I beg to move,
That this House believes that Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are suffering Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide; and calls on the Government to act to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and all relevant instruments of international law to bring it to an end.
It is a privilege to open this important debate on an historic motion. I want to put on record my thanks to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, and in particular Luke de Pulford, for co-ordinating MPs around the world, keeping the Uyghurs high on the agenda of national Parliaments.
Today’s historic debate would not have been possible without a key ally to the Uyghurs, and the one sponsor of the debate who would have been so proud of us all here today for doing the right thing—I hope—at 5 o’ clock. That is my mentor and dear friend, the late Dame Cheryl Gillan. Dame Cheryl was a phenomenal woman—a woman who kept men in this place in their place, and I wish the record to note that this debate is in her honour. I hope that today this House will do her proud.
I am one of the five MPs sanctioned by the Chinese Communist party. Those sanctions were an attempt to silence and intimidate us, to prevent us from raising the growing evidence of the abuse faced by the Uyghurs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when a national Government sanctions one Member of Parliament in this place, that national Government is actually sanctioning all Members of Parliament in this place, and that it is incumbent on us all—all 650 of us—to stand as one at this moment?
My hon. Friend could not have put it more perfectly. I believe that sanctioning five MPs for raising human rights abuses was sanctioning this House and asking it to stop raising human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The whole House needs to act as one.
The fact that we are here today, having this debate, shows that the sanctions simply have not worked. I can only assume that my sanctions followed my campaigning on the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, and my Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report, which exposed that Xinjiang is a Uyghur slave state, and recommends that we blacklist UK firms putting slave-made products on our shelves. As we all know, basic checks and transparency standards cannot be guaranteed in Xinjiang, so businesses find it difficult to guarantee that they are slave labour-free. Let us just cut to the chase and blacklist firms who are linked to Xinjiang unless they are, uniquely, able to offer adequate proof that they are slave labour-free. The British customer does not want to be duped into putting money in the pocket of firms profiting from slave labour. I hope the Minister can wholeheartedly support the rest of the recommendations in the Select Committee report.
I also want to put on record my thanks and offer solidarity to Dr Jo Smith Finley, a senior academic who was also sanctioned for sharing what she witnessed in Xinjiang, along with a legal firm and research group. When the CCP tries to control UK groups and individuals speaking freely about their research and legal opinions, it is our responsibility and duty to speak truth to power in this place, where we are afforded protection that others may not have. The sanctions are not only an attack on us as individuals but an attempt to stifle the free and open debate that is at heart of our hard-won parliamentary democracy. If the CCP is still in doubt about what our leadership thinks of the sanctions, let me quote our very own Prime Minister, who said:
“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”.
Today, I am asking the House to consider whether the grounds for genocide are met. I know that colleagues are reluctant to use the word “genocide”. For many, the word will be forever associated with the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. I agree with colleagues that we should never diminish the unique meaning and power of the term by applying it incorrectly, but there is a misunderstanding that genocide is just one act—mass killing. That is false. Article 2 of the United Nations genocide convention says that genocide is
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
There are three points that I want colleagues to note. First, genocide is measured against intent. Secondly, intent to commit any one of the five acts of genocide is sufficient. Thirdly, and fundamentally, all five acts of genocide are evidenced as taking place in Xinjiang. Therefore, while we must never misuse the term “genocide”, we must not fail to use it when it is warranted.
I will shortly return to the horrific examples to support my motion, but let me first remind the House why we are stuck in the trenches and why I am asking us today to help dig us out and free the Uyghur people. The Government state that genocide can be determined only a competent court. Every route to a court is blocked by China. That means that, despite the Foreign Secretary stating that
“the human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims is…far-reaching. It paints a…harrowing picture”—[Official Report, 12 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 160.]
our Government are handcuffed, paralysed by the UN. We need to take back control. Our route to declaring genocide cannot be controlled by China.
Let me briefly present the evidence to support my motion: the five acts of genocide. Act 1 is:
“Killing members of the group”.
As Dr Smith Finley notes, in the massacre of 2014, up to 3,000 Uyghurs
“were allegedly killed by security forces”,
according to exiles. Separately, as Essex Court Chambers noted in its landmark 100-page legal case, there were reports that an unknown number of detainees died in the camps due to
“poor living conditions and a lack of medical treatment.”
Following the publishing of that opinion, the CCP sanctioned the chambers.
Act 2 is:
“Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”.
Fifty legal experts in international law have determined that every marker of genocide is met. The Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy found:
“Uyghurs are suffering serious bodily and mental harm from systematic torture and cruel treatment, including rape, sexual abuse, exploitation, and public humiliation, at the hands of camp officials and Han cadres assigned to Uyghur homes under Government-mandated programs. Internment camps contain designated ‘interrogation rooms,’ where Uyghur detainees are subjected to consistent and brutal torture methods, including beatings with metal prods, electric shocks, and whips. The mass internment and related Government programs are designed to indoctrinate and ‘wash clean’ brains.”
That is from 50 global experts.
Act 3 of genocide is:
“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
President Xi has said so many words, including about showing “absolutely no mercy”. How is he doing that? Credible reports indicate that up to 2 million people are extrajudicially detained in prison factories and re-education centres, and I dread to think of the impact of a lack of proper medical care during a pandemic.
Act 4 is imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group. Unless the Minister can provide evidence to the contrary, I do not believe there is any other place on earth where women are being violated on this scale. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a fairytale compared with the reproductive rights of Uyghur women. That abuse is evidenced by the Chinese Government’s own data. In 2014, more than 200,000 birth control devices were inserted in women in Xinjiang, and by 2018 the number had increased by 60%. Despite the region accounting for just 1.8% of China’s population, 80% of all birth control device insertions in China were performed in the Uyghur region. That explains why, in one of the region, birth rates are down 84%. Even more chillingly, China no longer shares the data by ethnicity, as it tries to scrub away the evidence. Time is running out for the Uyghur, especially the women.
Finally, act 5: forcibly transferring the children of the group to another group. This unique barbarism of the CCP is a slow-motion genocide. It is hard to believe that it is doing that as a final act of horror. The New York Times reported, from public CCP data, that nearly half a million children have been separated from their families. That is key, as it shows the CCP’s intent to strip children from their parents, basically disrupting intergenerational linguistic, cultural and faith transmission. Let me quote the CCP again:
“Break their lineage, break their roots”.
I do not expect the Minister to have any arguments to dispute any of the evidence that I have put forward today. I do expect to hear from the Dispatch Box, considering the crimes, how the Foreign Office will fully co-operate with the independent Uyghur tribunal of Sirusb Geoffrey Nice, QC.
We are not alone. Countries around the world are declaring genocide, and Parliaments in Europe are watching us today and will take our lead. At a previous genocide debate, when we were shamefully denied a vote, I quoted the late Rabbi Sacks. When he was asked where was God during the holocaust, he responded that the question is not: where was God? The question is: where was man? Men and women in this House—the mother of all Parliaments—will do all we can to ensure that atrocities like the holocaust can never again take place.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). I congratulate her on obtaining this debate and on the excellent work she has been doing with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and on the Trade Bill. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Uyghurs, I pay tribute to the many colleagues who have been working with us over the past few years to raise awareness of the seriousness of the situation in Xinjiang.
This House has repeatedly heard evidence of sterilisation, mass extrajudicial internment, organ harvesting and modern-day slavery. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary himself described them as abuses “on an industrial scale” and as “mass torture”. I will not repeat the stories here, because I know colleagues will be talking about them in detail, but we should not have to tell them again and again to get action. I wish to use my time to put a few questions to the Minister.
First, it has become clear to all of us that the Government’s policy on genocide is untenable. They cannot continue to insist that the determination of genocide is for the courts, knowing that there is no court that can actually hear these cases. The current policy far predates the current Government. We should be honest about this and look beyond party politics. It has become an embarrassment to Ministers. It is patently absurd to insist on this being a matter for courts, which will be blocked from acting. Can the Minister tell us what plans the Government have to review and reform this policy?
Secondly, the Minister will know that Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, has convened a tribunal to conduct an independent and credible interrogation of the evidence. Will he confirm that the Government will do everything possible to co-operate with the Uyghur tribunal, including providing evidence and agreeing to take seriously what will be a rigorous and impartial judgment when the process is complete? Our all-party parliamentary group has written to the Minister about this twice but so far has received no response.
Thirdly, we know that in 2016 Beijing installed Chen Quanguo as secretary of Xinjiang. Within a year, he had turned it into probably the world’s most heavily policed region. When the Government finally announced the Magnitsky sanctions, why did they leave out the organ grinder, Chen Quanguo? He is believed to be the architect of the Xinjiang atrocities and, indeed, those in Tibet. We are now in a position of having sanctioned the entity he runs and helped to turn into an instrument of oppression—the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—but not Quanguo himself. Surely the Minister must see that this is not rational. The United States has sanctioned him. Will this Government commit today to sanctioning him as well?
When I set up the APPG on Uyghurs in 2019, I was contacted by an official from the Chinese embassy, who I agreed to meet in order to discuss the then recently built internment camps. The Chinese official was quick to remind me that the west has no moral high ground to lecture China, given our own interventions in history—indeed, he sent me several emails to that effect—but to engage in whataboutery is to deny and distract from the point.
Since 1948, we have witnessed genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, northern Iraq and now China and Myanmar. That is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, some grave crimes against humanity go unreported in the mainstream media and are never classified as genocide. The response to these atrocities has always been inadequate. Whenever a genocide takes place, there is a collective wringing of hands, but the promise to break the relentless and devastating cycle of genocide has never materialised. How many times have we heard the words “never again”?
This has gone on long enough. The Minister will be aware that the United States has recognised this as genocide. The Canadian House of Commons, the Dutch Parliament and others have declared it to be genocide. A 25,000-page report by over 50 international lawyers says that what is happening in Xinjiang is genocide, with every single one of the criteria in the 1948 United Nations convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide being breached. The UK’s policy on genocide risks us defaulting on our obligation under the genocide convention. Let us pass this motion today, and I urge the Government to act on it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this debate and leading on the BEIS Committee inquiry and the excellent report on which this debate is based. It is a remarkable feat to have done both. I concur with my hon. Friend’s tribute to our right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan: I came into Parliament at the same time as her and she was simply a remarkable woman. It was right to mention her in this debate because she stood with us on every one of the votes that we had in the recent debates on genocide. Even though she was ill and housebound, she stayed with us throughout; that shows some courage and some bravery and I salute her for that.
I want to raise one thing before I come to the other points of debate. I have been listening to people over the past week, and I now worry about the environment, which may seem a peculiar issue to raise first but I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to take note of this. I have noticed a number of people saying how important and vital it is—of course—for China to be involved in and sign up to all these pledges on the environment. My slight worry is that China will use the process to leverage any action that we may wish to take, so I want to make sure that when we talk about China and the environment, we no longer try to use it as a balancing point for why we should not take action against China in areas such as the genocide against Uyghur women, the treatment of Tibetans, the appalling treatment of inner Mongolians, the treatment of Christians, the organ harvesting of the Falun Gong and the treatment of other groups. All are abuses that must be called out: whether or not we need China to co-operate on other matters, we cannot simply say that one matter is worth some sacrifice over the other. It is not, and I for one will continue to call that out.
Let me come back to the main points of the debate, which are the ones raised by the Select Committee. They are really important points and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden touched on a number of them. I wish to highlight a couple. First, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, whose inquiry is ongoing, has said that his inquiry is
“certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.”
That is the organ harvesting of victims in the power of the state. I thought that we, collectively as nations, decided never ever to see this happen again. In the 1940s, Nazi Germany practised organ harvesting and strange science on people in captivity—mostly the Jewish people, but others, too. How can we hear that and lock it away in a box? It is astonishing that we should even be thinking that it is just an item for debate. It is not. It is redolent of the terrible times that we and others went through, and we decided never again. But it is again, and on an industrial scale.
The Conservative party human rights commission report shows four years of human rights deterioration in China between 2016 and 2020. The Select Committee report clearly identifies how Uyghur slave labour operates in supply chains. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said, the 84% drop in birth rates is significant and shows categorically that forced sterilisation is taking place.
There are others out there who have been brave enough to call this out. BBC journalists covering mass rape and Uyghur abuse have been driven out of China. I see that even Sky faced up the other day and produced a report about the slave labour and the fact that these people, particularly men, are thousands of miles away from their homes in factories that are hidden from view and denied, but there they are—it is slave labour, forced labour.
The Better Cotton Initiative withdrew from the region in October 2020, citing:
“Sustained allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses”
“an increasingly untenable operating environment”.
That is the reality of a wealthy, powerful country that intends to be wealthier and more powerful—perhaps the dominant economy and dominant military power—and that believes it can get away with anything. So far, too often, it has. That is the point of this debate and what the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden was all about. She clearly laid out the definition of genocide: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. These are the definitions of genocide. On every one of those counts we have evidence to show that a genocide is taking place, specifically of the Uyghur people, but very likely, as I said, of others like the Tibetans as well. We know that the Chinese have been killing members of the group and causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. All these things are going on.
If we believe that there is evidence on every one of those counts, the question is: why have we not declared this a genocide? I urge my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government to rethink their position on this. We will not gain any particular friendship by not calling out genocide from the Chinese. It is simply not a tradeable item. The UK has said endlessly, and I understand this, that only a competent court can declare a genocide. That was absolutely the original plan, but the problem is that getting to a competent court is impossible. At the United Nations it is impossible to get to the International Court of Justice. It is impossible to get to the International Criminal Court because China is not a signatory to that and therefore will not obey it, and anyway we will not be able to do that because it will be blocked in the debates at the UN. The whole purpose of the belt and road project is to protect China from any action taken at the UN. It has now collected a coalition of nations that are being given huge sums of money by it. In many cases, they vote with it in the UN regardless on matters like these.
Therefore, we have a problem—how can we get there? The only way, really, is what other countries have taken to doing now. The United States has made it clear that it believes that this is a genocide. Holland has followed suit and so has Canada. I hope, therefore, that today we will do so too. If we think that the American Administration that has just come in is going to somehow walk away from the previous Administration on this, it is worth quoting what is being said in the United States. The new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said:
“My judgment remains”—
he is referring to the statement by Mike Pompeo, his predecessor—
“that genocide was committed against the Uyghurs and that has not changed.”
So now two Administrations in America line up behind this and still stand up for it. On 22 February 2021, Canada’s Parliament voted unanimously on a motion to declare the situation in Xinjiang a genocide. On 25 February 2021, the Dutch Parliament, the States General, passed a non-binding motion declaring that the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang amounts to a genocide. What do we have to know? We have to have significant reports, witness testaments, satellite imagery and Chinese local governmental data, and we have all of that. It is out there in the public domain now, and more and more is being
Let us think a little bit about the victims, whose relatives are out on the square today protesting about their treatment, and who speak terribly of what has happened. The former detainee Tursunay Ziawudun said that every night they were removed from their cells and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. She went on to say that she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men. That is the evidence that we need as part of our statement that this is a genocide, and that evidence exists. That is but one of a whole series of people who have given such evidence, so we have to hold China to account.
Others want to speak, so I conclude by saying to my hon. Friend that, today, this Parliament has a historic chance, together—regardless of party difference in most other matters—to hold its head up, stand tall and stand for those who have no voice. We, the mother of all Parliaments, should today take pride in the fact that if this motion goes through unopposed, it is the voice of the United Kingdom Parliament—the Parliament of a free people, who believe in human rights and in freedom and human rights for others around the world. Let us make the statement today, loud and clear, that the UK has not forgotten the Uyghurs and others, and that we will stand for them and insist that our Government do exactly the same by calling this a genocide.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this debate and on all the work that she has been doing on this matter. The most distressing and horrific persecution taking place today is that of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China. I remind the House that Muslims are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan—a month of fasting, reflection, charity and prayer. It pains me that millions of Uyghur Muslims are facing some of the harshest abuses that one can imagine during this holy period.
As vice-chair of the all-party group on Uyghurs, I have been highlighting the plight of Uyghur Muslims for several years and have heard, at first hand, harrowing testimonies from survivors, family members and those who have witnessed what I can only call inhumane and chilling human rights abuses. The Chinese Government appear to be engaged in what some experts are calling a campaign of demographic genocide. I fear that the gravity of my words and efforts are simply not being matched by the world’s reaction and, more worryingly, by this very Government.
Members know already that the persecution of the Uyghurs is not new. For decades, they have faced repression at the hands of the Chinese Government, but it has escalated to an entirely new scale. Report after report has highlighted the mounting evidence of human rights abuses and shown that Beijing has violated each and every act banned by the United Nations convention against genocide. The action that the Chinese authorities are taking in Xinjiang contravenes China’s own constitutional provisions on freedom of religion and its obligation under the 1948 universal declaration of human rights.
The Foreign Secretary said in January that we should not be doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”—
yet by rejecting the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, the Government have done everything they can to protect the UK’s right to do trade deals with potentially genocidal states. Global Britain, it seems, is just empty rhetoric, with no substance.
Because the words “never again” are utterly meaningless if we fail to act, history will remember us, and we have a moral duty to step in and stop these heinous crimes. Powerful interventions from faith communities, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, have passionately called on the Government to support the genocide amendment, and the Jewish community has even drawn a parallel between the horrors in Xinjiang and the holocaust. Despite that, the Government continue to drag their feet on holding China to account. Instead, they put trade above human rights. They must continue to press the Chinese Government to close detention camps, cease indiscriminate surveillance and restrictions on religion and culture, and allow independent experts and UN officials proper access to Xinjiang.
After the genocides in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Darfur, we said, “Never again.” I hope that we can all agree that we cannot add Xinjiang to that list. I urge the Government not to turn a blind eye to millions of innocent lives because of economic interest.
Another day, another debate on the industrial scale of human rights abuses by the Chinese regime. Here we are again, and I am delighted that we are; I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who has so championed the cause, and wholeheartedly endorse everything she said. Together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the rest of the magnificent seven parliamentarians, she and I wear our sanctioning with a badge of honour.
I hope that the message has now got through that the productivity of the seven of us has increased sharply since that inept act by the Chinese regime of putting us on the arbitrary and ridiculous sanctions list. Let me tell the Chinese Government: they ain’t seen nothing yet, because this will go on every day of every week that we can possibly raise it in this place and on the platforms afforded to us as parliamentarians. They have really fired us up to make sure that that is a promise we will deliver.
I wholeheartedly support the motion, to which I have added my signature. Although Tibet is not within its strict scope, everything that has been said so far applies to Tibet and its people, who have been oppressed with similar tactics for the last 62 years, since the occupation of that peace-loving people in the Tibetan region of China back in 1959.
I absolutely take up the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made about the environment. China is guilty of abusing not just its own people, but the planet, more than any other nation on this earth. Neither is acceptable; one is not a trade-off against the other, if that is the attitude that it wants to take when it comes to COP26. Both need to be called out, and on both it needs to mend its ways—they go hand in hand.
It is a shocking reality that genocides have never properly been called out and thwarted at the time that they happen—genocides against the Jews, genocides against the Muslims in Srebrenica, genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur, and the many other genocides that go unnamed and are not properly detected, as the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) mentioned. I include in that list the Armenian genocide of 1915 and 1916, when 1 million to 1.5 million men, women and children died at the hands of the Ottomans. On Saturday, in Yerevan and around the world, tributes will be paid and flowers laid; I will do so on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on Armenia at the Cenotaph tomorrow in commemoration of that terrible genocide, which this country needs to recognise, more than 100 years on.
We talk about debating the subject. Under article I of the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, the United Kingdom is obliged, along with all other UN members,
“to prevent and to punish”
genocide—not just to talk about it, although it is good that we are doing that, but actually to do something about it.
