Cambodia’s deportation of Uyghur refugees to China on 19 December 2009 remains a severe violation of international law and human rights.
Below is an article published by World Uyghur Congress:
Three years ago today [19 December 2012], 20 Uyghur refugees were deported to the People's Republic of China (PRC) from Cambodia amidst widespread condemnation after repeated calls of concern for their safety resulting from past evidence of mistreatment of returned refugees and general human rights concerns went unmet. Those fears were proved to have been warranted as 17 remain detained and sentenced to harsh terms of imprisonment following closed trials lacking any due process, nor meeting accepted international legal norms.
In extraditing these Uyghur refugees whilst their cases were still under review by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), Cambodia contravened established international legal norms on the protection of refugees, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol (to which Cambodia is a party). Furthermore, among the twenty Uyghur refugees were a pregnant woman and children, representing further violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, although they have since been released.
The twenty Uyghurs had escaped from the PRC in search of refuge in the aftermath of widespread crackdowns following peaceful protests in Urumqi on 5 July 2009 which were subsequently violently suppressed. The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and other NGOs have reported that thousands of Uyghurs have been forcibly disappeared in the aftermath of this crackdown, whilst many have since been executed.
In that regard, the then-UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Manfred Nowak stressed that, “[i]n light of the reports of severe torture I have received following the July events and the recent executions in the Xinjiang region in violation of the most basic fair trial guarantees, this is a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the principle of non-refoulement as stipulated in article 3 of the UN Convention against torture.” Dr Nowak went on to assert that, “[t]he situation is aggravated by the fact that I had reminded the Government of Cambodia beforehand by means of an urgent communication of their international obligations.”
States are increasingly flouting such international legal obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement, against the backdrop of increasing pressure from the PRC. The day following their extradition, the now-newly installed President Xi Jinping, arrived in Phnom Penh gifting $1 billion of foreign investment, loans and grants to Cambodia, raising serious suspicions on the manner in which Cambodia seemingly succumbed under pressure from the PRC instead of upholding international law.
Whilst there remains a shroud of secrecy concerning the whereabouts and condition of many of the Uyghurs since their forcible return, some information has been obtained on the length of imprisonment reprehensibly handed down to some, who received sentences ranging from 16 to 20 years often on charges of divulging state secrets overseas.
On the situation, WUC President Ms Rebiya Kadeer said, ”in spite of repeated calls for Cambodia to take stock of the human rights situation in East Turkestan and the treatment of Uyghur refugees, it continued to extradite these Uyghur refugees in a flagrant abuse of international human rights law, for which no-one has been held to account, both in Cambodia and the PRC.”
In light of the above, the WUC condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing imprisonment of these Uyghur refugees, and calls upon the international community to pressure the PRC to release them with immediate effect. The WUC also calls upon Xi Jinping, who brought the financial rewards to Cambodia, to ensure that the new PRC leadership adheres to its international legal obligations regarding its treatment of refugees.