By Max White, Amnesty International USA Indonesia Country Specialist
Recently, Amnesty International released a comprehensive report, “Time to Face the Past,” documenting the disturbing failure by Indonesian governments, local and central, to establish the truth of what happened to victims of years of violence in the province of Aceh, Indonesia. The conflict left up to 30,000 people dead, many of them civilians; it is nearly eight years since the end of that conflict.
When President Obama came into office, he was encouraged to investigate and prosecute U.S. officials responsible for torture. In January 2009, the New York Times reported, “President-elect Barack Obama signaled in an interview broadcast Sunday that he was unlikely to authorize a broad inquiry into Bush administration programs like domestic eavesdropping or the treatment of terrorism suspects.” He stated that, “…we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
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: