“Just call it genocide” was the chant from the Uyghurs who gathered in Parliament Square on Thursday 22 April as Uk MPs debated a motion in the House of Commons to call China to account for their actions against Uyghurs in China.
Speakers from the Uyghur community described the pain of losing relatives or not knowing the fate of those who disappeared without trace. In a moving call to action, Rahima Mahmut, leader of the Stop Uyghur Genocide campaign thanked the MPs who were present at the protest for standing up for the Uyghur people and bringing their situation to the floor of the House.
Cross community coalition campaign supporters and interfaith groups joined the socially distanced crowd and voiced their support. Aziz Isa Elkin, who has recently participated in an IOHR TV programme on the Uyghurs, spoke of his sadness at hearing of the death of family and his struggle to keep the flame of Uyghur culture alive in London.
Former Conservative Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP was the author of the motion to highlight Uyghurs in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide. The motion called on the government to use international law to stop the persecution of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China.
Ghani, along with four of her colleagues, recently faced sanctions from China for their advocacy in support of the Uyghurs and against the Chinese regime’s treatment. During the debate, Stephen Kinnock, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, paid tribute to Ghani for:
“the courage that she has shown in standing up to the bullying, and the intimidation of the Chinese government. The fact that she and other Honourable members have been sanctioned by Beijing for simply doing their jobs, is an affront to our democracy and to this house. And we on these benches, stand in solidarity with all those who have been targeted. An attack on one of us in this house is an attack on us all and all authoritarian regimes the world over, should take careful note. “
Members from different parties spoke of the body of evidence available, Kinnock summed up the list of atrocities,
“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 over 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, the denial of the Uyghurs right to practice their religion or to speak their language. We’ve seen the first time footage of shaven headed bound Uyghur men being led into trains at gunpoint.”
Scottish National Party MP, Chris Law noted,
“As we know from history to true skill and horrific details of genocide rarely become fully known until much later. For all the statistics we know of, for all the tormenting stories we have held for all the secret images smuggled out of China, illustrating what’s happening, the likelihood is that the situation is much, much worse.”
He went on to explain UK’s obligation to prevent and punish the claim of genocide as a signatory to the 1948 convention,
“ it isn’t just a moral obligation” but a legal one…It is time for the UK Government uphold that commitment to do everything in its power to both to prevent further atrocities from taking place”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, himself sanctioned by the Chinese regime, pushed Foreign Office Minister Nigel Adams MP, Asia Minister to agree to the government participating in the Uyghur Tribunal being held by Geoffrey Nice QC. However while the minister acknowledged the harrowing circumstances of “serious and widespread human rights violations occurring in the region” and identified the “credible reports of the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uighur people” siting the evidence of “satellite imagery, testimony by survivors, credible open source reporting by journalists and academic researchers visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups” he also pointed out many of the sources are” publicly available documents from the Chinese government themselves”
The government still refused to act beyond the sanctions they had already delivered. Adams said,
“Genocide and crimes against humanity are subject to restrictive legal framework under international law. We do not believe it’s right for the government to make a determination in this or any other case where genocide or crimes against humanity”.
Stephen Kinnock had already called out the futility of the government actions saying that,
“There is no prospect that either the International Criminal Court or the ICJ (International Court of Justice)” [would] be able to do [hold china to account], as this would require the consent of China. Beijing will also of course continue to prevent the United Nations from conducting a proper investigation in Xinjiang”
Nusrat Ghani, responding to the Government’s refusal to call it genocide, summed up with
“The work does not stop here. We cannot continue business as usual with China while these atrocities continue. The government must now act urgently to ensure our supply chains are not tainted by goods made with Uyghur forced labour.”
In the afternoon sunshine in Parliament Square, waiting with the Uyghurs for the results of the debate, IOHR Director, Valerie Peay said:
“As a free society we can only hope that our government shows the resolve of the MPs participating in the debate today and make us proud of the UK to stand up to China and call it genocide. We owe it to the Uyghur people and all those suffering tyranny under authoritarian regimes to speak up and not let them suffer any longer.”
The motion was unanimously carried but it does not compel the government to act however it did lead to the Chinese embassy in the UK issuing a statement accusing MPs of having “cooked up” the motion in order to discredit China. It said claims of genocide in Xinjiang were,
“The most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people, and a gross breach of international law and the basic norms governing international relations”.
The chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Menendez said the UK parliament had
“shone a light on the egregious abuses the Chinese state commits against the Uyghur people. The free world must be united in holding the Chinese government to account for these abuses.”
Shaun Bailey, Conservative Mayoral candidate called for London to be un-twinned from Beijing while Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
It remains to be seen how far the UK government will be willing to go while trade and climate concessions are on the table with China. Meantime the Uyghurs must wait to see which government will stand up to their convention obligations and actually call it genocide.