What's A Uighur?

Corrected 2/4/10

This question was part of the opening remarks in a talk given several years ago by one of the attorneys representing the Uighurs at Guantanamo. We didn’t know the answer. But since then we’ve learned a lot.

Over the past few years, information about the Guantanamo Uighurs has filtered out into the mainstream media. (After more than seven years, 13 Uighurs are still at Gitmo). While not exactly a household word, “Uighur” became something that people might have “heard something about somewhere.”

Now a frightful window has opened up on the Uighurs’ world in Western China. The ethnic violence that broke out this past weekend did not come out of nowhere. It came from years of brutal oppression. It erupted when Uighurs took to the streets (peacefully) to protest the stalled investigation into the deaths of two Uighur factory workers. The demonstration was violently suppressed, and the Uighurs fought back.

This is a Uighur woman desperate to find out what has happened to her husband and four brothers. The Chinese came into their home while they were eating dinner and took them away.

The Uighurs call their homeland – live in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a vast, resource-rich region of central Asia which they sometimes refer to as East Turkistan.  Since it was annexed by China, it is formally known as the Xinjian Uyghur “Autonomous” Region. There is no “autonomy.” Its ‘autonomy’ is questionable. You can read all about it:

US Officials' Lopsided Response to Gaza Crisis

Last Friday, January 2, Amnesty International USA released its first major action of the year, calling on all Amnesty members and concerned citizens to write to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the current violence in Gaza and southern Israel.  In that action, we called on four things:

  • All parties to the conflict—ie Israel and Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas—should cease attacks on civilians.
  • The humanitarian crisis in Gaza should be ameliorated.
  • The US should cease military transfers to Israel and should investigate if any US weapons were used in attacks against civilians.
  • The US should condemn all sides with equal vigor—including Israel for its vastly disproportionate response.

So far, over 500 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed. Yet despite those figures, the US continues to place the onus of blame solely on Hamas.  Below is a list of quotes by US officials that illustrate why Amnesty calls the US response “lopsided.”

As the letter to Secretary Rice states, “We expect the US government to share this concern for all unarmed civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinians, who are caught in this conflict, and we urge the US government to spare no effort to pressure all sides in the conflict to immediately cease indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks which cause civilians fatalities and casualties.”

Quotes on Gaza by US Officials

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
Jan. 4, 2009- “I think what the Israelis are doing is very important. I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away. They’ve got to come to their senses.”

Howard L. Berman, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee
Dec. 27, 2008- “Israel has a right, indeed a duty, to defend itself in response to the hundreds of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza over the past week. No government in the world would sit by and allow its citizens to be subjected to this kind of indiscriminate bombardment. The loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, and the blame for that tragedy lies with Hamas.”

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
Dec. 27, 2008- “Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot result from daily barrages of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Hamas and its supporters must understand that Gaza cannot and will not be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel. The United States must continue to do all it can to promote peace in the region and a negotiated settlement to differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Humanitarian needs of all innocent civilians must also be addressed. But when Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally.”

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, New York City
Jan. 4, 2009- “I think I speak for an awful lot, almost all Americans, who think that Israel is doing the right thing in defending itself.” Asked about the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, Mr. Bloomberg replied sharply: “That they are putting people at risk is an outrage. If Hamas would focus on building a country instead of trying to destroy another one, then those people would not be getting injured or killed.”

George W. Bush, President of the United States
Jan. 2, 2009- “This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas — a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel’s destruction […] In response to these attacks on their people, the leaders of Israel have launched military operations on Hamas positions in Gaza. As a part of their strategy, Hamas terrorists often hide within the civilian population, which puts innocent Palestinians at risk. Regrettably, Palestinian civilians have been killed in recent days […] Another one-way ceasefire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end. I urge all parties to pressure Hamas to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace.

Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State
Jan. 2, 2009- “I want to begin by noting that Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate President of the Palestinian people. The Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address. But frankly, Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life. We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza.

Write to Secretary of State Rice asking her to call for the protection of all civilians and an end to unlawful attacks.