinese and only 16% Uyghurs. “These Chinese census figures are lies,” insists Abdullah, “There are only 2.5 million of us left there.”

Such were the disputes Abdullah had with the news this past week on TV and radio. “The Chinese government says only 184 died. But my friends in Istanbul say it was 3,000.” These were riots sparked on 5 July in ürümqi when the confrontation between the police and Uyghur protestors led to the Uyghurs targeting the local Han population. The Han backlash lasted several days. The riots were caused in the first place by the killings of two Uyghur workers in Guangdong, in another end of China. The Uyghurs claimed that the Chinese did not protect Uyghur workers and let off the Han killers without punishment. The murdered workers were accused of raping a Han woman, charges later found untrue by Chinese authorities.

Abdullah is worried about his family’s safety, though they live 800 kms away from ürümqi. Over the years there has been little contact, and Abdullah doesn’t know English and is not familiar with using the internet. Between the violence that led to Abdullah’s exile and the riots past week, there have been many such instances. “Kashmiris also ask for freedom, but India does not brutally repress them the way China does,” says Abdullah. “There have been instances when they deliberately organise rallies by their informers amongst us to see who comes out, and then those persons disappear. Bodies are found months later,” he says with anguish. “All this never comes out.” He speaks constantly of Chinese brutality, of zulm, claiming that Uyghurs are not even given the right of assembly, their culture is being destroyed and human rights violated on a daily basis.

When on 17 April 2008 the Olympic torch arrived in Delhi, says Abdullah, Tibetans were allowed to protest, but he, a lone Uyghur in Delhi, was detained at a police station in Seelampur in north-east Delhi. “The Chinese had told them that Uyghurs are terrorists. But the police were very nice with me. I called a friend and got addresses of websites that document Chinese torture on us. The officer couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw those images,” he says.

The Chinese have restricted religious freedom. Abdullah says he couldn’t keep a beard, the syllabus in Islamic schools were regulated and only the government-approved version of the Qu’ran that could be published. China, on its part, has found it easier to quell separatism since 9/11, branding them as terrorists. China claimed that some terrorist incidents before the Olympics had Uyghur groups behind them, and suspects that they may be getting help from the Taliban in the Af-Pak region.

The Han migration to Xinjiang has made the Uyghurs feel alien in their own land. The alienation is visible when Abdullah says: “There’s a reason why the Chinese oppression is so brutal. They don’t believe in god and fear no one. They eat rats, frogs, dogs and monkeys!” The disgust changes to ridicule when he adds: “They even eat donkeys!”

Abdullah’s friend from Istanbul is similarly exiled, and both say they’d rather be exiled than live under Chinese rule. Abdullah did not agree to be photographed as he may be recognized and his family back home harassed. A photograph in a Kathmandu paper in 2003 did him great harm. After the newspaper article about Uyghur refugees appeared, Nepal deported four of them under Chinese pressure, he claims; Abdullah and seven others escaped to Delhi. They have since then been re-settled by UNHCR in Sweden; it’s been years and Abdullah is waiting for his turn, too. It’s the heat he wants to escape the most. “My home was colder than Kashmir! ” he says, cutting coriander leaves that he will mix with his soup. “It’ll help against the itch and allergies I get from this heat.”

“In Nepal we got enough money from UNHCR to live by, but here we get only 2,245 rupees a month,” says Abdullah. India does not allow employment for international refugees. He survives thanks to the visiting Uyghur and Turkish businessmen from Istanbul. They come here to buy scarves, shawls and cushion covers, selling them in Istanbul at thrice the price. Abdullah, who has picked up enough Hindustani in all these years, helps the Istanbul businessmen with translation and bargaining, and then takes a commission from them as well as the Indian wholesalers. That’s how he’s able to afford a room in Delhi.

