The UK Parliament has declared the Chinese government’s persecution of the Uyghur to be a genocide.
I set out why Labour supports this decision and why the UK government, as a signatory to 1948 Genocide Convention, is legally obliged to take steps to prevent further atrocities and punish those responsible.
The UK government has shamelessly prioritised its ability to enter trade negotiations with China over a process to assess genocide.
Parliament instructed the UK government to up its game in standing up for the Uyghur people.
Here I outline 6 steps the UK government should be taking. No more dither and delay.
I first want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) for securing this vital debate and for her willingness to work across this House to ensure that, today, Parliament will speak with one voice. May I also pay tribute to the courage that she has shown in standing up to the bullying and intimidation of the Chinese Government? The fact that she and other hon. Members, who are also present in this House and elsewhere, have been sanctioned by Beijing for simply doing their jobs is an affront to our democracy and to this House. We on these Benches stand in solidarity with all those who have been targeted. Indeed, as the hon. Lady and others have so rightly put it, an attack on one of us in this House is an attack on us all, and authoritarian regimes the world over should take careful note.
I also want to thank contributors to the debate, including the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), each of whom made a powerful speech.
The Labour party stands in solidarity with the Uyghur population and the other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang who have been suffering oppression at the hands of the Chinese Government. The accounts are harrowing and the evidence is clear: the mass surveillance and arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghur and other minority groups; the torture and the brutality; the rape; the abuse; the forced sterilisation of women; the enforced separation of children from their parents; and the denial of the Uyghurs’ right to practise their religion or to speak their language. We have seen the first-hand footage of shaven-headed, bound Uyghur men being led into trains at gun point. We have seen the video bravely recorded by Merdan Ghappar from inside the forced labour camps. We have heard the first-hand accounts from Uyghur women of their treatment, and we have read the reports by Adrian Zenz and others, which are based on the Chinese Government’s own data and directives.
Ideally, a competent international court would examine this evidence, but there is no prospect that either the ICC or the International Court of Justice will be able to do so, as this would require the consent of China. Beijing will also continue to prevent the United Nations from conducting a proper investigation in Xinjiang. Through amendments to the Trade Bill, we, along with Members from across the House, sought to create a route to genocide determination through the UK’s courts, or through a panel of senior law lords, but those cross-party efforts were shamefully defeated by the Government. With the international route to legal determination of genocide blocked by China and the domestic route to legal determination blocked by the Government, it falls to Parliament to take action.
In February this year, an opinion by barristers at Essex Court Chambers led by Alison Macdonald QC provided a detailed legal assessment of all the available evidence. It concluded that there is a very credible case that the Chinese Government’s actions constitute genocide. In response, the chambers were sanctioned by China. In March this year, the Newlines Institute of Strategy and Policy in Washington also published a legal analysis that concluded that a genocide is taking place in Xinjiang. Importantly, given that the crime of genocide requires proof of intent, both opinions concluded that the atrocities that are being perpetrated against the Uyghur are not the random acts of rogue individuals, but the result of a conscious and carefully orchestrated campaign of oppression and persecution that is being conducted by the Chinese Government.
As a signatory to the 1948 genocide convention, the United Kingdom is legally bound to take all reasonable steps to both punish and prevent genocide. By passing this motion today, the House would be instructing the British Government to carry out those legal duties in relation to events in Xinjiang. So it is time for us in this House to take a stand and to support this motion. Today, we can speak with one voice. Today, we move forward with our eyes open and our shoulders broad. Today, we send a clear and unambiguous message that genocide can never be met with indifference or inaction, and that attempts to bully us into silence will only strengthen our resolve. Today, we shall offer the Uyghur people our unequivocal support.
The question, then, is what should be done. Unfortunately, the Government’s actions thus far, fall far short not just of the strength of feeling in this House, but also of their own rhetoric about the situation in Xinjiang. They have shamelessly prioritised their ability to enter into trade negotiations with China over a process to assess genocide. They were too slow in bringing forward the Magnitsky sanctions and they continue to skirt around the edges of reforming supply chain legislation and human rights due diligence. This dither and delay must now end, and the Government must take the following steps.
First, the Government should widen the Magnitsky sanctions, so they cover a broader range of senior Chinese Communist party officials and entities responsible for serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, including Chen Quanguo, already sanctioned by our allies in the United States. Secondly, they must support the work of the Uyghur people’s tribunal, which is hearing evidence from those affected. Thirdly, they must engage diplomatically to build wider support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to gain access to Xinjiang, and in particular work to engage countries, many of which are friends and partners of the UK, which to date have regrettably been sheltering China from international scrutiny.
Fourthly, the Government must continue to explore legal routes to justice through international courts and mechanisms. The Foreign Secretary should seek to introduce a General Assembly resolution requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of genocide. We should also explore legal avenues via other international treaties and conventions, such as the convention against torture to which China is a signatory. We must do what we can to seek justice and accountability.
Fifthly, there must be consequences for the bilateral economic relationship. Will the Minister make that commitment today by confirming the continued suspension of the joint economic trade commission and the economic and financial dialogue? Sixthly, we all recognise that British businesses should not be supporting slave labour in Xinjiang. When will this House be presented with legislation strengthening the Modern Slavery Act 2015, so that companies have a responsibility to demonstrate that their supply chains are free of forced labour and that there would be meaningful sanctions for non-compliance?
Successive Conservative Governments since 2010 have been profoundly naive and complacent in their dealings with China. The so-called golden era policy was the very definition of a sell-out, with Conservative leaders turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and sacrificing our national security on the altar of narrow commercial interests. A more coherent and clear strategy is urgently required, yet we see, unfortunately, division on the Government Benches, with a caucus of Conservative Members taking a principled stance, while the Foreign Secretary says one thing in public and something entirely different in private, and No. 10 appears to be desperate to do a trade deal with China at literally any price.
We need to lead by example when it comes to international law, not undermine our country’s authority and credibility by breaking international law ourselves. And we need to be building bridges with our partners and allies in Europe and elsewhere, who face the same challenges in their relationship with China, rather than constantly losing friends and alienating people. Because the Chinese Communist party respects strength, consistency and unity, and it is contemptuous of weakness and division.
Democracy around the world is in retreat. Authoritarian regimes are in the ascendancy and the rules-based international order is under threat. So it is all the more important that we in this House stand united today. I therefore call on the Minister to support the motion, to implement the actions that I have set out, and to urge the Government to do all they can to prevent, and to punish, those who are committing genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.