Assistant Secretary of State sees cause for hope on North Korean refugees
WASHINGTON, Dec. 27--A senior U.S. official just back from China says ethnic Uyghur businesswoman Rebiye Kadeer appears on a shortlist of key prisoners the United States wants released quickly, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. But Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Lorne Craner said Chinese authorities told him she would remain in prison for now.
�They said that [her release] would not be possible at the moment. I had hoped to meet with her, and that was not possible either,� Craner told RFA�s Uyghur service. Senior U.S. officials have presented China with a list over the last year of �some prisoners we would like to know about, but also of cases we have a very particular interest in, and there are about 10 people on that list� Rebiye Kadeer is also on that list of people we have a very, very special interest in.�
�We have not been given a good reason why she should be in jail,� he said, noting that pro-democracy activist Xu Wenli--freed Christmas Eve and exiled to the United States--had also figured on the U.S. list.
Kadeer is serving an eight-year jail term for sending newspaper articles from China�s remote northwestern province of Xinjiang to relatives abroad. Chinese authorities briefly detained her four adult children in the provincial capital, Urumqi, before and during Craner�s visit there, in an apparent bid to prevent them from trying to meet with him.
Washington�s shortlist of Chinese prisoners, which was vetted by the White House, also comprises Yang Jianli, a dissident and U.S. resident detained in April after entering China on a friend's passport. Craner said he had received no indication when Yang would be freed either.
Craner traveled to China this month to resume a bilateral human rights dialogue that had stalled since October 2001 As part of that visit, he traveled to Xinjiang, home to most of the country�s minority Uyghur population. Western officials fear China is waging an unjust crackdown on Moslem Uyghurs in Xinjiang under the pretext of fighting terrorism. But Chinese authorities accuse Uyghur separatists of allying with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Craner said he stressed in his talks with Chinese authorities that Washington�s decision to brand a single Uyghur group, the pro-independence East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), as a terrorist organization doesn�t justify a blanket crackdown on Uyghurs. �It is our understanding that many of the officials in Xinjiang have said that the U.S. has condemned the people of Xinjiang because we have condemned ETIM. And we are saying that is not the case. In fact, the opposite.�
�The point we made to them was that we think that where there are terrorists one has to say there are terrorists. But we also said to them that you cannot thereby condemn all the people in a region or all the people in an ethnic group who happen to be in some way innocently surrounding the terrorists,� he said. �You cannot condemn them as well.�
"My visit is not to remain on its own, " Craner said. "There will be other visits by senior U.S. officials with the very same message. Not only to the Chinese in Beijing but also to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang."
Congress and the Bush Administration have discussed creating a new State Department post addressing Uyghur affairs, modeled after the position of special coordinator for Tibet--launched under the Clinton administration. �I �ve heard that idea, and I think it has played a useful role in Tibet, and it�s something I know Congress and we are talking about. But I haven�t seen an endpoint to it or an agreement,� he said. Xinjiang �ought to be an area of special interest to the United States in the same way that Tibet is."
Craner urged Uyghurs inside China to keep in contact with the outside world. �I think it�s important to get as much information out as possible and make the Chinese aware that we�re very much paying attention to this area. If anything, more so after Sept. 11 than we were before, so the most useful thing for us to be able to help is� to get information from Xinjiang about what�s going on inside there.�
Craner said he regarded China�s decision to allow U.N. observers to visit its prisons as �very, very important� I think these rapporteur mechanisms are things that can make a real difference in China in the medium-term.�
He also voiced hope that Chinese authorities would revise their stance on the fate of North Korean refugees on its territory. Human Rights Watch estimated in November that between 10,000 and 300,000 North Koreans are currently hiding in China, where they are often subject to grave abuse.
�Their response is that these are mainly economic migrants,� Craner said. But he added: �I have said that I think they are beginning to understand that this also is a human rights problem for them in the world at large, and a lot of countries have expressed the opinion that they need to figure out a way to deal with this issue.�
�So I think they are beginning to understand that, and I am hopeful again that in the not too distant future they�re going to figure out a good way, a just way, to deal with this issue of North Korea refugees.�
Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996 as a private, nonprofit corporation, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.