When friends come from Istanbul, they bring traditional naan and cook mutton without Indian spices, and he asks them to take him away. It is from one of them that he got the number of Washington based Rebiya Kadeer, head of the World Uyghur Congress, whom China has accused of fomenting the present riots. “I keep calling her and she has promised help in re-settling me,” he says, “India is good but there’s no Turki here. I get very lonely.” Freedom, he concedes, will never come. “I am prepared to die here.”

Review of Internal Displacement and the Construction of Peace

Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty

Note: The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs coupled with the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana had organised a seminar on Internal Displacement and Peace building at Bogota, Columbia, from 11-12 November, 2008, the proceedings of which are presented in Internal Displacement and the Construction of Peace: Summary Report

The report on Internal Displacement and Peace-building in Columbia proffers an exclusive dimension on the relationship underlined between internal displacement and peace. It emphasises the role of the various actors such as governments, multi-lateral organisations, academic institutions, civil society and representatives of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that by their way of dynamic negotiations and co-operations predicates the course of the peace-building process. The report seeks to respond to the needs of protection and assistance of the displaced people especially in crisis situations of armed conflicts and violence. It holds that the rights of the IDPs and sustainable solutions cannot be achieved as long as lasting peace is not realized. Simultaneously it harps on a correlation of the issues pertinent to internal displacement that need to be included in different phases of the peace building processes in order to ensure ‘durable’ outcomes.

The report states that the way the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (since 2005), had been supporting the cause of IDPs and had enthusiastically assisted the Peace initiative of the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement has worked, they had been able to bridge the hiatus between peace building and humanitarian issues related to internal displacement in a rationally consistent manner since. Additionally Peace agreements and Peace-Building (2007) have been central for the successful dissemination of the study’s results both at the multilateral and bilateral levels. Working groups have also contributed in terms of having explored the following relationship between a) Land and territory, b) Transitional Justice, c) Durable solutions, d) Participation of IDPs and e) Right of IDPs in the context of dealing with the IDP agenda in general.

It becomes evident herein that the constant plea for peace is the result of armed groups operating in Columbia. There is thus a deliberate need to look at the structural causes of displacement especially the expansion of mega projects and the intervening factors such as the drug war. It was also observed that the impact of the conflict on the ethnic populace given their historical and cultural attachments to the land has had deep-rooted ramifications in the IDP crisis. While the governmental response was largely identifying the nature of the victims (that involved both a question of political responsibility as well as a moral commitment) and thereby providing humanitarian assistance, the RSG went further in taking a step towards recognising IDPs not merely as victims and passive recipients of aid and assistance, but as active participants who could exercise will and choice in making ‘justice’ participatory.

Interestingly certain key issues come into critical purview in the report. The fact that displacement and the process of peace building have had repercussions on each other had been the steady narrative of the report. The report further focuses on the various quandaries of especially ‘land’ (absence of a centralised registry, inadequate mechanisms of registering information, diversity of relations corresponding to the differing land situations, multiple types of displacement coupled with the decreasing autonomy of international cooperation to work directly with the affected) in Columbia that has augmented the conflicts in the region. It has also been realised that the IDPs have been the major victims that have arisen as a category post conflict situations in Columbia and that there is a need to shift from the welfarist aid offering approach to a more participatory approach whereby the IDPs would be involved in the process of peace building through transitional justice. Thus the report highlights the importance of sustainable solutions that need to be achieved through such transitional justice, adequate monitoring systems including adequate ‘laws’ coupled with international cooperation that can dually solve post displacement hangovers and effectively contribute towards peace-building.

The report in it’s reiterations maintains that since the ‘internally displaced people’ represent one of the most vulnerable categories that suffer the consequences of wars, and have specific needs, governments must protect and assist them in accordance with those specificities. The report however gets entangled into the problem of circularity with regard to its explanation on the question of ensuring ‘durable solutions.’ While it states on the one hand that without peace there is no hope for durable solutions it on the other maintains that durable peace is but the result of durable solutions. However the way in which the report upholds the notion of Truth, Justice and Reparation in acknowledging the true measure of displacement dilemmas and problem solving tactics particularly in the case of the IDPs, talks of more than a commitment that transgresses welfarist ideals towards a more participatory global ethos of cooperation and peace-building.