We have heard all the clear evidence on what is going on in Xinjiang province; I will not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said. We know that China formally recognised the Uyghurs as an ethnic minority among its exhaustive list of the no fewer than 56 ethnic groups that comprise its population, along with the Tibetan people. Under China’s own constitution, those minorities and their cultures and identities should be protected, but they are being obliterated. China is trying to assimilate them within its main population, so whatever we may think in terms of international law, it is falling foul of its own constitution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) said, the Chinese regime, in doing what it has done to suppress free speech, has committed an act against this Parliament and the privileges that we have in this Parliament. It is a naked act of aggression against free speech.
It is clear that what is happening is genocide. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden put it starkly: if a state-orchestrated and race-targeted birth rate plunge of two thirds in two years is not genocide, what is? If mass internment, slave labour, systematic rape, torture and live organ harvesting, mass sterilisation, womb removal, forced abortion, secretly located orphan camps, brainwashing camps and the psychological trauma of these combined atrocities do not amount to genocide, under any of the definitions, what does? There is a saying, “If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck.” This sounds like, looks like and is genocide, and it needs to be called out loud and clear for what it is.
I urge the Minister again, who has been very supportive. We are very grateful for the very supportive words of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister, who I am glad to see here again today, and of the Speaker and the Lord Speaker in support of the magnificent seven. But why, oh why, are we not going further in the sanctions against people who are clearly guilty of waging genocide on other Chinese citizens? Chen Quanguo absolutely needs to be on that list; he has been committing genocide against the Uyghurs since 2016, having learnt and plied his trade in Tibet against the Tibetans before that.
We need to do more to support those businesses that are being thrown out of Xinjiang and that are in some cases taking a stand. We need to have a proper audit of our universities and schools. I hear that the Prebendal School in Chichester, in my own diocese, is now under threat of being taken over by the Chinese, and this is on top of no fewer than 17 senior schools around the UK that are now under the control of senior Chinese figures in the Chinese communist party. This is happening in our country, on our watch. We need to flush it out; we need to put the spotlight on it.
The contacts the Chinese have within our military research and their activities within our infrastructure projects—we have to have a full and thorough audit of the tentacles of the Chinese regime in UK society up and down this country. There are still artificial intelligence firms with links to persecution of Uyghurs funding research at British universities. They are funding places at PhD and post-doctoral research positions at Surrey University, for example, despite having been placed on a US blacklist in 2019. I pay tribute to the University of Manchester, which cancelled an agreement with the Chinese electronic company CETC after warnings that it supplied the tech platforms and apps used by Beijing’s security forces in the mass surveillance of the Uyghurs. We need to do more to make sure we are not aiding and abetting these parts of the Chinese regime.
Last month, the Foreign Office admitted that the Uyghurs were being harassed and abused in the UK itself, so it is not just happening within China. As the Foreign Secretary said, this is being done to intimidate them into silence, and they are being urged to report on other Uyghurs to the police.
Rahima Mahmut, the UK director for the World Uyghur Congress, who has bravely stood up and is one of the mouthpieces for the Uyghur population here, was in Parliament Square earlier. In an article in The Telegraph, she gave some chilling examples of Uyghur exiles in this country being intimidated by the long tentacles of the Chinese regime while in the supposed safety of this country. Those exiles are ominously reminded that they have relatives back in China. A Uyghur woman received texts every day from the Chinese police urging her to spy on other Uyghurs in the UK and saying, “Remember, your mother and your sisters are with us.”
This regime does not stop at its own borders and we need to stand shoulder to shoulder and offer whatever support we can to protect those Uyghur refugees, Tibetan refugees and other victims of oppression by China who find themselves in this country. They deserve our safety and our succour, and we need to give them more to protect them from the dangers that they are going through.
I also urge the Minister: we should be encouraging our diplomats to speak out. Last week, I cited the example of the new British ambassador in Beijing who had been hauled over the coals for just mentioning the free press to the Chinese Government. John Sudworth, the BBC correspondent in Beijing, has had to flee from Beijing, after reporting on human rights abuses, because of fears for his own safety and the safety of his family. We must encourage these people to continue to speak out.
Given that list of people and organisations that have called things out, does my hon. Friend not find it strange that no UK university that is receiving funds from the Chinese has condemned any of the action that is going on publicly, or, for that matter, condemned the action of the Confucius Institutes, which spy on Chinese students in universities?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have long been calling out the Confucius Institutes, which are not only on the campuses of UK universities, stuffing gold into the mouths of vice-chancellors, but, increasingly, in our schools as well. When I visited a secondary school in my constituency, which teaches Mandarin, I was alarmed to see that it now has a Confucius Institute classroom sponsored by the Chinese. The Chinese are not doing this because they just like to be nice to our schools; they are doing it because they have an agenda and they are trying to control people around the world and suppress people who want to speak out against them.
I echo the closing words of my right hon. Friend. Today, we stand up in this place for those without any voice. That is an advantage of being a parliamentarian—we use our voice to stand up for, speak out for and protect those without a voice and those who are in danger. Let us, with that voice—loudly and clearly—make sure that this motion goes through today to show China once and for all that it has been called out, that there will be consequences, and that there are consequences, for its industrial scale abuse of human rights, and that, in this country at least, freedom and the freedom of speech, of faith and of worship count for something and it had better acknowledge that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on bringing this debate to the House today and on continuing to stand up for what is right.
China’s modernisation and rise to being a global power has been the defining phenomenon of the last 40 years, but not all communities and peoples under the control of Beijing have benefited from that rise. The Chinese Communist party has been ruthless in response to any perceived threats to its ideology and control. The tanks in Tiananmen Square were symbolic of a process that has continued largely unnoticed until the very public crushing of Hong Kong’s defence of democracy.
Today’s debate is about the persecution of the traditionally Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang province. It is about a genocide taking place right now. But, as we have heard, many Members also share concerns about Chinese actions in Tibet and there are close links between the two communities in the UK.
Today, I would like to highlight, yet again, the work of a new campaign group co-founded by my constituent, Kirsty Robson. It challenges us to learn lessons from the holocaust and to break the cycle of impunity for perpetrators that allows atrocities to continue. Its work is very much needed now.
I also want to acknowledge BBC journalist John Sudworth, who was driven out of China last month by harassment following BBC coverage of China’s persecution of the Uyghurs. Thanks to John and his work and the bravery of others in speaking out, we know that 1 million or more Uyghurs are interned in detention and re-education camps in Xinjiang province—camps that are dedicated to achieving transformation through education. It is where Uyghur traditions, beliefs and language are intensively undermined and the Uyghur community as a whole is treated like a terrorist network to be squashed.
The existence of those camps is admitted by the Chinese Government, who describe them as “voluntary”. That is completely lacking in credibility, and we have heard today the horrific reality of the vast numbers of deaths and the terrible treatment in those camps. Alongside the camps there is widespread slave labour, with hundreds and thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities forced to work in vast cotton fields and factories, the produce of which is undoubtedly—and mostly unchecked—feeding through into major UK stores. I am confident that consumers would be appalled if they realised that.
When bureaucracies and armies are given free rein and there is no accountability, women and children are very often on the receiving end of atrocities. That is what has happened in Xinjiang following a visit by Xi Jinping in 2014, when he urged tough action against the Uyghur population in response to a terrorist attack. Since then there have been more reports of forced sterilisation as a means of population control, reports of systemic rape, torture of women in camps, and children being taken from their families and sent to state orphanages and boarding schools to break family and cultural ties.
Thanks to the work of Yet Again, I was able to hear the personal story of Uyghur activist Rahima Mahmut, who has lived in the UK since 2000. What she expressed was chilling. She also tells of the crushing of peaceful demonstrations in her home town of Ghulja in the 1990s, and of the pressure on the families of those who have sought refuge abroad. Her report shows that while Chinese authorities claim to target religious extremists, they really see any practising Muslim there as an enemy. Their actions make a real mockery of China’s constitutional protection of religious belief.
East Renfrewshire is home to Scotland’s largest Jewish community, and every year I join events on and around Holocaust Memorial Day, which is a privilege and always gives me significant pause for thought. That is when we reflect on that dreadful event and say “never again.” But here we are, knowing that a genocide is unfolding—let us be clear: that is what it is—and yet the UK Government seem unwilling to do anything about it beyond ritual diplomacy.
