[James Gray in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 300146 relating to China’s policy on its Uyghur population.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. This e-petition was started by Zayd Amjad. It asks that the Government impose sanctions on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang, China. They are reported to be subject to mass detention, surveillance, restriction of religious and cultural identities, as well as other gross human rights abuses. Over 1 million Uyghurs have been forced into re-education camps.
In the international community, awareness has been growing of the treatment of Uyghur people, and I know that it is a cause of concern for many on both sides of the House. We have already had debates in this House on the UK’s response to China’s treatment of its Uyghur population, notably an Adjournment debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and a Westminster Hall debate led by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I also understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) has written this weekend to the Foreign Secretary expressing her views. I thank all of them for bringing this important subject to the House’s attention.
The strength of feeling in favour of upholding of human rights across the world has been shown by the nearly 150,000 signatures on the petition. At the most recent UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UK led on a formal joint statement setting out concern about the situations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, with the support of 27 international partners. The petitioners argue that despite public pressure from the UN and growing public awareness, nothing substantial or concrete has been done to resolve the crisis and help the Uyghur people. The petition therefore argues that the use of Magnitsky sanctions is the most appropriate course of action.
Reports suggest that the Chinese Government are deliberately creating living conditions calculated to bring an end to the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. They include imposing measures intended to prevent births, and causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of the group. The suffering that the Uyghur Muslims have undergone, and sadly continue to undergo, is nothing short of horrifying. The Uyghur people who have escaped to Turkey have given interviews detailing the fear that they lived in in China; they tell of families torn apart, torture in camps, invasive surveillance, and forced and sometimes unknown sterilisation. Detainees in Xinjiang re-education camps have reported beatings, electric shocks and sleep and food deprivation. Reports of women who have faced forced sterilisation and abortions are alarmingly widespread.
The campaign against the Uyghurs is total. Many are forced into factory labour and transported to factories for up to a year before being allowed to return to their families. According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Uyghurs are working in factories,
“Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour”.
Conservative estimates suggest that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories from 2017 to 2019. One factory is given as a case study in the report. It is
“equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.”
The image is dystopian, yet all too familiar for students of modern history. Reports of the sites, discipline and workers’ days read more like a prison than a place of work. They are constantly monitored and threatened with longer stints in factories if they do not comply.
The surveillance is total. China already takes its infamous mass surveillance to another level when policing its Uyghur population. Movement is restricted and phones and behaviours monitored in minute detail. Uyghurs living in China have no privacy. They are even required to submit biometric data to the police. Social media activity, travel and even which door they use to enter their house are all tracked by the police. Identification cards must be swiped in schools, banks and parks. No movement goes untracked.
The Chinese Government have justified the existence of camps and surveillance as a part of measures designed to prevent religious extremism, but it is not just religious extremism that the Chinese Government target; it is any practising of Islam at all. The events in Xinjiang are a threat to religious freedom throughout the world. Mosques have been destroyed, and halal and Ramadan banned. The signs of religious radicalism laid out include common behaviour among devout Uyghur such as the wearing of long beards, the study of Arabic and praying outside mosques. Even those who give up alcohol or cigarettes have been branded extremists and are noted by the authorities. Uyghur Muslims do not have the right to their religion, to their bodies, or to freedom of expression. The system is policed through directives given to officials in Xinjiang. The directives do not mention judicial procedures, but call for the detention of anyone who displays so-called “symptoms” of radicalism or anti-Government views. The international community should be gravely concerned.
The petition calls for action and asks the Government to take any necessary steps to stop such breaches of human rights. It specifically calls for the use of Magnitsky sanctions, named after the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested and charged after uncovering Russian tax officials had defrauded Hermitage Capital, a company he was advising. In jail, Mr Magnitsky was refused medical treatment, and there is evidence he was beaten. Sadly, he sadly died in police custody in 2009. Since that time, his former employer, Bill Browder, has campaigned for the implementation of Magnitsky sanctions across the world. He argues that individual sanctions act as a more effective deterrent than broad-based sanctions, which often have the most impact on the poorest in society, not on privileged Government officials.
Notably, the first Magnitsky sanctions were enacted by the United States in 2012. Congress passed the world’s first Magnitsky Act after efforts by the late Senator John McCain. The Act imposed sanctions on a list of Russian officials who were believed to be responsible for serious human rights violations, freezing any US assets that they held and banning them from entry into the United States. The UK implemented its version just this year. It applies to human rights violators around the world. Our laws allow sanctions such as banning travel to the UK and the freezing of assets of listed individuals.
The Magnitsky sanctions are effective because sterling is a valuable global currency to hold. By having their assets frozen in Britain, sanctioned individuals are unable to have assets or continue to do their business. The sanctions also come with the stigma of no longer being allowed to enter the country or to own residences. The addition of names to the list of sanctioned individuals is in the power of the Foreign Secretary. Those who can be sanctioned include people who act on behalf of a state to violate other human rights, such as the right not to be subject to torture, the right to be free from slavery or forced labour and, above all, the right to life. The Government have already used such powers to sanction the killers of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Also sanctioned were Russian officials who were allegedly involved in the mistreatment of Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail.
Crucially, we have sanctioned organisations that are involved in forced labour in North Korea. Given the evidence that the Uyghur population are being used for forced labour in Xinjiang, I see no reason why similar sanctions should not be taken out on organisations that benefit from this labour. In fact, our American allies have already implemented sanctions on Chinese Government agencies and senior officials who run companies and farms in Xinjiang province. The suffering of the Uyghur Muslims is rightly receiving international attention.
As the petition mentions, the UN has already made statements regarding the treatment of the Uyghur people. The UN statement demanded that the Chinese Government comply with international obligations to respect human rights and freedom of religion. It also called for China to allow UN human rights monitors access to detention centres in order to ensure that human rights standards are being met. Outside Europe, countries also publicly opposed China’s policy in Xinjiang. Malaysia declined to deport Uyghur asylum seekers back to China in 2019, and Turkey’s Foreign Minister condemned China for its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.
Despite the announcements by the UN and the British Government’s expressed outrage at China’s policies in Xinjiang, nothing is changing. The British Government therefore need to realise that more must be done. In response to the petition, they have said:
“We have grave concerns about the gross human rights abuses being perpetrated in Xinjiang.”
Although I am pleased to see the Foreign Secretary speak out against human rights abuses, now is the time for action. Although I understand that imposing sanctions on individuals is a difficult process, the petitioners and I ask that it is expediated as a matter of urgency.
Along with other countries at the UN, the UK has condemned China’s actions, yet Uyghur Muslims in China continue to face persecution. The next steps therefore must be taken to oppose China’s treatment of Uyghurs. The Government have said that they
“will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to change their approach in Xinjiang and respect international human rights norms,”
but they are not speculating about future sanction designations. Their argument for this is that it
“may reduce the impact of those future designations.”
Concern over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims is widespread in Britain. The Muslim Council of Britain has urged the Government to take strong action. In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, it voices its fears that, without tangible actions, the abuses will not stop and more lives will be lost.
Our country takes pride in its commitment to uphold human rights and to fight for equality. To that end, the Government should aim not only to confront China over its treatment of the Uyghurs, but to encourage others to do the same. To do nothing in the face of such human rights abuses is to allow the continuing suffering of many. We have an abundance of evidence in the form of leaked documents, satellite imagery and the harrowing testimony of victims. We cannot continue to listen to the mounting evidence and do nothing substantial with it.
The petition urges the Government not just to speculate on the sanctions, but to act. As I mentioned, America has already taken that step, and we should be looking to do the same. Sanctions are stronger when more people enforce them. It is our duty to protect those whose human rights are being violated. China is undeniably an economic powerhouse, but we cannot let its strength in world economics shield it so as to allow atrocities and human rights violations.
Order. Before we move on, I point out that one speaker, the hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), has withdrawn and, as a result, we have been able to insert between the hon. Members for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) and for Henley (John Howell) the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). She and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) will of course realise that they may not speak from where they are sitting at the moment. One seat is available on the horseshoe, if either of them wants it, although the hon. Member for Isle of Wight might need to smarten up before he takes his seat there.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I hope that I am suitably smart to continue—
I am glad. That is very kind of you, Mr Gray.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on a powerful speech to begin this brilliant debate. It is important that he laid out many of the issues before us, and he did so with great power and oratory. I commend him for that. This is not an issue that should in any way divide those of us who are present today, I hope, but rather it will unite us, in the best traditions of this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) asked to be recommended to the debate, although he was unable to join it. I said I would do so, if you do not mind him being on the record, Mr Gray. It is by the by, because he will not be coming to speak—you do not need to worry about that.
The key thing to say is that the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China—now formed of 18 countries, from east to west around the world, on the left and on the right—helped to sponsor Adrian Zenz’s first report on the Uyghurs. I am not saying that people were not aware of the issue, but the report has reignited it with some of his findings. The findings come from official Chinese documents that relate directly to individual officials—I will come back to that, in response to the point made by the hon. Member for Islwyn about Magnitsky sanctions, because there are individuals party to this named in the papers by the Chinese Government.
Adrian Zenz made the point clearly that at least 1 million Uyghurs—up to nearly 3 million—have been detained in Xinjiang in the re-education camps. I will not go into the details about the camps, because the hon. Gentleman made those clear, but detainees reported often being subject to forced labour, political indoctrination and torture. Almost 400 internment camps have been built, with dozens more still under development and yet to be built.
We all saw the film that was shown to the Chinese ambassador on “The Andrew Marr Show”. The ambassador preferred not to recognise anything said to him, but the reality is that those things were redolent of a time that we thought had gone—treatment of human beings that, looking back in history, we thought we had finally banished, but not so. The hon. Member for Islwyn made all those points about the treatment of the Uyghurs, the torture, and the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, which was exposed in those documents and is a shocking tale, and the preferment of non-ethnically Uyghur in the Uyghur territories. All are a terrible indictment.
I want to raise something else, because the long hand of those involved in such repression reaches out way beyond China now. About 5,000 Uyghurs live in Australia, most of them former refugees and their families. They told a parliamentary inquiry about frequent intimidation and harassment, such as WeeChat calls from family members back in China that were held in the presence of Chinese law-enforcement people, warning Uyghurs in Australia not to speak unfavourably about the Chinese Government lest something happen to those family members.
One Uyghur received a message from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security after attending a Tiananmen Square memorial, warning that his actions would have an impact on his family. The wife of the president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria said:
“I have left my homeland but I continue to live in fear. If I speak out for my people inside my homeland, I am afraid of retaliation on my family left behind. If I don’t speak out, I feel guilty of keeping the freedom and democracy all just for myself in a free country.”
That is shocking. We know beyond doubt that what is being done to the Uighur population in Xinjiang province is, in my view, a form of genocide. It is a deliberate attempt to eradicate a whole ethnic group.
They are not alone. Only a week ago I held a debate about similar things that are happening to Tibetans. During that debate, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) told me that in Inner Mongolia we are beginning to see the start of exactly the same process. This is not a one-off; it is policy that comes straight down from the Chinese Communist party and the Government. It is their way of supressing any potential angry rows, debates or pressure, and it is appalling.
We know about all this stuff. I mentioned the birth suppression and the way in which population growth rates have fallen by 84% in the two largest Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, and it declined further in 2019. Such activities could meet the term genocide—I believe that they do. We accept religious freedoms and freedom of speech, which are normal here, but now alien in China.
If one adds those factors to the way that China is behaving in Hong Kong—with the arrest of peaceful protestors, their movement back to China for an unfair hearing and the likelihood of their never being seen again—its threats towards Taiwan, its involvement in taking over the South China sea, against the UN’s own statements about its lack of any historic presence in the area, and its clashes with the Indian army on the border with India, then we are beginning to see a pattern of arrogant and determined behaviour by a Government who care nothing about the reaction of the international community.
What can we do? The hon. Member for Islwyn touched on the Magnitsky amendments that we have made that apply to officials. The Minister knows that I think there is now enough evidence from Xinjiang and the official documents to move on many of those officials. I accept that they are not the top people, but that will send a strong signal to the Government that we, and the rest of the free world, will no longer tolerate it.
That gives us all that we need to start. The House of Lords has added new clause 68 to the Trade Bill. I publicise that here because it is important. I hope and believe that we will support the new clause when the Bill returns to the Commons. The clause makes it clear that we cannot trade with counties that are guilty of genocide. Our High Court will make the decision about whether there is enough evidence. We will no longer have to worry about going to the UN to watch the Chinese and their allies block that; that will allow us to do it independently. Under the charter we have a responsibility to act as a nation.
Mr Gray, I will stop now as I know that other Members wish to speak. There are a huge number of areas in which we can act, not just in Magnitsky. We can implement sanctions and mount evidence suggesting violations specified by the global human rights sanctions regulations. We can ensure that we implement sanctions against officials who are responsible in other areas, such as Tibet and even Hong Kong. We need to act in line with the petition, which has given us clear evidence that the British public have formed their own opinion. If we are not careful, we will be running behind them, rather than leading them. Our purpose, I believe, is to call this out and no longer accept it. As the hon. Member for Islwyn said, no matter how much trade is worth to us, it is not worth that for the loss of those lives.
Order. We have 45 minutes until I call the two Front Benchers. Without applying a formal time limit, there are 13 speakers, which means about four or five minutes each, if that is at all possible and as a courtesy to one another. I call Shabana Mahmood.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is almost a month since I secured an Adjournment debate on the plight of the Uyghur people. I had hoped that we would see more progress since that debate on 9 September. I had hoped that we would see the imposition of so-called Magnitsky sanctions against key individuals from the Chinese Communist party, but sadly we are no further on, and the plight of the Uyghur people, against whom, I am quite clear, the Chinese Communist party is perpetrating genocide, becomes ever more desperate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) have both given a huge amount of detail about what the Uyghurs are suffering as a result of the actions of the Chinese Government. They have detailed issues around forced sterilisations, the drop in the birth rate—a drop of almost a third in Xinjiang province—mass detentions, slave labour, and the destruction of culture and heritage. Families are being torn asunder, and we all wonder, as we look on in horror, how much more the Uyghurs will endure as the world simply watches, impotent and unable to act.
I have pressed the Minister before on his rationale for not pursuing Magnitsky sanctions. When I questioned him in September, he told me that I was right to press him on this point. I believe that I am right to do so. Members who make similar arguments about Magnitsky sanctions are right to do so too. It is completely unclear why the Government are still dragging their feet. The case for the imposition of sanctions against individuals, about whom we have clear evidence, has been made. What is the roadblock? I would like the Minister to explain what the roadblock is, because we deserve to know. Too many Members across the House have been pressing him on this point, and have got very little out of the Government.
Since that Adjournment debate in September, the Government have moved with lightning speed on the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions against individuals connected to the regime in Belarus and the rigged re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. It was announced that sanctions were being drawn up on 24 September, and they were imposed on 29 September. It took merely days. I contrast that with what is happening to the Uyghur people, and the actions that the Government are still considering against key individuals in the Chinese Government. We have many years-worth of evidence, and months and months of review from our Government, but still no action.
We have heard that the Americans have taken action and imposed sanctions against key individuals in the regime. What is the reason for the UK not following suit? The legal tests have been met, but perhaps there are political tests—and ever-shifting political tests—that have not been met. If that is the case, that is a low moment for our Government. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has said, no amount of trade can wipe out the actions of a regime that is committed, in the case of the Uyghur population, to genocide.
I echo the remarks that have been made about the amendment tabled by Lord Alton in the Lords to the Trade Bill. I hope that when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House of Commons, Labour spokespeople will support that amendment, and I hope that the shadow Minister will enlighten us on that today. I hope that the amendment receives cross-party support, because it is an important step and is one of the legal innovations that I told the Minister we must consider, given that we all know that the United Nations is a bit of a busted flush on the issue. The Chinese, with their veto in the Security Council and the buying up of influence we have seen in the last few years, will be able to ensure that any UN process is frustrated and even prevented from getting off the ground.
We therefore need more innovative and legal approaches, and empowering our own High Court to nullify trade agreements with regimes where the trade partner is, with good evidence, believed to have perpetrated a genocide, would be an important step forward. It would be a way for our country, with our long commitment to the rule of law and to calling out egregious human rights abuses, wherever they occur in the world, to make a real contribution.
I therefore hope that approach has support across the House. I will certainly seek to support it. I hope that the Government can bring forward such measures. If there are concerns that such mechanisms may be used in vexatious ways before our High Court, may I say to the Minister that we can come up with thresholds and tests that must be met before the High Court could make such a declaration? It is, however, an important thing for us to consider. It is an important step for us to take, and I hope it will happen.
Finally, I have a couple of quick remarks about UK supply chains in relation to Chinese production of personal protective equipment and, in particular, ventilators procured by our Government for use during the pandemic. There is a clear, real risk that personal protective equipment and ventilators that have ended up in use in our health system in the last few months, procured at great cost in the middle of an international emergency, may well have come about as a result of forced labour of the Uyghur people. If that is the case, that is an unconscionable breach.
We must do much more as a country to ensure that forced labour, slave labour and the labour of the Uyghur people is not found in either the clothes we wear and the technology we use or the kit that our national health service uses. Allowing for the international emergency, there are many more questions for the Government to answer about the checks that took place to ensure that Uyghur labour was not being used for the procurement of things now in our health service. I hope that the Minister can enlighten us today.
In my view, all legal tests have been met for our Government to act. It is time for the Minister to stop repeating the words he has given to all of us before and lay out some practical action, because the time has long passed for us to act against the Chinese Government.
It is a pleasure to follow such eminent speakers. I agree with so many of the points made that I will skip to others, which have not. We do not seek to hold China to either a standard that we would not hold ourselves to, or indeed one that China has not already agreed to. China has already agreed and signed the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the UN convention on the rights of the child, the slavery convention 1926 and the international covenant on civil and political rights. Perhaps most importantly, it was China or, rather, a Chinese diplomat who drafted the individual rights into the UN declaration. P.C. Chang, then a representative of the Chinese Government, held the pen and wrote into international law the principles of individual rights that we value so highly today.
These are not western values; they are universal values that China has agreed to, that the Chinese state has accepted and pledged to obey, and which it is now violating among one of the ethnic minority populations within its borders. This is not something to which we can look idly by and pretend is not happening, because this is not just about the torture, murder and forced sterilisation of Uyghur Muslims—it is of course about that. It is also not just about the violation of freedom of faith and the repression of the Islamic community in western China—and, by the way, the repression of the Christian community across China. It is also—fundamentally for this House—about the liberty of the British people, whom we are here to represent. Our ability to represent and to defend the rights and interests of the people of these islands is contingent on the rights and liberties of other people being respected. We cannot trade and travel freely and fairly if the people of those countries are not free to enjoy the liberties that we think matter.
Anyone who does not think that that is true should ask the family of Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group who was arrested and has been detained for two years by the Chinese Government. The Chinese state—this communist state—is violating the rights of not only Chinese citizens, but all citizens, which is why it is right that this House speak out.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I thank all those who signed the petition to bring this matter to the Chamber this evening.
I do not know whether it is a formally declarable interest or not, but I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Uyghurs. My co-chair, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), would be here, but she is shielding. It is worth reflecting that this is another instance demonstrating that the current procedures for participation in House business perhaps require another visit. In fact, the same is true of the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who takes a close personal interest in these matters.
As the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) observed, I first held a debate on the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang province in this Chamber on 29 January last year. It is gratifying to see the number of people attending the debate today, which is an indication of the attention that has come to the issue and that interest in it has grown.
I was particularly struck in June when Jewish News ran a front-page story with the headline “Chilling echoes”. On 1 October, it ran an editorial revisiting the issue:
“When Jewish News ran a front page earlier this year with the headline ‘Chilling echoes’—in reference to the abuse of the Uyghurs and parallels with the Shoah—we didn’t do so lightly. Any hint of a parallel with the darkest chapter in human history is something we’d always caution against. But the discovery of tonnes of hair taken from members of the minority community in China invoked emotions we as Jews simply could not ignore.”
I quote that because the question of genocide, and the evidence required to establish genocide, is now perhaps at the centre of this issue and our examination of it. As others said, this time, nobody can say that they were not told, that they did not know. There is a growing body of evidence that what is being done in Xinjiang province to the Uyghur Muslim population bears all the characteristics of a genocide, and that there is a requirement for it to be called out politically, and acted on legally, as a genocide.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling referenced the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. Article 2 outlines the basis on which genocide is to be established legally—that it is
“committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”,
although that should not be treated as an exhaustive list. That is to say, to meet the legal definition of genocide, the atrocities committed against the Uyghurs need to be committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Consider what has come into the public domain in recent months in that regard. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published “Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang.” We have the report prepared for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China by Adrian Zenz, “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control”. We have further Australian Strategic Policy Institute reports: “Cultural Erasure: Tracing the destruction of Uyghur and Islamic spaces in Xinjiang” and “Exploring Xinjiang’s detention system”.
Surely, now, on the basis of that evidence gathered by campaign groups around the world, there needs to be a formal mission to China headed up by the United Nations to gather the evidence in a systematic manner, in order to move forward in a legal, not just a political, way. That is the opportunity that we have as a member of the United Nations Security Council, and I urge the Minister today to make every progress in that regard.
In debates such as this, it is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who rightly quoted a newspaper on what the Jewish community has said. My speech is about genocide and why the Government are not calling it what it is.
We often stand in Westminster Hall or the other Chamber and say, “Never again”, but the truth is we continue to have to say it. We have seen many other genocides, but, with reference specifically to the Uyghurs, mounting evidence has shifted international attention on to Xinjiang. The Chinese Government admitted to the existence of the camp only when it was discovered. They sought to justify it under the pretext of national security, vocational training and re-education. The reality of those so-called vocational training and education centres is far more sinister. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China has stated:
“A body of mounting evidence now exists, alleging mass incarceration, indoctrination, extrajudicial detention, invasive surveillance, forced labor”.
The testimony of witnesses and survivors is even more disturbing. We have learned that Uyghur women have been subjected to forced contraception, abortion and sterilisation, including forced removal of their wombs. There are also reports detailing that horrific abuses have been uncovered, such as Muslims being forced to drink alcohol, eat pork and convert from the religion of their choice, yet despite the intelligence and testimonies, and the fact that China is hiding its actions in plain sight, our Government fall short of acknowledging that acts of genocide are taking place.
Recent reports and analysis of satellite images reveal that the Chinese Government continue to construct new internment camps, displaying an unwavering desire to continue their campaign of genocide against the Uyghur people. It is clear that the Government’s stance is not working. The co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response points out that if a state does not make a formal determination of genocide, it will be less likely to fulfil its duty to prevent or stop the genocide. The Government must, in the interim, be able to make the determination to respond accordingly to atrocities. Much has been said about the Magnitsky amendments and I will push the Minister to respond. What is stopping us applying those measures, which should be imposed on those involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang?
Alarmingly, as China asserts its dominance among global economies, it has been accused of benefiting from the fruits of the forced labour of the Uyghur people. A coalition of up to 180 human rights organisations has said:
“Virtually the entire apparel industry is tainted by forced Uighur…labour”.
Alongside imposing sanctions, the Government must go further and seek out brands based here in the UK that are profiteering from the exploitation of the Uyghur people. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) referred to medical equipment in that context. The Government should remind brands of their ethical responsibility and impose corporate accountability on them. Their supply chains are propping up China’s genocide against the Uyghur.
Unless China is forced to act by unflinching political, commercial and legal action from the Government, nothing will change. Indeed, China is a signatory to the 1948 universal declaration of human rights, and it must be reminded of its obligations. We have witnessed time and again the direction that the road of religious and ethnic hatred takes us in. Our inaction also means that we all know how it ends—with the deaths of countless innocent men, women and children.
How many more times are we going to have debates where right hon. and hon. Members pledge “never again”? In my lifetime, we have witnessed genocide in Rwanda and said, “Never again.” We left UN peacekeepers unsupported, despite their concerns that there would be war crimes in Srebrenica, and afterwards we again said, “Never again.” We saw acts of genocide against the Yazidis in Syria, we debated that genocide in its aftermath, and we said again, “Never again.” In Myanmar, we have seen acts of genocide against the Rohingya population, leaving the survivors stateless, and once more we said, “Never again.” At some point, we need to stop saying, “Never again.” We need to learn from history, identify these things when we see them happening and—crucially—we must act.