In Alien Country ~ South Asia Must Coordinate Its Stand on Refugees

Compiled by Priyanca Mathur Velath

THE history of South Asia is unique in the context of population displacement. People have been pushed beyond their borders in the wake of wars or they have left their country of origin on ethnic, racial, ideological or religious grounds. Migration has taken place for environmental or developmental reasons as well. Since Independence, India and Pakistan have witnessed a massive movement of refugees. After Partition, 7.5 million Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan crossed over to India and 7.2 million Muslim refugees went over to Pakistan. It was the largest recorded refugee movement in history. There was little international assistance to cope with this massive humanitarian crisis. In 1971, 10 million refugees crossed over to India during Bangladesh’s liberation struggle. In 1979, 3.5 million Afghans fled their country in the wake of the Soviet invasion and received asylum in Pakistan, of whom 1.2 million are still said to be there in the refugee camps. From the seventies to the nineties, Bangladesh witnessed the influx of over 300,000 Muslim refugees from Rakhine district in Myanmar, of whom nearly 30,000 are yet to be repatriated. Similarly, 90,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin were expelled and a substantial number have been accommodated in the refugee camps of Jhapa district of Nepal. However, many of them have recently been resettled in third countries by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Sri Lanka has often been described as an ‘Island of Refugees’ because of the external displacement of Tamils and internal displacement of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Though Sri Lanka is not regarded as a country that grants asylum, it is well known as a “refugee-producing country”. Since 1983, Sri Lanka has produced hundreds of thousands of refugees apart from over 500,000 Sri Lankan Tamil ‘jet refugees’ to the Western world. The majority of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu were voluntarily repatriated, but over 60,000 still remain because of the disturbed conditions in north-east Sri Lanka. Since the 1960s, India has played host to over 100,000 Tibetan refugees and 50,000 Buddhist Chakma refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Some of them were repatriated recently. India has permitted the UNHCR to assist about 12,000 Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds. Maldives is the only SAARC country which has neither produced nor received a significant refugee population. Despite the movement of refugees and the humanitarian issue of asylum, none of the SAARC countries has acceded to the 1951 International Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, which has been ratified by 136 countries. However, all the SAARC countries, except Bhutan and Nepal, have offices of the UNHCR ~ the UN agency responsible for the promotion of the “Refugee Instruments” and marshalling of international humanitarian assistance. The reasons advanced by the SAARC countries for not acceding to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol are very similar. They argue that they have well-grounded traditions of asylum comparable to international standards, sometimes even better than what is practised by some of the signatory states to the International Refugee Instruments. Therefore, they are in favour of dealing with the issue on the basis of ad hoc bilateral policies. However, these countries ~ with the exception of India ~ have welcomed international humanitarian assistance based on the need to share the burden. The SAARC countries further argue that the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol are inadequate to comprehensively address the issue, largely the outcome of internal conflicts and not the fear of persecution by the states per se. In support of their contention of inadequacy of the International Refugee Instruments, they cite the regional refugee instruments of Africa, the 1958 Organisation of African Unity Convention and the one for refugees in Latin America, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. These, they claim, are more comprehensive in their definition of refugees. The situation in South Asia has affected both national security and inter-state relations. The countries are generally reluctant to discuss the problem on a humanitarian basis. Since all refugees are technically considered illegal aliens, they have no institutional protection or the protection of the rule of law. In this context, a regional convention or declaration by the SAARC countries will be timely and relevant. Such an agreement on fundamental questions as the definition of a refugee, the granting of asylum and the exceptions thereto, and the voluntary nature of eventual repatriation will curb friction between the state interlocutors. A SAARC Refugee Convention or Declaration will mark a major step forward in developing a humanitarian regime in the region…………. (Statesman 31/8/09)

10,000 Flee to China as Myanmar Fight Raises Civil War Fears

BANGKOK: Continuous fighting between Myanmar's junta and rebel ethnic armies in the northeast has driven more than 10,000 refugees into China. It has also raised fears of a full scale civil war, media and analysts said Friday. A battle in the remote Shan state between the Kokang rebel group and the government's army began Thursday, breaking a 20-year ceasefire, according to the US Campaign for Burma (USCB), which uses Myanmar's former name. More than 10,000 refugees have crossed into the Chinese border town of Nansan in south-western Yunnan province and at least one Myanmar policeman was reportedly killed during the battle, the campaign group said. The exodus began after Myanmar's junta deployed troops in the mainly ethnic Chinese region on August 8, and now "only elderly peoples are left at homes," it added. Chinese state media reported Friday, citing local officials, that Myanmar nationals were still crossing the border into Yunnan province, without giving a specific figure. "It's difficult to get a real time update of that number," Yu Chunyan, a spokesman for the provincial government, was quoted as saying in the English-language Global Times. The newspaper reported that China had increased the number of armed police along the common border. Refugees have been settled in a temporary camp, and Chinese officials were providing food and medical care, the state Xinhua news agency reported, citing unnamed provincial government sources. Another ethnic group, the United Wa State Army, has now reportedly joined the Kokang forces' fight against the Myanmar junta, according to Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News. "People say they have been hearing gunshots and explosions," he told AFP, warning that other groups currently under ceasefire agreements could join in. "If the Burmese army is returning to a reconciliatory stance it might get better but if not it might be blown into a full-scale civil war." He added that the government was trying to create stability ahead of elections scheduled in 2010 but warned "it will be the opposite." David Mathieson, a Myanmar analyst at Human Rights Watch, agreed full-scale civil war was "a very real fear." "This could potentially be the flashpoint that draws in several other groups to the resumption of open conflict," he said. Myanmar, under military rule since 1962, has signed ceasefires with 17 ethnic armed groups. The USCB said before the battle that the Kokang forces - known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army - had split, with one faction joining the government's troops occupying Laogai, capital of the Kokang region. The other faction had refused to obey the junta's order to place its troops under army control. Peng Jiasheng, leader of the rebel group, issued a statement via USCB late Thursday on the "urgent need of peaceful and patient discussion between all parties concerned." Refugees began to flee three weeks ago after Myanmar sent dozens of military police to crack down on a gun-repair factory suspected of being a front for drugs production, sparking fear among locals, Chinese media said. According to the USCB, the junta has since deployed thousands of troops to the region and announced that Peng Jiasheng and his family were fugitives wanted for narcotics production.(Times of India 28/8/09)

44,000 to be Re-Settled Soon, Says Colombo Murlidhar Reddy

Compiled by Priyanca Mathur Velath

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government is gearing to re-settle in the next two weeks 44,000 of the nearly 3 lakh war displaced, said senior officials here on Wednesday. These displaced persons, housed in relief camps on the outskirts of Vavuniya town, are to be sent back to their places of residence in Jaffna district before the onset of monsoon. Internews, an NGO, quoted Vavuniya Government Agent (District Collector) P.S.M. Charles as saying the arrangements were being made through the relevant GAs to resettle those who belong to places outside the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu. It said many of them lost their houses during the conflict and CARITAS organisation has come forward to construct semi- permanent houses in Jaffna district. Separately, U.K.-based Channel 4 aired video footage, which it could not authenticate, apparently showing a purported soldier shooting two people with their hands tied to their back in the area captured from LTTE. The channel said it obtained the video from “Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka”, a newly-formed forum of Sri Lanka-based journalists in self-exile and was filmed in January. Kilinochchi, administrative and political HQ of LTTE, fell into the hands of military on January 2 and Mullaithivu, the military HQ on January 25. Denouncing the video as “diabolical” and aimed at tarnishing the image of the nation, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry strongly and unequivocally denied the allegations. (The Hindu 27/8/09)