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Wed, 5 August 2020

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Britain cannot continue to shy away from the atrocities inflicted on China’s Uighur population

Britain cannot continue to shy away from the atrocities inflicted on China’s Uighur population

A demonstrator outside the Chinese embassy in London. (Image: PA)

3 min read

Our government has done too little to acknowledge the atrocities facing the Uighurs

How much more evidence of mass atrocities does the UK government need before it takes decisive action on China? The question remains unanswered as more and more evidence of atrocities perpetrated against the Uighur Muslims is brought to light. 

Only a few weeks ago, independent researcher Adrian Zenz revealed that the Chinese state regularly subjects Uyghur women - hundreds of thousands of women - to pregnancy checks, forced sterilisation and even abortion. 

It follows reports of mass incarceration of over a million of Uyghur Muslims in so-called re-education camps, which are nothing less than concentration camps aimed at stripping the communities of their religious and cultural identity. 

There’s been the forced transfer and forced labour of Uighur Muslims to factories in China - a form of modern-day slavery. There have also been killings, torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment of Uighurs for years. Yet until now our government has done little to acknowledge the atrocities for what they are.

Even against a powerful China, there are avenues for legal recourse and inaction is not one of them

The statement from the foreign secretary that China’s treatment of the Uighurs is a “gross violation of human rights” does not do justice to the atrocities perpetrated against the minority group now facing the risk of annihilation in China. 

Again, how much more evidence does our government require? And if the evidence is not enough, is the government planning to wait for further evidence to land at its desks or will it act to collect further proof? 

Indeed, only a few weeks ago, a group of international parliamentarians who are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China called for an independent inquiry into the alleged atrocities, to collect the evidence and assess it. We have made similar calls, as have other colleagues, but these have fallen on the deaf ears of a government that continues to suggest that its options are limited. While the options may be limited, this does not mean that there are no options at all. 

Indeed, on 22 July, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, under the chairmanship of Schona Jolly QC, published a report on Responsibility of States under International Law to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, mapping how the UK and other states could ensure that the atrocities are investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice. The report is timely and an important intervention in making a clear case that, even against a powerful China, there are avenues for legal recourse and inaction is not one of them. 

It is yet unclear what actions our government will take, if any. In the meantime, it continues to pick and choose which duties under international law to discharge. 

For example, the government recently announced new sanctions on 49 people and organisations behind the most "notorious" human rights abuses of recent years. Individuals targeted include those implicated in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and Saudi Arabian officials involved in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet the government has so far refused to impose similar sanctions on those responsible for the mass atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims in China. 

The UK is an influential power on the world stage, including at the UN Security Council, a place that enables us to play an important role in impacting international peace and security. However, this role means nothing if we continue to shy away from taking a strong stance against the atrocities in China.


Yasmin Qureshi MP and Alistair Carmichael MP are co-Chairs of the APPG on Uyghurs

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Foreign affairs