As a British Muslim, I know that Islam is based on ideals of peace, equality, loyalty, justice and, most importantly, submission to the will of Allah. This is also true for Uyghur Muslims; they are no exception. Yet despite their peaceful characteristics, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs find themselves suffering cultural and religious annihilation at the hands of the Chinese Communist party, and among their number are also Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Christians and adherents of Falun Gong.
Sadly, there is a growing mountain of evidence to support claims that the Chinese Communist party is seriously violating the human rights of these people. As the United Kingdom, it is our moral duty to verify and document these human rights violations. As we have heard, up to 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other Turkic Muslims have been rounded up and put in re-education camps, where they are subject to political indoctrination, forced sterilisation and torture. Such extermination goes well beyond the Uyghur people. The CCP is intent on destroying non-Han Chinese cultural identity and history. Revered religious sites and mosques have been demolished, under supposed mosque rectification campaigns, while others with distinctive architectural features, such as minarets and domes, have been moved, as part of a campaign to Sinocise Islam.
According to CNN, since 2018, over 100 Uyghur cemeteries have been destroyed and relocated, including one that was transformed into a car park. Indeed, in response to a written question that I submitted to the Minister who is here today, he said that British diplomats themselves had verified in person much of this destruction.
We know that the Uyghur language is being banned in Xinjiang schools and that practising Islam is discouraged, shall we say, because it is seen as a sign of extremism. UNESCO has called this process “strategic cultural cleansing”. The cultural genocide is nothing other than an attempt to remove the Uyghurs and further cement Han Chinese supremacy. In 2018, an official in Xinjiang said on state media that the aim of these policies was to
“break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins”.
If that is not bad enough, there is a further point that I believe it is our duty to bring to the public’s attention and it is nothing other than the evil of slavery. These re-education camps conceal slavery, and slavery has seeped into almost every part of the Chinese economy. In addition to the exports that China sends to the United Kingdom and our allies around the world, in July, as we have heard, the United States seized a shipment of 13 tons of human hair products coming from China, allegedly from Xinjiang camps.
Slavery and forced labour in any capacity are repugnant to us all. The idea that, unwittingly, citizens of this country—in Wakefield and elsewhere—are purchasing Chinese goods and thereby becoming a partner of this evil industry must be rooted out and we must take a stronger view on it. So, the Magnitsky-style sanctions are a step in the right direction and should be used against those involved in the imprisonment and enslavement of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other minorities. However, we must go further and do our utmost to prevent the supply chain that we are involved in from having any link to the abhorrent practice of slavery.
It pains me that most Muslim-majority countries around the world have stayed largely silent. As a Muslim, that is a cause of great upset and regret. If it is left to us, Britain must become the champion and defender of liberty, freedom, tolerance and pluralism for peoples around the world, and must stand up against tyranny, oppression and persecution wherever they are found, whether in China or in Muslim-majority countries.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I defer to the great knowledge of Members in this room. My own interest and involvement in the plight of the Uyghurs come from watching the Andrew Marr interview with the Chinese ambassador in July. The flagrant denial of oppression in Xinjiang was almost as terrifying as the images and videos that accompanied the interview on screen: row after row of men blindfolded with their heads shaven, waiting to be loaded on to trains. The images were so shocking that they play on one’s mind for days and weeks, and even now. The similarities, as so many have said, between that video and historic footage of Nazi concentration camps are truly chilling. All of us rightly remember and reflect on the sickening and frightening ways in which humans treat one another, and we pledge that it must never happen again. Now that the world is presented with such overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses, nobody can turn a blind eye.
Some 141 parliamentarians, including some Members in this debate, joined me in publicly expressing absolute condemnation of such oppression in an open letter to the ambassador after his interview. More than a month on, we have still not received a reply. In the meantime, shocking testimony and frightening reports have filled our in-boxes and our screens, each more terrifying than the last. There are accusations of torture, the forced abortion of babies, the sterilisation of women and the removal of their wombs. A genocide of the Uyghurs is happening before our eyes.
The Minister knows how important the word “genocide” is in international law. He might even be under strict instructions not to use that word here today, but he will know how unlikely it is that the world will arrive at a definition, given the countries that sit in the United Nations and the veto that they hold. A cowardly country could hide behind the linguistic excuse. Shame on us if we choose that path, because the Chinese Government’s actions must be stated as what they are: a systematic and calculated programme of ethnic cleansing against the Uyghur people.
An independent tribunal is under way, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. Government endorsement of the findings, whatever they may be, is surely the moral and necessary action to take. Organising and leading an international tribunal would be even stronger. No one could leave this debate anything other than horrified at the situation in Xinjiang. Condemning the world’s next superpower is easy. Taking action is much harder. If we look on, history will condemn our unforgivable cowardice and ask why those in power did not act. This is a heavy burden for the Minister, but he is the person in the chair in a position of influence. Warm words are simply not enough because this time no one can say that they did not know.
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing the debate.
The fight to prevent genocide is a subject close to my heart, as it is to all Members in this debate and many others across the House. I have vivid memories of observing as a teenager what happened during the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have campaigned on the genocide committed by the Myanmar Government against the Rohingya people. Many other examples that we have all witnessed in the past echo what has been happening recently.
We have seen in recent years that despite our proud record as a country in standing up against human rights violations, systematic discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide, our Government have been found wanting. We have seen that from the failure of the British Government, with the international community, to act in relation to what was happening with the Rohingya Muslims. I draw that parallel because it is vital that we learn the lessons of our recent history. Many of us warned our Government to act: not to remove sanctions against the Myanmar Government prematurely as they made the transition towards democracy, even when the US was not doing it.
This time, we see the US taking a leadership role and our Government dithering once again. I hope the Minister will step up and, if he is being prevented from speaking out against what looks like another genocide, talk to his boss and ask him to take genocide much more seriously. There is no more serious issue than what is happening in Myanmar, as well as in China with the Uyghur population.
