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Season 5 Episode 6 – #NoRightsNoGames: The Uyghur Genocide & the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games

This week, host Muna Gasim and producer Sam Baron are joined by Zumretay Arkin, the Program and Advocacy Manager at the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella organization based Berlin, Germany that advocates for the rights of Uyghur people, an ethnic group from the province of Xinjiang in Northwest China. Despite the severe human rights abuses taking place against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China, Beijing remains the host of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which has vast political and humanitarian implications. Muna, Sam, and Zumretay discuss the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur people, the political power of the Olympics, and how governments, corporations, athletes, journalists, and citizens can take action.

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#NoRightsNoGames: The Uyghur Genocide & the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games

This week, host Muna Gasim and producer Sam Baron are joined by Zumretay Arkin, the Program and Advocacy Manager at the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella organization based Berlin, Germany that advocates for the rights of Uyghur people, an ethnic group from the province of Xinjiang in Northwest China. Despite the severe human rights abuses taking place against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China, Beijing remains the host of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which has vast political and humanitarian implications. Muna, Sam, and Zumretay discuss the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur people, the political power of the Olympics, and how governments, corporations, athletes, journalists, and citizens can take action.

Overview of the situation in Xinjiang

“I’m just going to say it bluntly. Currently, there’s a genocide.”

Zumretay Arkin

The Uyghur people are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China. It is currently estimated that more than 1.8 million Uyghur people are being held in concentration camps in China as a result of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s efforts to assimilate and eradicate minority groups. Since the beginning of CCP Chairman Xi Jinping’s tenure, perceived differences from the Han Chinese majority have been considered a threat to the national interests and thus attacked and criminalized. As a result, ethnic and religious minorities such as the Uyghurs have been subject to language severe religious persecution including the criminalization of religious practices such as wearing a veil or having an ‘abnormal’ beard, and the destruction of sacred cultural and religious sites such as mosques and gravesites.

The Uyghurs have been targeted with mass arbitrary detention in concentration camps and subjected to abhorrent abuses including unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, constant surveillance, sexual abuse, rape, forced sterilization and abortion, family separation and placement of children in state-run orphanages, and forced labor. Recent satellite imagery suggests that the network of camps is expanding, raising major concerns about the future of the Uyghur people.

These abuses constitute crimes against humanity and, as Arkin emphasizes, amount to genocide under Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games

“[The IOC] told us that they could not save the world, basically, through the Olympics, which is pretty condescending to human rights activists and groups. We’re not asking them to change the world. We’re just asking them to respect their own set of values which is clearly indicated in their own charter.”

Zumretay Arkin

While Arkin acknowledges that general awareness of the plight facing the Uyghurs has greatly improved over the past few years, she notes that concrete actions by the international community have been slow, and there remains much to be done. The selection of Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics has been widely criticized by human rights advocates, who view the selection as a tacit endorsement or excusal of China’s human rights abuses, not only against the Uyghur but also against persecuted peoples of Tibet, Hong Kong, and Mongolia.

Arkin recounts her experience during a meeting between human rights groups and the IOC – a meeting eighteen years in the making – which ultimately led to little more than empty promises and a dispersal of responsibility. Despite the soft power wielded by China both economically and diplomatically, Arkin and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) have called on national governments across the globe to orchestrate a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Games.

Acknowledging the lifetime of work that goes into competing in the Olympics, Arkin is careful to note that the WUC is not calling on athletes to boycott the Olympics – instead, they celebrate the power that athletes can wield to call attention to the human rights abuses taking place in China. Similarly, broadcast networks and journalists can use their platforms to elevate stories about the Uyghur genocide and persecution, giving essential context to any coverage of the 2022 Games.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re not involved in these crimes,’ but many of these sponsors or brands, they might not even know their own supply chains.”

Zumretay Arkin

Muna, Sam, and Zumretay also discuss the implications for corporations, sponsors, and consumers before and during the Olympics, and beyond. Uyghurs detained in the concentration camps are also subjected to forced labor, particularly as part of the massive cotton farming industry located in Uyghur territory.

More than 20% of the world’s cotton supply originates in this region, and many large clothing companies, including Adidas, Puma, Nike, and Zara source materials from this region. While several nations, including the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have either implemented or proposed bans on cotton goods from this region due to the high likelihood of slave labor, it is still incumbent upon corporations to interrogate their supply chains and ensure forced labor has not assisted in the creation of their product. Consumers can also become informed and avoid shopping from companies which source materials from regions known to force slave labor.

