The Elie Wiesel Foundation hosted a conference on Uyghur genocide, engaging the Jewish community in this struggle

The Elie Wiesel Foundation hosted a conference on Uyghur genocide, engaging the Jewish community in this struggle

Hundreds of thousands of Uyghur individuals are detained, subjected to forced labor, and facing cultural eradication in China, highlighting the urgent need for global action. The Elie Wiesel Foundation, World Uyghur Congress, and Uyghur Human Rights Project jointly organized a two-day interfaith conference on Uyghur genocide action held in New York on April 17th and 18th. Attendees, including survivors, experts, religious leaders, and activists, participated in group discussions calling for governments to support Uyghur-friendly policies and to pressure businesses profiting from forced Uyghur labor.

According to a statement on The Elie Wiesel Foundation website, it is estimated that 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups have experienced “re-education” camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as part of Beijing’s broader efforts to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion. Reports indicate that some detainees have suffered torture, rape, and psychological abuse.

In 2021, Elisha Wiesel delved into the life story of a Uyghur woman named Gulbahar Haitiwaji, as recounted in the book “Surviving the Camps in China: How I Survived the Chinese ‘Re-education’ Camps.”

The Uyghur people, primarily Muslim, have lived in a certain region of present-day China for over a thousand years. The experiences shared by Haitiwaji resonated with Wiesel, son of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Holocaust survivor, and human rights advocate Elie Wiesel, who passed away in 2016.

“Reading about the Chinese government’s determination to eradicate a people resonated strongly with my father’s memoir ‘Night,'” Wiesel mentioned, recalling his father’s accounts of imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

These unsettling memories prompted Elisha Wiesel, chairman of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, to conduct deeper investigations, leading ultimately to the “Stop Uyghur Genocide” conference.

Elisha Wiesel recognized severe sleep deprivation and forced detention among the Uyghur people. Reports from survivors and witnesses detail instances of torture. It is evident that industries such as fashion, automotive parts, and beverage bottling benefit from this forced labor. Uyghur individuals face restrictions on practicing Islam freely and preserving their culture due to cultural suppression by the Chinese Communist Party. For instance, there is strong pressure to compel Muslims to eat pork or drink alcohol. Many Han Chinese are reportedly integrated into Uyghur families, particularly to deter them from attending mosques and following their traditions. There is clear evidence indicating that mosques are being rebuilt or redesigned to replace architectural patterns defining Uyghur identity.

Wiesel noted that the foundation faces two primary challenges in raising awareness about Uyghur genocide action:

The first challenge is China’s “information lockdown policy,” making it nearly impossible for Uyghur families in Xinjiang to communicate with overseas relatives or for news media to access firsthand information about events there. “If Western free press cannot access atrocities, they cannot report on them, and then, it is almost as if they never happened.”

The second challenge is garnering celebrity attention due to China’s significant influence as a major market for U.S. and Western films and consumer goods like sneakers. “Therefore, suddenly China holds the dollars influencing celebrities, which threatens their bottom line, making it increasingly difficult to inspire their participation.”

In his speech at the conference, Dolkun Isa, chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, emphasized that justice cannot be achieved in isolation but requires unity and concerted efforts to uphold human rights principles for all, regardless of race, religion, or background. He expressed gratitude to the Elie Wiesel Foundation for their support and solidarity.

Furthermore, the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the 2018 Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act call upon the U.S. government, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security, among others, to take action against those responsible for genocide or other atrocities.

In 2023, the foundation provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to three organizations dedicated to advocating for and educating on Uyghur rights amid ongoing repression by Chinese authorities.

The day before the official conference, a private reception was held at White Space Chelsea in New York City, featuring an art installation themed around how Chinese-manufactured, popular brands profit from forced Uyghur labor.

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