I am incredibly grateful to right hon. and hon. Members from across the House for debating this issue because despite all our efforts, we failed to get accountability and action to prevent the exodus, punishment and persecution of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims. We ultimately saw a million forced out of their country in 2017, and we saw the plight of that group, yet even today—again, there is a parallel—our Government fail to support the actions of the Government of Gambia, who are leading an International Court of Justice case on that issue. I hope that as we move forward, we will learn those lessons and ensure that in relation to China, our Government show the courage of their convictions and take action to prevent another genocide.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. We have three minutes in which to cover a huge amount, so I will just say that I agree with literally everything I have heard so far. I think it is wonderful how this place comes together to represent what I think is, as we are seeing, the enormous, heartfelt, emotional view of our constituents and the country as a whole.
Today, in addition to continuing to make the case that we must call this a genocide and that we must get on with Magnitsky sanctions, I want to focus on the fact that we all have power because we are all consumers. As has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), there are issues with the procurement of PPE and ventilators, but the apparel industry is also well-trodden ground. It is estimated that one in five cotton garments from anywhere in the world has touched this supply chain, and when this has been looked into by the Associated Press, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and others including the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, some of the names of the list of companies are shocking.
I will name and shame a few: they are public services, people will love me for it, and I will not be able to do more because I am going to run out of time. I ask anyone who might be listening to please look on my Twitter feed. Those companies include Amazon, Calvin Klein, Esprit, Fila and Gap. They include H&M—I was really sad to read that—and Ikea. Who does not have Ikea in their homes? They also include Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Skechers, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret and Zara, and that is not the full list.
In addition to the apparel industry, we know that there is movement of workers from these internment camps to factories across China that, in turn, touch the supply chains of other types of companies. Those include Amazon, Apple, BMW, Dell, Gap, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Nintendo and Nokia, and the list goes on. I want these companies to take up what I am saying, and take issue with what is happening. This was raised with Adidas and Lacoste, and to their credit they have now agreed to cut ties with the implicated suppliers and contractors as a result of that public pressure. I hope that has added to the public pressure on those other companies.
As I say, people need to look up the full list. They have power as consumers; we have power in this place as well, and the Government have power. I believe the Government should now be looking at those international supply chains. We are doing it with forests; we can do it with human rights. I ask the Minister whether he will agree to meet with me at some other time so that we can discuss this further, because I think this might be one of the ways in which every single person can act quickly.
I would like to say how much I welcome the British Government’s refocusing on human rights. I hope the Minister will take back to the Secretary of State my congratulations to him on the work that he has been doing at the United Nations on this issue.
I am a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. That might not sound particularly relevant to the debate, but the trust concentrates on genocides and other similar activities that have occurred since the second world war and that continue today. It is an organisation that goes out of its way to ensure that the “never again” message is heard very loudly.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members have asked for Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on China. I know a bit about Magnitsky sanctions, because I spoke about this issue in January 2019 at the Council of Europe, on a motion raised by Lord Donald Anderson—a socialist motion that was put forward on which we could all agree. There was nothing that separated us on this issue.
The thing about Magnitsky sanctions is that they need to identify people. We cannot use them just to attack a country; we have to use them to attack an individual group of people. Can the Minister tell us how close we are to having identified people in China on whom we can impose the Magnitsky sanctions, so that we can get this thing moving?
As somebody else has already said, it is not just a case of doing the Magnitsky sanctions and then forgetting about it. We also need to do as much as we can in other areas. That is difficult for us to do as the UK; we need to have the co-operation of other countries. Clearly, the opponents of our actions against China have also got their acts together—we saw Belarus, Iran and Zimbabwe among the group that is leading on this. The action that we take with other countries can be far more powerful than if we try to do it alone.
As right hon. and hon. Members have described, what is happening to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang is absolutely abhorrent and cannot be ignored. The Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 give us a means
“to deter, and provide accountability for,”
the kinds of activities that China is carrying out. The regulations say that people have the right
“not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,”
and that they have the right
“to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour”.
Given the clear abuses being carried out by China against the Uyghurs, which have been described by right hon. and hon. Members, I urge Ministers to consider how the regulations can be used to help bring an end to this situation. The Magnitsky-style sanctions would honour the request of the petition and show the UK’s commitment to protecting global human rights.
Of course, we MPs and the Government are facing an enormous challenge right now, and many of our constituents expect us to be focused on that challenge. I wanted to attend the debate and speak briefly, because history is watching us. What is happening in Xinjiang is of historic significance. We have seen the power of the modern state wielded against its own people before, with the result being millions killed in factories of death. People who hesitate to make that comparison should remember that that stain on human history began with the erosion of rights, mass detention and forced labour. We are now seeing the power of the modern state supercharged in the digital age and the age of surveillance.
We must be honest with ourselves: there are no simple solutions to what we are discussing, and we are not in a position to rescue the situation alone, just as we were not able to do so in world war two. We will need to work with others. Even then, the task is incredibly daunting. However, I want China to know that we are watching—this House is watching, and the world is watching. History has shown us that simply disapproving from afar is not enough to stop regimes of this nature. We must find further ways to act. We must stand up, and we must be counted.
I promise to keep my jacket on for the whole sitting, Mr Gray.
I am going to mention three things briefly, slightly echoing other Members: first, consistency; secondly, forced labour; and thirdly, China’s surveillance state. Before I begin, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on the work that IPAC has been doing to bring all these things to light. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on her work. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, will lead an inquiry on the Uyghurs, and I look forward to participating in that.
Consistency is important. We lack capacity to change China’s policy, but recognition of what is happening is important in its own right. Not to recognise it and avoid it, and avoid discussing it, puts us in moral jeopardy. Recognising that something is happening—it may be an obvious statement—is the first step in actually being able to do something. That brings me on to forced labour. We can all be outraged, but outrage—there is an awful lot of it in Parliament, especially on foreign affairs questions—does not necessarily produce anything. What could produce something is some kind of work on forced labour. Freedom from oppression should be one of our new foreign policy goals.
I would love to know what the Government are doing on the issue of forced labour. Are they preparing a report on the issue of supply chains and forced labour? If not, why can we not do so? One hundred or 200 Members of Parliament, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) said, could highlight western firms that profited from forced labour, and we could write to all those people. I know of Huawei, as I have said, but there are many others, as she pointed out. If wrote to all those people and said, “Do you really want your customers to wear the product of slave labour?”, we would not necessarily need Government to act, because we could act ourselves. I wonder whether that is something that collectively we could do.
Finally, on China’s surveillance state, there are two models for the 21st century for humanity: first, there is the western liberal model, however tarnished and however much Google and Facebook try to privatise all our personal information. That is still the great hope for humanity: government under law; politicians under law; with people at least nominally sovereign, and hopefully supreme over them. The alternative is the model that we see in the new authoritarian states, primarily Russia, but also China, of a surveillance system that is made much more powerful by big data, artificial intelligence and politicians who want to engineer dissent out of humanity. That is what we are seeing in China—we are seeing the sharp edge of that not only in Tibet but in Xinjiang province, so there is much to play for in the 21st century.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the Petitions Committee for securing this vital debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for making such a powerful and passionate speech to introduce the debate, and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), who made compelling contributions, both passionate and forensic. Members across the House have shown today that there is no doubt about the strength of feeling in Parliament.
The plight of the Uyghur people is a scar on the conscience of the world—of that there can be no doubt—and the fact that the Chinese Government continue to act with impunity leaves us all with a sense of burning injustice. It is vital and urgent that the international community comes together to speak with one voice, and to say loud and clear to Beijing, “We will not stand idly by while Uyghur people are imprisoned in these so-called re-education camps. We will not look the other way in response to reports of the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women. We will not react with indifference to any efforts to destroy the Uyghur language, culture and way of life.”
It is equally vital and urgent that the UK Government take a leadership role in convening and co-ordinating the international response. Our greatness as a country is based on our resolute and unshakeable commitment to human rights and the rule of law. The British people know that if our country is to be a force for good in the world, those values must be applied universally. Regrettably, attempts to show leadership on this issue are handicapped by the fact that, for several years now, the approach of successive Conservative Governments to China has been naive and complacent.
In 2015, David Cameron and George Osborne announced a new golden era in Sino-British relations. The premise was simple. The UK would open its markets and infrastructure to China and in return Beijing would reciprocate, while integrating with the rules-based international order.
Fast forward five years and where do we stand? We are still running a £19 billion trade deficit with China, and the Chinese Government have dealt a hammer blow to democracy in Hong Kong, committed egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, and stepped up their military activities in the South China sea. The fact of the matter is that the golden era strategy has been an unmitigated failure. Successive Conservative Governments have rolled out the red carpet for Beijing in the hope of reciprocity and constructive engagement, but the past five years have seen the emergence of a China that increasingly pursues policies that undermine international norms and violate what should be international and universal values.
We have deep respect for China’s history, culture and civilisation, and we fully acknowledge and recognise its great power status. The relationship between the peoples of the UK and China is deep, of long standing and valued by both. There is a pressing need to improve mutual understanding and friendly co-operation, but the Chinese leadership must understand that their breaching of international law and violation of human rights benefits no one, least of all themselves. China is deeply integrated into the global economy, and it needs globalisation to work for its people, just as much as we do. But if it continues to pursue zero-sum policies that place dominance ahead of consensus and crushing one’s critics ahead of compromise, the international community will have no choice but to toughen its stance by exerting further political, diplomatic and economic pressure on Beijing.
Against that backdrop, we call on the UK Government to commit to a fundamental strategic reset in Sino-British relations. We must seek constructive engagement based on mutual respect, but respect is a two-way street. The leadership of the Communist party of China respects strength and unity, and it is contemptuous of weakness and division. We must find ways to co-operate with the Chinese Government on crucial global issues such as climate change and pandemics, while also challenging them when they undermine international law.
To achieve that, the following needs to happen. First, we must rebuild our strategic independence. Successive Conservative Governments have left our country over-reliant on supply chains that originate in China and open to hostile takeovers by Chinese state-backed enterprises and investment vehicles. The UK is now dependent on China for 57 categories of goods that relate to our critical national infrastructure. This over-reliance on China dramatically diminishes our ability to stand up for our interests and project our values. There needs to be a far more joined-up approach across Whitehall on these issues.
Secondly, the UK Government need to build an alliance of democracies to champion co-operation based on shared values and promoting human rights. Successive Conservative Governments since 2016 have shown that they are adept at burning bridges. This Government must now show that they know how to rebuild trust with our European allies while engaging more effectively with democratic governments, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.
I turn to the mass atrocities that are taking place in Xinjiang. We urge the Government to take the following actions. First, it is imperative that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is given full and unfettered access to Xinjiang and the Uyghur people who are being detained there, so that the true scale and nature of the crimes can be established and documented. For that to be possible, far more intense and co-ordinated pressure must be applied, and we therefore urge the UK Government to publicly oppose China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council in the forthcoming elections, and to hold firm to that position until such time as Beijing provides the High Commissioner with access to Xinjiang.
Secondly, the Government must deploy Magnitsky sanctions against senior CCP officials who are responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Minister will say that that is under review and should not be rushed but, frankly, that is not good enough. MPs have been expressing concerns about the plight of the Uyghur since 2017, and the Magnitsky legislation was passed in 2018. I therefore encourage the Minister to provide some clarity: what is the real cause of this mysterious delay, and can the Opposition be of any assistance in removing the roadblock, whatever it is, so that the Government can get on with taking long-overdue action?
Thirdly, the Government should explore additional legal avenues for challenging what is happening in Xinjiang, including an assessment of whether China’s actions constitute a violation of the 1984 convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to which China is a state party. The Government must consider infringement procedures if such a determination is made.
Fourthly, the Government must publicly support the UN International Law Commission’s draft convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity, which would close an important gap in international law.
Fifthly, as many hon. Members have raised today, the Government must mobilise action across Whitehall to ensure that British businesses conduct thorough due diligence of supply chains, such that British companies withdraw without delay from any and all supply chains that potentially involve forced labour or other human rights abuses. I trust that the Minister will give careful consideration to those recommendations, in terms of both the fundamental reset that is required, and the specific issues with Xinjiang province.
I am grateful to the Petitions Committee for this debate, to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for introducing it and to all colleagues for their contributions. There is, rightly, deep public concern about the issue, so I am also grateful to the 146,000 members of the public who signed the petition and enabled this debate to take place. We have heard the strength of feeling in the House about Xinjiang, and I will respond to as many as possible of the points that have been made.
