Advocates for Dignity (AFD) held a live webinar on Thursday 9 December 2021,  titled, ‘Remembering the Victims, Stop Genocide’, to mark the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.

This day was also the 73rd anniversary of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the ‘Genocide Convention’), the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly upon the formation of the United Nations. 

The Convention signifies the international community’s commitment to “never again” and provides the first international legal definition of “genocide,” widely adopted at national and international levels. 

The webinar explored the genocide of the Uyghur people in China, the crimes against humanity taking place in Turkey with potential genocidal characteristics and other global genocide cases.

The webinar was moderated by Dr Eyal Mayroz, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. The panel was constituted by Prof Stuart Rees AM, Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, and Co-Founder Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Mr Noorahmad Abdulla, General Secretary of the East Turkestan Australian Association, and Dr Bulent Kenes, former academic of Fatih University and exiled Turkish journalist. 

The webinar was opened by the President of Advocates for Dignity, Mehmet Saral, who stated that the Genocide Convention signifies the international community’s commitment to “never again” and provides the first international legal definition of genocide, widely adopted at the national and international levels. 

Prof Rees began the panel discussion by referencing the history of genocides, recounting that from the beginning of the 20th century, there was a huge momentum of mass murders and genocide that preceded the First World War, leading to the Second World War and continuing to this day.

“There was almost a fascination with stigmatizing the other as grossly inferior and at worse, to be eliminated. The worst kind of stigmatization is to say that people do not exist, or are so inferior that they should be eliminated,” he said. 

He then explained that sovereignty is amongst one of the many political and bureaucratic obstacles of the Genocide convention. He said: “You only have to look at Australia who signed the convention immediately, and then took over 50 years to ratify it…the concern with sovereignty constantly hindered the ratification and therefore taking the convention seriously.”

Mr Noorahmad Abdullah then introduced the topic of the Uyghur genocide by citing the history of the Uyghur ethnicity as one of the oldest ethnic groups in central Asia, with the term ’Uyghur’ meaning untitled and allied, and emerging from a political federation of Turkish groups in Central Asia. 

“What we have been seeing in the media about what the Uyghurs have been suffering in recent years is actually not new, we have seen this happen from the time the Chinese Communist Party took control over the region of East Turkestan, annexed it and renamed it Xinjiang. We have reports of continuous oppression, and now it has come to seven decades of China’s control over our region,” he said. 

Abdullah then mentioned the Xinjiang internment or ‘re-education’ camps were introduced in 2016. “The propaganda videos about these camps are alarmingly similar to those that was utilised in Germany during the Holocaust,” he said. “While they attack the civilians, they have also commenced a broad attack on the elite of the Uyghur society; anyone who has power, influence in business or is an academic. These are the majorities in these camps, and we can see that it is not only the uneducated that are being held captive and ‘being re-educated’ in Chinese law and language. Most of these people are already highly educated.”

He added that although the Chinese Communist Party continue to point to counterterrorism as the main reason behind the harsh treatment of the Uyghurs in East Turkestan, practices that are a normal part of Uyghur cultural life or anything that makes you appear outwardly Muslim are deemed characteristics of terrorism.

Dr Bulent Kenes then introduced his book ‘A Genocide in the Making’, in which he integrated the Ten Stages Of Genocide, authored by Gregory Stanton, and applied this to the widespread prosecution of the members of the Gulen Movement in Turkey under Erdogan’s Regime. As a result, he found that the clear picture was that many of the crimes and acts that were listed in the Ten Stages have been carried out on different scales against the members of the Gulen movement, after the controversial coup attempt in 2016.

“The widespread witch-hunt, systematic hate speech and ongoing persecution of the members of the Gulen movement, a social-religious group, have made conditions in Turkey right for a genocide. As such my book may be taken as an early warning. It is important that the international community and political organisations act without delay to develop measures to prevent a possible genocide.”

The important theme of the panel discussion was summarised by Prof Rees who said: “Laws are made, and interventions occur only because of political pressure from the public. A major moral and political responsibility is to hear the voices of the people who are oppressed time and time again”