The incarceration of the Uighurs is a nightmare we have a moral duty to end
Uighur rights activists stage a demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy in London
We cannot pick and choose which human rights abuses we acknowledge. The UK must send a clear message to all those who would threaten human dignity - no matter how big and mighty they may be
Across the world, more and more people are becoming aware of the atrocities currently taking place in Xinjiang, China. However hard the Chinese Ambassadors defends the Chinese Communist party's (CCP) version of life in Xinjiang – with 13 tonnes of hair extensions turning up in the States and footage of shaved men, blindfolded and being marched onto trains – the truth is out. And every new denial from the CCP is met with footage of abuses and testimonies of traumatised survivors, which has shone a light on an issue that feels very close to home for both of us as prominent members of the Muslim and Jewish communities.
In the wake of several terrorist attacks over the past decade, the CCP has been using ‘counterterrorism’ as an excuse to violate the most basic human rights of a whole ethnic group. The CCP’s “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign forcibly detained at least one million Uighur people – but now we can almost definitely say the number is much higher. And while the CCP calls them ‘re-education’ camps – in an eerie flashback to the horrors of the last century – the reality is that Uyghur Muslims are completely at the behest of the Chinese regime.
And what constitutes a person being classed as a terrorist? Since 2017, it could include anyone with a beard, anyone who chooses not to watch state TV or radio, anyone who names their child a faith-based name, such as Muhammad – any of these “crimes” can see you classed as an extremist and locked up, or worse.
Indeed, we know that almost two million people are being held in these camps within Xinjiang. There have been reports of people being raped, and a Washington Post story from October 2019 reported that: “[people] were forced to undergo abortions … had contraceptive devices implanted against their will while in detention.”
The Chinese Communist party are implementing deliberate, targeted policies to humiliate and destroy this ethnic group of people. Indeed, as a result of the Chinese state’s policies, Uighur birth rates has fallen by 84 per cent – in part due to the sterilisation of up to 34 per cent of childbearing Uighur women. Also hard to believe is that in 2018, 80 per cent of the country’s IUD placements were performed in Xinjiang despite it only making up just over one per cent of the population.
This is critical because this is what meets the UN’s deﬁnition of genocide. Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) recognises “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” as a key indicator of genocide. All signatories of the CPPCG, which includes the UK, have a legal duty to prevent and punish all acts of genocide.
The exploitation of the Uighar is closer to home than we think. These camps are providing not only hair extensions but slave labour is helping produce items which end up on our shelves
However, as the foreign secretary announced the suspension of our extradition agreement with Hong Kong this week, he was also asked why no Chinese officials had been targeted by the UK’s new Magnitsky sanctions regime – a system that allows us to freeze the assets and refuse visas to those who are engaged in human rights abuses – he implied that the evidence threshold is yet to be met.
Yet, the human rights abuses were significant enough for the UK to sign an unprecedented joint statement as part of the UN Human Rights Council expressing concern about credible reports of arbitrary detention, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions. Twelve UN human rights experts, too, published an extensive critique of China’s misuse of terrorism legislation, highlighting multiple serious human rights violations, while 50 UN special rapporteurs denounced the dictatorship's collective repression and human rights abuses.
The United States – our closest and most trusted ally – has passed into law the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act and Global Magnitsky Act, as a result imposing sanctions on several Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang's Communist party leader.
So, if the Americans have enough evidence to act, why aren’t we asking for sight of that evidence? And, if we have, why is our burden of proof so much higher? The frank truth is that if our sanctions regime is going to be worth the paper it is written on, it must be applied without fear or favour – we cannot pick and choose which human rights abuses we acknowledge.
Furthermore, the UK – along with many other Western countries – is having deep conversations about our history and about the social injustices that we can put right today. And while this is welcome, we are at risk of being far too inward-looking. We have only had one urgent question on Uighur Muslims in the past five years – the Americans, on the other hand, have already passed an act dedicated to the issue.
We finally have the process via the Magnitsky sanctions regime, and if the UN cannot and will not use its powers as China continues to block and powerplay, we should be convening an independent international tribunal and present an interim report on the horrors taking place in Xinjiang. It will no doubt also expose how the exploitation of the Uighar is closer to home than we think. These camps are providing not only hair extensions but slave labour is helping produce items which end up on our shelves at home.
We firmly believe that our country is a beacon of human rights and freedom and we must send a clear message to all those who would threaten human dignity no matter how big and mighty they may be: we will not allow you to get away with it.
Nus Ghani is Conservative MP for Wealdon and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism