Rayhan Asat, Uighur activist and attorney and sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities, addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 7, 2021

On the disappearance of her brother Epkar:

“Unfortunately, [my brother] was born into a race that has since been criminalized. In 2016, he was kidnapped & imprisoned in a concentration camp.”

“The cruel reality is that Ekpar was forcibly disappeared in a country where there is no rule of law.”

“From what we have been told, he’s been in solitary confinement for over 2 years in Aksu, far from home.”

“My brother, who was once charming, charismatic, an amazing dancer — is now a shadow of his former self.”

On graduating from law school without her family there:

“I still recall watching my classmates celebrate their graduation with their families while I held back tears. I was the first Uyghur to graduate from Harvard Law School, and I was doing it alone.”

On being a lawyer, but unable to help her brother:

“Here I was just a human being, and a helpless one.”

“Hollywood movies & tv shows portray lawyers as heroes. But unlike in western democracies where lawyers actually have a shot at securing people’s freedom, an attorney’s role is extinguished when the fight takes place in an authoritarian country.”

On China’s mass detention of Uighurs:

“What happened to me & what happened to my brother could happen to anyone.”

“Today, my people are herded into camps, where they are shaved, blindfolded, shackled, and sterilized. My brother is just one of the millions of Indigenous Turkic people currently detained. This is the face of the ‘New China.'”

“Just last year, American authorities seized a 13-ton shipment of Uyghur prisoners’ hair, which evoked chilling images of Auschwitz. The similarities are inescapable.”

On complicity of corporations:

“Corporations conveniently ignore the forced labor of Uyghurs because they profit from it.”

Full Remarks

I am a proud sister to an amazing brother. 

Unfortunately, he was born into a race that has since been criminalized. In 2016, he was kidnapped & imprisoned in a concentration camp. THIS is what the Chinese government is doing to its people right now

And today, I hope you’ll join me in saying his name, Ekpar Asat. 

I was born into a loving Uyghur family in Xinjiang. My brother and I were best friends. I used to dress him up in my clothes for fun. We’d fight, then play the next day again as besties. We stayed up late talking about our hopes and dreams. We envisioned a bright future, believing that if we worked hard, we could achieve the impossible. 

In college, our paths began to diverge. I moved to North America to attend law school. He became a tech-entrepreneur and founded a social media company for Uyghur people. Besides entrepreneurship, he’s also engaged in philanthropy. He set aside half his earnings every month to help kids with disabilities & make sure they got special education.

In 2016, he was invited to attend the U.S. State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program. I was so thrilled to see my handsome brother in D.C. 

But, I was feeling a little uneasy about the news I had seen coming out of China — crackdowns on lawyers, increasingly restrictive policies. I didn’t wanna say it directly so as we strolled through Georgetown, I just asked: “Are you going to keep working in China, or would you consider moving to here?” 

“Look,” he said, “I’m here in D.C. representing China on the world stage as a Uyghur. China wants us to innovate & to be creative. China is making a lot of progress including in Xinjiang.” 

It was a short trip but I didn’t mind — because Ekpar would be returning in a few months with my parents for my law school graduation. Afterwards, we’d planned a family road trip down the Pacific Coast.

But that road trip never happened. My parents called to say they couldn’t come to my graduation. I asked why, but they were vague. 

Then I called my brother and he was nowhere to be found. I sensed something really terrible had happened but I didn’t know what it was. 

I still recall watching my classmates celebrate their graduation with their families while I held back tears. I was the first Uyghur to graduate from Harvard Law School, and I was doing it alone.  

Somehow, I still believed in the integrity of the Chinese system and thought he would be freed. But days stretched into months and into years. 

I privately advocated for his release through Han friends and people in power. But I was afraid to speak publicly, knowing that the Chinese government might retaliate against my parents. Of all the people in the world, they intimately understand my pain. The brother I lost is their son. 

But we’ve never once talked about it. China’s system of total surveillance makes it unsafe for them to even acknowledge that their son is missing.

When we were little, Ekpar always joked that I’d become “a badass lawyer.” But here I was just a human being, and a helpless one. Because the cruel reality is that Ekpar was forcibly disappeared in a country where there is no rule of law. 

Hollywood movies & tv shows portray lawyers as heroes. But unlike in western democracies where lawyers actually have a shot at securing people’s freedom, an attorney’s role is extinguished when the fight takes place in an authoritarian country. 

It’s been more than five years since we spoke to Ekpar. We got final confirmation that he was sent to a concentration camp in January 2020. From what we have been told, he’s been in solitary confinement for over 2 years in Aksu, far from home. 

My brother, who was once charming, charismatic, an amazing dancer — is now a shadow of his former self.

That’s why, in March 2020, I finally became the lawyer Ekpar knew I could be. 

I went to the media, told his story, and created a movement around his freedom. And that’s why I’m here now, speaking to you.

Maybe you’ve heard about this crisis before but it felt distant and unrelatable. I understand why. We have a name that is hard to spell and hard to pronounce, we live in the far reaches of a foreign country. 

But what happened to me & what happened to my brother could happen to anyone. 

Before the camps went up, Uyghur people lived with dignity. I had a relatively normal childhood, maybe similar to yours. 

But today, my people are herded into camps, where they are shaved, blindfolded, shackled, and sterilized. My brother is just one of the millions of Indigenous Turkic people currently detained. This is the face of the “New China”.

Holocaust survivors & Jewish leaders have urged the world to take action on the forced labor, abuse, and erasure of the Uyghur women, men, and children. 

Just last year, American authorities seized a 13-ton shipment of Uyghur prisoners’ hair, which evoked chilling images of Auschwitz. The similarities are inescapable. 

And while I am thankful that more people are now speaking up, it is not enough. Corporations conveniently ignore the forced labor of Uyghurs because they profit from it. 

Volkswagen and Hugo Boss, two companies infamous for their use of Jewish slave labour, continue to benefit from genocide with their factories and supply chains in Xinjiang. 

At a Summit where we ought to hold the UN accountable for fulfilling its mission to achieve global peace. I ask, will the UN save even a single Uyghur peacebuilder? 

An alumnus of the same program which taught UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres? 

My brother, Ekpar Asat.  

And I challenge you and the whole world as gravely, as humbly, and as desperately as I can: what did you mean when you vowed “never again”?