Rushan Abbas (l.) pictured with speaker of the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies Fernand Etgen during their meeting on 28 March 2023. Photo: Chamber of Deputies

Rushan Abbas (l.) pictured with speaker of the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies Fernand Etgen during their meeting on 28 March 2023. Photo: Chamber of Deputies

Representatives of the Campaign for Uyghurs non-profit on 28 March visited Luxembourg to push for the recognition of the persecution of Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang province as genocide and for the grand duchy to use its role on the UN Human Rights Council to hold Beijing to account.

A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published last August concluded that the detention of the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

The report detailed large-scale arbitrary detention and systematic use of surveillance based on religion and ethnicity, restrictions on cultural and religious practices and expression but also torture and sexual and gender-based violence--including forced abortion and sterilisation--as well as enforced family separations and forced labour.

“This is not just statistics,” said Rushan Abbas, the founder and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, in an interview during her visit to Luxembourg. “When we talk about millions of people disappeared, the millions more in forced labour facilities, about one million children taken--those are not just statistics.”

Her own sister has been detained and members of her husband’s family have disappeared, she said. “We are the face of this genocide.” Abbas was an activist in pro-democracy demonstrations in Xinjiang in the 1980s before leaving China for the US in 1989. She founded Campaign for Uyghurs in 2017 following on from other projects.

“Luxembourg is a very important country in the EU as one of the founding member states,” she said of visiting the country as part of several cities in Europe where the non-profit is meeting with lawmakers, embassies and other delegates. 

The grand duchy as a member of the UN Human Rights Council in October 2022 supported a joint statement by 50 countries criticising the human rights situation in Xinjiang. “Such severe and systematic violations of human rights cannot be justified on the basis of counterterrorism,” the joint statement said of the high commissioner’s report.

The statement came after members of the human rights council had voted not to discuss the UN report. Nineteen of the council’s 47 member countries rejected the US-led call for a debate against 17--including Luxembourg--who supported the motion. Eleven countries abstained in what Abbas described as a show of China’s political power and diplomatic clout.

“China is using trade threats and economic manipulation in some countries; they try to change the outcome,” she said. “There is no neutrality on genocide,” Abbas added of the countries that abstained. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, not ever the victim. The silence encourages the tormentor.”

Genocide recognition

Lawmakers in a handful of countries--including France, the Netherlands, Czechia, Lithuania, the UK and Canada--have recognised China’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.

Yves Cruchten (LSAP), who chairs the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs committee, told Delano in an email that recognising the persecution of Uyghurs as genocide had not been discussed.

“I hope that Luxembourg will make a move and recognise the atrocity as genocide as well,” said Abbas after her meeting with lawmakers, in which she also raised the issue of human rights due diligence obligations for companies to ensure that no products made from forced labour enter the European market.

I hope that Luxembourg will make a move and recognise the atrocity as genocide as well.
Rushan Abbas

Rushan Abbasfounder and executive directorCampaign for Uyghurs

“Protecting human rights and fighting against forced labour is a priority of Luxembourg and the European Union,” chamber speaker Fernand Etgen (DP) said in an official statement released after his meeting with Abbas.

Luxembourg’s Chamber of Deputies on 1 April 2021 adopted a motion condemning Chinese sanctions against EU officials and making commitments to defend human rights in Luxembourg-China relations.

Two Luxembourg members of the European Parliament--Isabel Wiseler-Lima (CSV/EPP) and Charles Goerens (DP/Renew)--are members of the institution’s human rights subcommittee that was  over criticism of its human rights record. A third Luxembourg official was targeted as part of sanctions against the European Council’s political and security committee.

China’s response

China’s permanent mission to the UN in a 131-page annex to the high commissioner’s report had opposed the document’s release. “Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts China’s law and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes with China’s internal affairs,” it said.

The Chinese document said all ethnic groups, including the Uyghur, “are equal members of the Chinese nation” and that “Xinjiang has taken actions to fight terrorism and extremism in accordance with the law, effectively curbing the frequent occurrences of terrorist activities.”

Xinjiang, it said, “enjoys social stability, economic development, cultural prosperity and religious harmony. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are living a happy life in peace and contentment. It is the greater human rights protection and the best human rights practice.”  

For Abbas the report confirmed what human rights activists have long been saying and leaks such as the already showed. She is hoping for another resolution to be introduced at the UN Human Rights Council and that it will pass in a second attempt to get the topic on the agenda.

“Slavery and genocide are against any democratic country’s constitution. This is the time to take a strong stance and be on the right side of history. What’s happening in China is not staying in China.”

The Middle Kingdom, she said, is exporting its mass surveillance technologies to other countries but also the wares produced by forced labour, “making all of us enablers of this genocide.”

The Chinese Communist Party, she said, “is attempting to export their worldview and authoritarian system globally. If we allow this to continue, basically the world that has been built on the foundation of democracy and freedom and human rights will be dismantled before everyone’s eyes.”

Putin partner

China’s relationship with Russia is under particular scrutiny by the EU. “Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin’s Russia,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech on 30 March.

Xi Jinping on 21 March met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow amid suspicion of military aid to the country. Nato, the US and other allies largely dismissed a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine presented by China on the anniversary of 24 February, marking one year since the invasion.

China has a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a just peace.
Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der LeyenpresidentEuropean Commission

“China has a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a just peace,” Von der Leyen said during her speech, in which she also described China-EU relations as “more distant and more difficult”, warning of a “clear push to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China.”

However, the commission president also said it wouldn’t be in the EU’s interest to “decouple from China. Our relations are not black or white--and our response cannot be either.”

For Abbas, China is “not a reputable, trustworthy” partner. By not denouncing the government’s atrocities, she said, countries are “giving up little by little their own sovereignty, their own decision-making processes and giving up their principles and values.”

Not only the Uyghur are being oppressed but also Tibetan and Mongolian minorities, who are facing “elimination and eradication by the Chinese regime,” said Abbas. “This is too big [to ignore]. China is waging war on humanity.”