I assure the House that we closely and constantly monitor the situation in Xinjiang. As we have heard and read, and as we acknowledge, there have been harrowing reports and evidence of gross human rights violations. Analysis of satellite images suggests that the Chinese authorities continue to construct internment camps and demolish mosques and other religious sites. Those are systematic restrictions on Uyghur culture and religion. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) about the extensive and invasive surveillance operation that targets minorities. We have also seen credible evidence of forced labour —that was raised by most Members this afternoon—and the Chinese Government’s own figures show a dramatic decrease in population growth in Xinjiang over the past three years.
I will now set out the Government’s position on global human rights sanctions. On 6 July, as right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, we established the global human rights sanctions regime. In a statement to Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out the full scope of the UK’s new global human rights sanctions regime. He was clear, and I reiterate this today, that it is not appropriate to speculate on future designations under that regime. As I have said before and as the Foreign Secretary made clear, to do so could reduce the impact of such designations. However, I make it absolutely clear that that is under constant review.
On 9 September, during an Adjournment debate on Xinjiang, I stated that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is carefully considering further designations under the sanctions regime. We will keep all the evidence and the potential listings under close review. Our position on that remains unchanged.
Let me be clear that we are committed to responding robustly to all human rights violations in Xinjiang. We have played a leading role within the international community to hold China to account. We have led two joint statements at the UN in the past year, including a statement at the UN Human Rights Council in June that was supported by 28 countries. Last week, on 6 October, 39 countries joined our statement at the UN third committee in New York, expressing deep concern at the situation not just in Xinjiang, but in Tibet and Hong Kong. We believe this growing caucus reflects our diplomatic leadership, including the personal involvement of our Foreign Secretary.
Outside the UN, we have lobbied around the world to raise awareness of the issue and underlined the critical need for an international response. We have supported that by funding third-party research to increase the evidence base and international awareness, and by sharing our analysis of the situation on the ground, although Members will appreciate that getting access to Xinjiang is incredibly difficult. On 25 September, the UK dedicated its entire national statement at the UN Human Rights Council to human rights violations in China. That is only the second time the UK has dedicated its national statement to a single country, the first being about Russia in 2018 following the poisonings in Salisbury.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has raised our serious concerns about Xinjiang directly with his Chinese counterpart on a number of occasions, most recently on 28 July, and I have raised them directly with the Chinese ambassador in recent months. We continue to raise awareness of the human rights violations in Xinjiang with UK businesses. We impress upon them the need to act in line with the expectations set out in the UK national action plan on business and human rights. That means conducting due diligence to make sure that they are not contributing to any human rights violations, including the use of forced labour in their supply chains.
Several right hon. and hon. Members have raised the question of genocide. The term genocide has a specific definition in international law, and it is the long-standing policy of the UK Government that any judgment as to whether war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred is a matter for judicial decision.
In the time I have left, I will turn to remarks and comments made by right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Member for Islwyn introduced the debate in his typically eloquent style, raising many of the concerns that we all share about the plight of the Uyghur people. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on the work he does with IPAC and his persistent championing of this cause.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) was absolutely right to raise the points that she did, but I politely suggest that it is not correct to say that we are no further on. Our actions at the UN last week, alongside 38 other countries, are an example of that. She raised the issue of forced labour, as did most Members. The reports are credible. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, which the FCO part-funded, estimated that 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work.
We are committed to eradicating modern slavery and forced labour. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 made the UK the first country to require businesses to report how they identify and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains, as hon. Members have mentioned. Businesses with an annual turnover of more than £36 million are required to publish an annual modern slavery statement, and we are developing a registry of modern slavery statements.
It is absolutely the case that companies need to abide by the law. More can be done in this area, and we are developing further measures. The Home Office announced on 22 September a series of new measures to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act. These measures require legislative change, which will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.
There were some excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat)—the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee—for Henley (John Howell), for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), for Isle of Wight and for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan), and from the hon. Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) referred eloquently to genocide. Again, any judgment as to whether war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred has to be a judicial matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield referred to strategic cultural cleansing. The freedom to practise, change or share one’s faith or beliefs without discrimination or violent opposition is a human right that all people should be able to enjoy. He was also right to highlight the lack of condemnation from predominantly Muslim countries of the oppression of the Uyghurs. I am sure that his powerful voice will have been heard today.
The Minister mentions genocide. A clear-cut International Court of Justice case is currently ongoing, but the UK Government refuse to back it. What test has to be passed before our Government—a penholder in the UN on Burma—are likely to act? That is the problem: constant excuses.
I know how powerfully the hon. Lady feels about this issue, but, as I say, there is a specific definition in international law, and any decision has to be judicial. I am sure that this will come up in the future, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) asked whether we would publicly oppose China’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council this week. He will be aware that we never comment on voting in UN elections, which are conducted by secret ballot. The UK has been absolutely clear with China about our grave concerns in relation to Xinjiang. As I said, on 6 October we joined 38 other countries to call on China to allow immediate and unfettered access for independent UN observers.
I know that I have to give the hon. Member for Islwyn a couple of minutes, so I will wrap up. I reiterate that we cannot speculate on future designations under our sanctions regime. China must immediately end extrajudicial detention in Xinjiang and uphold the principles of freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and freedom of association for every single one of its citizens. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, we want a positive relationship with China, but we will always act to uphold our values, our interests and our national security. We are crystal clear with China when we disagree with its approach.
This is one of the rare occasions when I am proud to be a Member of this House. Today, I feel as though we have spoken with one voice—a powerful and passionate voice. I hope it is heard when the Minister is dealing with his international counterparts. However powerful China is, or thinks it is, we in this House will not accept any reason for undermining someone’s human rights, because if one person’s human rights are denied, everybody’s human rights are denied.
The Minister and I have known each other for a long time now—10 years, I think—and I know that he will stand up. I know that in the international community he has to work within the international framework, but I hope that if he finds businesses engaging in modern slavery, repressing people’s rights or committing any other human rights abuses, he will let them know that they will feel the full might of the Government.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. This year, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day, which was on 27 January, is about shining a light in the darkness. With this debate and those that preceded it, I really hope that we have shone a light on human rights abuses. We say to any country, however powerful, that we will not take that. The Minister can go away from this debate knowing that whatever sanctions he wishes to impose, he will have the full support of the House.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).