Last week the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary. Below the propaganda and celebrations lurks the reality of what 100 years has meant for religious minorities across China: oppression, persecution and eradication.
Today, the Foreign Affairs Committee published our report into how the UK, and the world, can respond to the atrocities being committed by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang province. How does the world respond when a great power is committing a genocide? We’ve not had to face these questions in my lifetime.
It is not normal for a parliamentary committee to condemn a great power in the strong terms the report uses. But this is because we had no option, and to fail to do so would be to give the Chinese Communist Party a PR coup and to fail the Uyghur people. Since my election I’ve been clear that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians across the world, not least in this, the mother of all parliaments, to be a voice for those who others seek to silence. And this report does just that.
The international system was explicitly designed to prevent atrocities. Indeed, the then Republic of China was invited to be the first nation to sign the UN Charter, in recognition of the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan. As a member of the UN Security Council, China has the power, and the responsibility, to stop a repetition of the Holocaust elsewhere in the world. Yet instead we have all been witness to it committing the most heinous of atrocities within its own borders.
The UK has been at the forefront of the world’s response to the genocide of the Uyghur people – bringing together coalitions at the UN and beyond. Today’s report provides for the first time a blueprint to address mass atrocities when they are committed by a great power with 33 practical and meaningful recommended actions. But to be successful we need governments around the world to work together to adopt these practical mechanisms and actions to guarantee the freedoms of communities around the world. We can work together to curb the most heinous actions of the Chinese Communist Party, and some of the key actions look like this:
Increase pressure to allow international observers access to Xinjiang – especially the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Chinese Communist Party has been adamant that there is nothing to be concerned about in Xinjiang – despite all evidence making clear this is not the case. UN observers would show the Chinese Communist Party that their card is marked – and give the world a greater understanding of what is going on in China. The International Community can better press through UN organs, summits and treaty bodies (such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) and push for UN votes and statements.
A Human Rights Council motion for an investigation into the atrocities in Xinjiang from outside China.
We need an inquiry to investigate the atrocities taking place and the Chinese Communist Party’s claims that it isn’t perpetrating genocide. This can take place from outside China if needed.
An investigation by the International Criminal Court into crimes committed against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and beyond.
If crimes are found, the Chinese Communist Party must be held accountable. A proprio motu investigation by the ICC should be considered. To support this investigation the UK – which is the world leader in documenting evidence of war crimes – should fund an international mechanism for evidence collection and a dossier of the missing.
New legislation to introduce a legal requirement for business and the public sector to prevent and remove forced labour in their supply chain and clean up our imports.
British companies should not profit from slave labour – the British people won’t stand for it. Sanctions and penalties should be introduced for non-compliance. We should ban all imports of cotton from Xinjiang or, indeed, all products from the province.
An end to UK university collaboration with institutions with links to the atrocities in Xinjiang.
Our universities should be bastions of freedom of speech – yet institutions instrumental in perpetuating a genocide are permitted to fund British research. This isn’t acceptable. UK universities should avoid any form of technological or research collaboration and review all existing partnerships.
A UK asylum fast track for Uyghurs and other minority ethnic groups who are fleeing persecution in China.
The UK must be a safe haven for the oppressed – and a fast track would make it clear to the world that the Uyghur are being persecuted and that we will stand by them. We should support our allies to form a coalition of Sanctuary States to pressure countries to stop deporting Uyghurs back to China. We should also be working with Uyghur communities in the UK to protect them from harassment from the Chinese Communist Party.
A new national, cross-departmental strategy for atrocity prevention and include atrocity prevention in the newly announced Conflict Centre.
Atrocity prevention requires the contribution of many departments – FCDO, Trade, MoD, the list goes on. We need joined-up thinking on this and to learn the lessons of the plight of the Uyghur – and have the early warning tools needed to identify and prevent similar atrocities from happening in the future. I campaigned for the newly announced Government Conflict Centre and I’m relieved that it will transform Global Britain’s approach to atrocity prevention.
Maintain pressure with sanctions.
We can intensify efforts to secure sanctions by our allies against the most senior individuals and entities responsible for the atrocities in Xinjiang.
The UK, as one of the foremost guarantors of freedom in the world, has led the international response to the genocide in Xinjiang, and now the Foreign Affairs Committee has set out a road map to hold to account the Chinese Communist Party or other great powers who commit mass atrocities. As in Xinjiang, atrocities can take place anywhere – not just in conflict zones. Finally, we have a blueprint for action – but the world needs to step up with us if we’re to save lives and truly say “never again”.
This article originally appears on Reaction, on 8th July 2021.