The Price of Human Rights - Cambodia ignores refugee convention and sends Uighur asylum seekers to uncertain fate in China

Cambodia today deported 22 Uighurs who had fled China to escape persecution, returning them, at Beijing’s behest, to an uncertain fate.

It’s a sickening development. Despite the notoriety of the Chinese authorities when it comes to human rights abuses, particularly against the ethnic minority Uighur community, the Cambodian government crumpled in the face of the pressure from the regional powerhouse. According to AFP, shortly after the Uighurs were deported, trade and aid deals worth over a billion dollars were signed between China and Cambodia. Twenty pieces of silver, anyone?

Since the July 2009 unrest in the city of Urumqi, Uighurs have been particularly vulnerable to persecution by the Chinese authorities. Thousands of people have been detained and nine people have been executed with another eight sentenced to death. None of them will have received a fair trial.

Amnesty has been documenting the cases of Uighur asylum-seekers, who were returned to China, since 2001. Many were detained and reportedly tortured upon their return. At least one was executed.

Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, one of the few countries in south-east Asia to have done so. Yet judging by this story, their commitment to the convention is pitifully weak.

So, there you have it – the price of human rights. Twenty people arrive on your shores and claim asylum. A powerful nation comes knocking and asks for them to be returned. And without even assessing their asylum claim, the people are sent packing, back into the hands of the government that they say is persecuting them. It’s a grim vision of the future, one in which realpolitik and financial interests trump international law and basic human values. It’s a story that truly makes your heart sink.

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