Baroness Warsi: We are standing by as yet another potential genocide unfolds
The Uighurs are being subjected to the largest surveillance and internment of an ethnic minority since the Holocaust. The horrors of the past are being repeated - and we are failing to act, writes Baroness Warsi
In November last year a data leak of highly classified Chinese government documents to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists led to an explosive Panorama documentary bringing the plight of Uighurs and other minorities in China’s Xinjiang region once again to the public conscience.
The internal policy documents of the Chinese Communist Party have been referred to as a Nazi playbook and describes the mechanics behind an Orwellian system of mass surveillance and detention of its own citizens.
The Uighur community and their persecution has not been a secret. Human rights groups have been raising concerns initially about discriminatory policies and more recently about outright persecution for nearly two decades. Like the treatment of the Rohingya minority which eventually led to mass rapes, murder and genocide the International community have been aware of the worsening situation of the Uighurs. And like the Rohingya in Myanmar we are standing by as yet another potential genocide unfolds.
The evidence of mass internment, torture, and horrific sexual abuse, including forced abortions and forced sterilisations of Uighur women and the re-housing of Chinese Han men to live with Uighur women whose husbands are in prison, is dismissed either as “fake news” by the Chinese authorities or explained away as “re-education and retraining”, family support and community building. The Chinese government even puts on guided propaganda tours of the facilities – the Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil is the latest invitee to Xinjiang after his high-profile intervention highlighting the plight of the Uighurs. The policy and its execution is reminiscent of Stalin’s Gulag.
First hand testimony from those who survived the camps is now substantiated by the leaked documents. A culture of control, coercion, brainwashing and extreme surveillance, including cameras in bathrooms, is implemented both in the camps but also in Xinjiang more broadly. In Uighur neighbourhoods every house has a camera pointing at it. Every phone is monitored, every association is logged and any “unusual habit” – using your back door rather than the front – is deemed suspicious and grounds for detention.
This is the largest surveillance and internment of an ethnic minority since the Holocaust. Blanket facial-recognition surveillance cameras, monitoring and controlling the use of phone apps, detailed analysis via the use of artificial intelligence and mass DNA collection.
This is the most terrifying part of the Chinese experiment. It is one which can be quickly and easily replicated. Rogue regimes around the world could access and harness this technology to silence and subdue vast sections of their citizens. And more civilised nations could be tempted in the interests of “national security”.
Last week I had the opportunity to hear first-hand from the families of those detained. The fear on the faces of many who are now British citizens was palpable, the unassuming demeanour and softly spoken stories of horror shocked me.
The repeated requests to not disclose their real names reinforced how even here in Britain relatives of detainees are scared to speak out. Gul, not her real name, spoke about her parents. Her father, a fit and healthy man, was detained, and released a year later a broken man. He died within the month. Her mother, a highly educated professional, is still detained. She has little contact with her family to avoid further risk to them – simply having her number in a contact list is sufficient grounds for arrest and disappearance. “Why send educated people to be educated, why send the employed to train for employment and why send those in settled families to be stabilised?” This is the question she wants me to ask our government to put to the Chinese government. It will be this question I ask the Minister on her behalf on Monday.
On Wednesday last week I attended the Parliamentary reception for Holocaust Memorial Day and listened to speaker after speaker emphasise the need to remember the horrors of the past, pledge to protect communities and promised to never forget. We are witnessing a repeat of the horrors and we are failing to protect – its clear we have forgotten and failed to learn.
Baroness Warsi’s oral questions on the Uighurs is scheduled for Monday 20 January