The #NoRightsNoGames Movement

Arkin notes that social media has played a very important role in raising awareness and building solidarity around the Uyghur persecution. The #NoRightsNoGames hashtag has gained momentum and helped to spread information about the atrocities taking place in China. Social media helps connect people with actionable steps they can take to make a difference, from simple one-click actions like sharing a post, to signing petitions, to writing and sending letters to elected officials calling for action. While Arkin celebrates the power that social media has to democratize information sharing, she also notes that the strict restrictions imposed by the Chinese government make this tool much less effective within the country.

“Just last week I was speaking at the UN and China… replied to my statement saying that we should not be speaking at the UN… they basically tried to intimidate me at the UN… that means that our words, our work has some kind of influence and power, because they’re feeling threatened. For me that also counts as a victory.”

Zumretay Arkin

Reflecting on the advances that the WUC has made, Arkin first notes that it is difficult to connect with small victories when confronted on a daily basis with the realities of genocide, persecution, and the disappearance of members of her family. Still, she views the heightening public awareness of the Uyghur genocide as a sign that their campaign is moving in the right direction.

When brands support calls to stop sourcing materials from regions with forced labor, as M&S did just recently, these are important steps towards ending the persecution of the Uyghur people. By persistently and fearlessly advocating for the Uyghur people, Arkin and the WUC have drawn criticism and intimidation from the Chinese government – but Arkin says these repercussions only serve to reinforce the power and importance of their work fighting for the human rights of the Uyghur people.

“Behind all of these statistics and numbers, there are real people on the line … and they have human stories to share.”

Zumretay Arkin

When asked how listeners can get involved, Arkin encourages getting informed and using the power available to you to effect real change. Everyone has the capacity to become informed about this critical issue and to thoroughly engage with the Uyghur stories, not just at a surface level. Recently, the app Clubhouse has become home to multiple discussion boards addressing the persecution of Uyghurs.

As consumers, we have the power to affect change by boycotting brands whose supply chains exploit forced labor. Arkin encourages us to use our political voices to call our elected officials’ attention to the Uyghur genocide. Before we are athletes or spectators, we are human beings, and as much as the controversy surrounding the 2022 Olympic Games is a political issue, it is important to remember that it is a humanitarian crisis with real human lives at stake. 

Further resources: 

Follow:
@ZumretErkin
@UyghurCongress

Zumretay’s Op-Ed in the Hong Kong Free Press: https://hongkongfp.com/2021/02/06/in-a-year-china-will-host-the-first-genocide-olympics/

For an overview of the general context of the crisis in Xinjiang, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has a catalogue of theme-specific case studies/research called “Xinjiang Data Project.”

BuzzFeed News resource on the overall camp network with multiple parts.

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Season 5 Episode 5 – Understanding the #EndSARS Protests, Part 2: Women in Activism, Social Media, and the Road Ahead in Nigeria

This week, for the second in our two-part series focusing on the #EndSARS Movement, we are joined by three powerful activists working to end police brutality and abuse of power in Nigeria: Aisha Yesufu, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, and Lola Omolola. Our guests share stories about living under SARS control, insights about the power of the #EndSARS protests, and their visions for Nigeria’s future. To listen to Part 1 of this series, click here.

Aisha Yesufu is an activist, community leader, and financial literacy educator who demands good governance. She is unapologetic about her stance in fighting for justice and equity. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaaris an award-winning chemical engineer and energy consultant. She is the founder of Ignite Energy Africa, an online community and resource hub which provides data and promotes innovation in the energy sector. She is also the author of Everyone Deserves to Sparkle and the founder of the Sparkle Initiative,which supports STEM education and encourages young people everywhere to pursue their passions. Lola Omolola builds communities that change people’s lives. She has more than twenty years of experience in journalism, spanning radio, television, and digital project management. She is also the founder of the Female IN Facebook group, which has brought together more than 1.7 million members across 100 countries to share experiences and forge a meaningful community.

Building upon our conversation in Understanding the #EndSARS Protests Part 1, our guests this week provide on-the-ground insights into life in Nigeria under the corrupt reign of SARS. Although SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was established as a sub-unit of the police force to curtail armed robbery and kidnapping, as our guests explain, SARS was soon corrupted by the power they wielded. Before long, SARS became the perpetrators of the very corruption, violence, and terror which they had been tasked with policing. Young men were profiled and targeted by the police for things as simple as owning an iPhone or driving an expensive car. Police officers also routinely harassed, threatened, stalked, and violated young women.

“This is not acceptable. Citizens have a right to protest in Nigeria and nobody can stop that.”

Aisha Yesufu

In October 2020, protests erupted across the country. Aisha Yesufu emphasizes the fundamental importance of social media to the surge and coordination of public outcry and protests. Social media helped disperse information – not only about the murders and violence being perpetrated by the police, but also key details about protests. This enabled larger groups of people to join in the movement. Social media also provided an invaluable record of the offenses committed by the police during the protests. When protestors were attacked and teargassed by the police, videos and photos that were posted to social media became key evidence against the attempts of the government to gaslight the public and deny the attacks. The rise of social media has also democratized the exchange of information in Nigeria. Unlike the days of Yesufu’s childhood, when news broadcasts were controlled by the government and dispatched only twice a day, social media has all but destroyed the barriers to both sharing and receiving information.

“Every time women are coming together, it scares the structures, the traditional structures…”

Lola Omolola

Social media has also created space for Nigerian women, in particular, to share their experiences and find community. As our guests share, women have long stood at the forefront of the movements to advance change while also bearing the brunt of the pain inflicted by injustice. Lola Omolola notes the power that can be ignited by finding community and recognition through social media and through pages such as FIN, which empowers women to organize and mobilize to rectify unjust power structures.

We also discuss the collaborative, community-focused nature of the #EndSARS protests, a key pillar of the movement’s effectiveness. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar shares that a strong commitment to the movement inspired not just activists, but others such as lawyers and doctors to contribute their skills and resources to supporting the cause. Our guests also stress that a successful movement is made up of whole communities contributing their different skill sets – from marching, to writing, to policy-building, to political organizing – to a shared vision of a more just future.

“Young people want to also be engaged, have a say in the future of our nation. We want to know that we are being listened to… The country belongs to us and our children and our generations to come.”

Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar

When looking ahead to Nigeria’s future, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar envisions a country which works for and listens to its younger generations, tapping into the nation’s vast potential. Omolola is working to build a community in which every woman truly knows the power and importance of her own voice. In Yesufu’s view, cycles of corruption will not be broken until the people become invested and involved in politics. When people reclaim the power of their voice and vote through government, there will be meaningful and lasting change. Our guests encourage all listeners to first, educate themselves, and then get involved as best suits their skills, their abilities, and their passions.

Read more

“I am proud that young Nigerians are driving change – we will no longer be ignored.” Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, The Independent

Female IN (FIN) Facebook Group

Aisha Yesufu: ‘#EndSARS​ is a fight for the next generation of Nigerians’ – BBC Africa

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Season 5 Episode 5 -The #EndSARS Protests, Part 2: Women in Activism, Social Media, and the Road Ahead in Nigeria

This week, for the second in our two-part series focusing on the #EndSARS Movement, we are joined by three powerful activists working to end police brutality and abuse of power in Nigeria: Aisha Yesufu, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, and Lola Omolola. Our guests share stories about living in fear under SARS, insights about the power of the #EndSARS protests, and their visions for Nigeria’s future

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Season 5 Episode 4 -The Sudanese Revolution: Women’s Rights and the Power of Social Media

For our first episode of 2021 we return to the 2018-19 Sudanese Revolution that overthrew Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party. Joined by Dinan Alasad and Aida Abbashar, the conversation highlights the course of the revolution, the importance of international attention and the mobilising and uprising of Sudan’s youth. Our guests identify both the power of social media movements such as #BlueForSudan and #BlueForMattar as well as reminding us that, in areas like women’s rights, the story is far from complete. 

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We Need to Talk: The Climate Crisis with Daze Aghaji

The topic of conversation this week is the ongoing climate crisis and our urgent need to act. We are joined by the remarkable Daze Aghaji, a university student and high-profile climate justice activist who has fought to combat the climate emergency at an international level. The climate crisis has the potential to impact all aspects of our lives and Daze urges us to tackle the issue, not just environmental grounds, but on social and cultural levels as well.

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Season 5 Episode 3 -Understanding the #EndSARS Protests, Part 1: Anti-Corruption and Political Power in Nigeria

This week, in partnership with Global Integrity, we are joined by Dr. Jackie Harvey of Northumbria University and Dr. Pallavi Roy of SOAS University of London to discuss the structures of political power in Nigeria and the underlying systems of corruption that culminated in the protests of the #EndSARS movement. This episode is the first in a two-part series focusing on human rights abuses in Nigeria and the protests fighting to #EndSARS and end police brutality.

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Season 5 Episode 2 – “Call it Genocide”: The Rohingya Crisis in Conversation with Dan Sullivan and Tun Khin

In the second episode of Season 5, we are joined by Dan Sullivan, the senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, and Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK to discuss the situation of the persecuted Rohingya minority in the context of Myanmar’s second general election, an event overshadowed by electoral events in the United States.

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Season 5 Episode 1 – Welcome to Season 5

In the first episode of Season 5, our new team of panellists sets the stage for a broader discussion of human rights under threat. Through their experience with human rights issues in NGO work, academia as well as their personal lives, they problematise some aspects of human rights while highlighting its immense potential for positive change. This season, the theme of the podcast is “In the Firing Line”, where we will invite all of those at the forefront of change within the human rights movement to share their experiences and provide a dialogue around the very principles of human rights itself.