On November 1, 2021, the Student Bar Association (SBA) hosted an evening event with Nury Turkel, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Turkel is the first U.S.-educated Uyghur-American lawyer, foreign policy expert, and human rights advocate. He was born in a re-education camp at the height of China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution and spent the first several months of his life in detention with his mother. He came to the United States in 1995 as a student and was later granted asylum by the U.S. government. Turkel has served as Vice Chair since June of 2021, having been appointed by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in May of 2020 for a two-year term. In September 2020, Turkel was named one of the TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World; and in May 2021, he was named on Fortune's List of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.
Turkel was introduced by Ross Fodera (2L), Director of Communications for SBA. Following introductions, Fodera moderated the discussion in a Q&A format. Questions were organized by topic, so those in attendance also had the opportunity to pose questions throughout the hour. Turkel began by providing historical context for the current human rights crisis the Uyghur population in China is experiencing, noting that it did not just happen overnight. Tukel then covered a myriad of topics including why it is important for the U.S. to acknowledge and address this forced labor issue, the efficiency of current legal structures and sanctions, and what additional steps can be taken to address it (including the power consumers have to affect change). Turkel also addressed how his legal education prepared him for the work he does and highlighted the sacrifices he’s had to make as well.
Following the program, there was a small reception held in the Louise H. Keelty and James Keelty Jr. Atrium. Guests were able to mingle together and have further discussion with Turkel.