No longer can China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs be met with inaction
The People’s Republic of China are committing crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. That is the verdict of the recently established Uyghur Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, as it delivered its judgment on December 9.
Those who have worked with and supported the Uyghur diaspora for some time will not react to this verdict with much surprise. For years, we have seen reports of mass arbitrary internment of Uyghurs in concentration camps, forced sterilisation, indoctrination, forced abortion, prohibition of religion, systematic torture, forced organ harvesting, enforced disappearances, widespread and systematic rape, forced marriage and slave labour.
There is, however, a renewed sense of hope that with the Tribunal declaring what has been clear for some time, change will come. At the close of World War Two, the international community came together, united in one aim: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”
'Never again' has become the international anthem for inaction
These, the opening words of the UN Charter, represent the promise of a generation, scarred by war and atrocity, to our generation that similar evils should never again be endured. This remains to be seen. Yet again, the world stands passively by whilst China perpetrates genocide with impunity.
Of course, we will all be familiar with the “grave concerns” over human rights abuses. The condemnation “in the strongest possible terms” and the “raising of our concerns with our international partners”. These stock phrases from the world leaders’ handbook allow each State to say the right thing, at the right time. In essence, to be seen on the right side of history, but never a part of it.
“Never again” has become the international anthem for inaction. It allows States, who failed to make any genuine attempt to prevent genocide, to retain a sense of moral composure. There is a dignity to solemnity that world leaders crave. However, truly great world leaders are not measured by their popularity at the time, but by their lasting impact in years to come.
So, the challenge for the government is plain. Does it accept that it now should act to prevent this genocide or not? Putting aside, for a moment, the political or indeed moral case, the government cannot remain blind to the legal case.
Even for those unfamiliar with the Genocide Convention and its corresponding obligations, any thinking person can reason that there’s no point in waiting for an international court to make a declaration of genocide retrospectively, you must prevent it whilst it occurs. Common sense, though this may seem, it nonetheless runs contrary to current government policy.
The UK’s obligation to prevent and punish genocide, under Article 1 of the Convention, arises where it “learns, or should normally have learned of, a serious risk that genocide will be committed”. To read the judgment of the Tribunal and have before you the broadest and most comprehensive catalogue of evidence, there can be no doubt that the UK has learnt of, at the least, a serious risk of genocide.
Cross-party Members of Parliament have been vociferously making the political case for action. Whilst there have been intense parliamentary battles, with the government expending significant energy in rejecting their calls, they have acceded to implementing some Magnitsky sanctions and now a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
Regrettably, a new battle is on the horizon with Amanda Milling, Minister for Asia, tweeting last night that her first formal interaction with the PRC after the Tribunal judgment was to discuss “working together and strengthening our economic ties.” This is, in essence, giving a middle finger to the Tribunal and all those who testified. These intense battles for the bare minimum are unsustainable and, in light of the Tribunal’s judgment, the UK should seriously consider the robustness of its approach.
Yet, beyond the legal and political case, there must exist a human case. To hear Qelbinur Sidik’s harrowing testimony of being forcibly sterilised, to hear Tursunay Ziyawudun traumatically recall how she was raped in the concentration camps, to hear the pain in Omer Rozi’s voice as he spoke about the intense torture he suffered; the inhumanity on display cannot be tolerated.
The UKs weak response is a choice that can be undone. This landmark judgment strengthens the legal, political and human cases for the government to start taking genuine and meaningful action. No longer can the UK appease this criminal, dictatorial, and brutal regime. No more can the PRCs atrocities be met with inaction.
Joe Collins is the co-executive director of Yet Again UK.
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