East Turkistan Government In Exile

Restoring Freedom and Independence for East Turkistanis

Uyghurs Reject “Indigenous People” Designation, Citing Incompatibility With Fundamental Goal of Restoring East Turkistan’s Independence

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Release
East Turkistan Government in Exile
contact@East-Turkistan.Net
+1 (202) 599-2244, Ext: 1
6 December 2021

A recent poll conducted by the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), the official body representing East Turkistan and its people in the international fora, found that the majority of Uyghurs in the diaspora reject the classification of “indigenous people” being applied to Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan. The rejection of the “indigenous people” classification is due to the classification’s limitations on the East Turkistanis / Uyghurs’ fundamental goal of restoring East Turkistan’s independence.

Since its establishment in 2004, the ETGE has refrained from using the “indigenous people” designation to describe Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in  East Turkistan. It has consistently opposed the classification of Uyghurs as “indigenous people” due to serious concerns that such designation is not compatible with the East Turkistani people’s unwavering fundamental goal of restoring East Turkistan’s independence. However, some Uyghur human rights organizations have been using the term “indigenous people” as a designation for Uyghurs since at least 2009. 

On 5 October 2009, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), then under a project under the Uyghur American Association (UAA, published a report referring to Uyghurs as an “indigenous people” and called on the Chinese government to “provide genuine autonomy for the Uyghur people.” The UHRP/UAA report was immediately promoted by its affiliate organization, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), in a press release titled Uyghurs As Indigenous Peoples; A New UHRP Report Highlights Chinese Government Violations of Uyghurs’ Indigenous Rights.

On 13 September 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution known as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which clearly defined what it means to be “indigenous” and what rights “indigenous peoples” have. While the term “indigenous people,” which is generally defined as a people native to a specific area before the invasion, colonization, and occupation of that area by a foreign force, may appear synonymous with the present ongoing conditions of the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in Chinese Occupied East Turkistan. It, however, has clear limitations on the self-determination rights of Uyghurs / Turkic peoples in East Turkistan and is incompatible with their fundamental goal to restore East Turkistan’s independence. 

“Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People – Article 4

“Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.” 

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People – Article 46, Section 1

Article 4 of the UNDRIP limits the right to self-determination to only internal self-determination. In contrast, Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of Occupied East Turkistan have repeatedly voiced their desire for their right to external self-determination to be respected. Whereas Article 46, Section 1 further strengthens Article 4, the UNDRIP ultimately undermines the fundamental goal of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan to restore East Turkistan’s independence if they accept the “indigenous people” designation to be applied to them. 

ETGE President Ghulam Yaghma had raised concern over the “indigenous people” classification being applied to Uyghurs for many years. However, only in recent months did the global Uyghur / East Turkistani diaspora community begin to openly carry out a public debate and address their similar concerns. Over the past few months, a profoundly contentious debate has occurred across the global East Turkistani / Uyghur diaspora on what it means to be an “indigenous people” under international law and whether Uyghurs should be classified as such. 

To reap the beneficial parts of this crucial debate and turn it into a constructive opportunity for our nation’s future and to gauge public opinion in a democratic way, the ETGE launched a public opinion poll aimed at the global East Turkistani diaspora community. The public opinion poll on Facebook specifically asked if Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan should be designated as “indigenous peoples.” The opinion poll was carried out for ten days in which 2,231 members of the global East Turkistani diaspora participated. The overwhelming majority, 1,998 people (90%), answered no, whereas 117 people (5%) answered yes, and 116 (5%) people responded that they didn’t know whether the designation should be applied to Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan. 

While the poll had only 2,231 participants, it nonetheless shows that majority of the global East Turkistani / Uyghur diaspora oppose the “indigenous people” designation being applied to Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan.

“By respecting our people’s democratic choice, we declare that Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan are not “indigenous peoples” as it is completely incompatible with our nations’ fundamental goal of restoring our independence,” said President Ghulam Yaghma.

Prime Minister Salih Hudayar stated, “the East Turkistan Government in Exile calls on the international community to respect our people’s choice by refraining from using the “indigenous people” or “indigenous peoples” designation to refer to the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan.”

East Turkistanis would appreciate it if the international community did not accept any such designation presented by other Uyghur organizations, including the Uyghur Human Rights Project and its affiliates such as the World Uyghur Congress. Misrepresenting Uyghurs as “indigenous people” on any occasion is clearly against the will of the East Turkistani people.

Lastly, the East Turkistan Government in Exile again calls on the international community to respect our people’s right to external self-determination, complete independence from Chinese occupation, colonization, and influence.

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