Embassies like to claim that their premises are inviolable, meaning that local authorities have no right to enter without the prior consent of the Ambassador or Head of Mission. It is thanks to this right of inviolability that the Chinese dissident, Fang Lizhi, was able to stay for nearly one full year under the protection of the American embassy in Beijing after the Tiananmen Square massacre, or that Julian Assange, the Wikileaks Founder, lived in the Ecuador embassy in London for more than seven years.
However, it appears that certain embassies are willing to give up this inviolable right even if it could result in putting people’s lives at risk. Such has been the case for a Uighur family that sought security and refuge within the Belgian embassy in Beijing. Their arrest and the subsequent disappearance of the family is cause for concern and has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Around the world there have been calls for immediate remedial action. One such advocate working within Europe is Saskia Bricmont, the recently elected Belgian Member of the European Parliament, who has condemned the acts of the Belgian authorities and called the High Representative of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, to take actions regarding the deterioration of human, civil and political rights in China.
Ablimit Tursun, a Chinese citizen from the Uighur community, has not had any news from his family in over three weeks. Mr. Tursun obtained asylum in Belgium in 2017 and started a family reunification process, which would allow his wife and their four children to join him in Belgium. Last May, his wife, Wureytiguli Abula, went to Beijing to complete her application for asylum. The trip to the capital put the family in great danger given the strict travel restrictions placed on all Uighurs that prohibits them from traveling anywhere, even within Chinese borders, without prior permission. The police paid two visits to the hotel where the family was staying to question them on their reasons for travelling and to encourage them to return in their home-town, in the Xinjiang region. On May 28, Mrs. Abula and her children went to the Belgian embassy to file their final paperwork. Out of fear, Abula refused to leave the embassy premises and requested temporary refuge for her and her family while awaiting for the issuing of their visas. Eventually, the Belgian authorities called the Chinese police to take them out of the embassy. Mr. Tursun has not heard from his family since that day and is extremely concerned about their wellbeing. His worst fear is that his wife and children have been arrested and are currently being held in a re-education camp.
The manner in which the Belgian embassy has handled the situation has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations, who have accused the embassy of violating the fundamental human rights of this family by handing them over to the Chinese authorities. In a statement issued by the director of Amnesty International’s Belgian office, Philippe Hensmans, it was reported that the organization has requested an investigation into this troubling decision. He stated that “given the information Belgian authorities possess regarding the situation of the Uighur community in China, we believe that a serious error has been committed. It is obvious that handing over this family would expose them to grave danger”. A Belgian diplomat has now been sent to China to ascertain the faith of the family.
Denying protection to this family, and others, constitutes a clear violation of international law and more particularly of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Following the Al-Skeini verses United Kingdom case, concerned the killing of six Iraqi civilians by British soldiers in southern Iraq, the European Court of Human Rights, ruled that the ECHR’s obligations are not limited to the ECHR’s territory but exceptionally extend over the acts of diplomatic and consular agents. The Belgian embassy, therefore, had the obligation to respect the right to non-refoulement enshrined in article 3 ECHR.
An investigation regarding the whereabouts of the family must be conducted immediately and the Belgian foreign affairs ministry must ensure that the family is able to join their relative in Belgium as soon as possible. Belgium and the European Union (EU) are well aware of the current discrimination policy in place against the Uighur’s community in China, including forced disappearances, force detainment in so-called re-education camps, acts of torture and sometimes killing of members of this community. By handing over this family to the Chinese police, the Belgian authorities have made themselves complicit to these crimes.
Source : https://eptoday.com/belgium-complicit-in-disappearance-of-chinese-uighur-family/