Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress, appears before a US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee. Photo credit: Talk Radio News.
Exiled members of China’s Muslim or Uyghur minority, oft-overlooked in favour of the more media savvy Tibetan Government in Exile, have called for China’s new leadership to reform the way it governs minority groups.
As China’s once in every decade leadership transition starts, [Uyghur dissident Rebiya] Kadeer is calling on the country’s presumptive leader Xi Jinping to carry out political and economic reforms in the oil and mineral-rich Xinjiang region.
“One oppressed nation’s history and fate can be changed by one thousand or even just one freedom fighter’s voice,” Kadeer told Al Jazeera. “If I’m chosen to be that voice, I should keep going with my fight.”
The Uyghurs have long alleged discrimination in China because of their culture, language and Muslim religion.
Chinese officials have dismissed Kadeer as a “an ironclad separatist colluding with terrorists and Islamic extremists”. The former politician and successful businesswoman was initially sentenced to death for leaking state secrets, but was discharged to the US in 2005 on compassionate release
When Kadeer talks about the plight of the Uyghurs, it is also personal. Two of her children are in jail, locked up by the Chinese government following Kadeer’s election as president of the World Uyghur Congress in 2006. Kadeer said her sons are being punished for her activism..
Unlike the Dalai Lama or Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay, Uyghur activists struggle to gain international attention for their cause. One dissident characterised the minority as “the other Tibetans you never heard of”.
Neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [who have both met with the Dalai Lama] have met Kadeer.
“I don’t think that they [Uyghurs] will have a decisive impact on American foreign policy towards China,” said Howard French, a China expert at Columbia Journalism School. “Realpolitik dictates foreign policy priorities, and human rights are not on top of that list”, he said.
We previously noted that despite both candidates in the recent US Presidential Election attacking China on a number of fronts, human rights and minority rights were largely overlooked.
Read Al Jazeera’s full report on Rebiya Kadeer.