We must recognise and act on the atrocities facing the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China. They cannot be ignored as the UK scrambles for trade deals. To help achieve that, yet again we are partnering with the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities to hold an event for the Jewish community to find out more about what is happening to the Uyghurs. We should all, including the Chinese Communist party, take a lead from that determination to learn the lessons from history. This must stop, and it is our responsibility to stand up and be counted to make that happen now.
In 1948 the UK, along with other countries right around the world, signed the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. It was a commitment that this country made towards ensuring that the atrocities perpetrated during the second world war would never happen again, and yet 73 years later we find ourselves hearing of the horrors facing the Uyghurs in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. Removing the thin guise of tackling terrorism and separatism, we have heard the truth of what is really happening in that region’s education—re-education—camps. Numerous robust and independent reports over a number of years lay bare the overwhelming evidence that the Chinese Government are interning the Uyghur people on a mass scale, subjecting them to brutal forced labour and physically and psychologically abusing them.
I pay tribute to my colleagues who, despite intense intimidation, have worked tirelessly to raise the plight of the Uyghurs in this House, and have spoken movingly and with great knowledge and skill, asking the Government to honour their commitments under the Genocide convention. We are all aware, given the veto that China has at the UN Security Council, of the challenge that the International Court of Justice faces to be able to pronounce that genocide is occurring in Xinjiang. In light of that, like all western countries, we need to think very carefully and critically about our current and future relationship with China. That is particularly so on issues of trade, investment and domestic infrastructure and the relationship between our universities and the Chinese Government.
I am not blind to the fact that China is a major player on the world stage and that we have been told this is an ever-increasingly globalised world, although I think that that is no longer an assertion beyond challenge. However, as British politicians it is our duty to stand up and speak for those who have been silenced. The motion from my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) is an attempt at just that, but it also serves a wider awareness-raising purpose. It ought to prompt the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for International Trade to reflect on the role that our embassy teams in China have in terms of promoting trade, particularly in sensitive areas.
Digital and energy security are the most obvious of those, and clear moves to reassess the wisdom of our country’s links and reliance in those fields are already visible, but another area quite rightly coming under the spotlight is education. It is a mistake to allow action over what is going on in Xinjiang to be restricted to that area alone. It is about China, its economy, its Communist leadership as a whole and about our Government, but it is also about wider British societal responses to those abuses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) wrote powerfully and convincingly in The Daily Telegraph recently about the need for the UK university sector to change its approach to China. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has added to that here today.
The independent international education sector also needs to give the matter serious consideration. I wrote about that for the Independent School Management Plus magazine as chairman of the all-party group on independent education some months ago. At the weekend, The Times quoted me and others in warning of the dangers, moral and financial, of our independent schools setting up satellite schools in China given the human rights abuses in Xinjian most starkly of all, but also in Tibet and Hong Kong, and the increasing menace towards Taiwan. It is highly relevant today in terms of what ought to be done.
I have some sympathy for schools that set up in China 10, 15 or 20 years ago when envisaging a different direction of travel in China and when seeking to be part of it was entirely plausible, but it is much harder to have any sympathy for those seeking to do so afresh now because we know, so clearly, what is going on in Xinjiang and beyond in China. We know that it is no longer possible, in anything more than a merely superficial way, to impart the values of British education and those of the schools and their long and worthy traditions: freedom of thought, racial equality, questioning, liberalism in the best sense of that word, and looking at the truth. They are just not possible in China, including nowadays in Hong Kong. It is akin to seeking to set up a British school in South Africa in 1975 and not worrying about the reputational damage, saying that local rules and customs must be respected and adhered to.
Elsewhere in the world, of course, there are accommodations and compromises to be made in having satellite schools. I am not one of those people who believes that we can morally trade or share educational practice only in exemplar nations such as those in Scandinavia or Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But when the line between authoritarian government and totalitarian government is not only crossed but, via genocide, left way behind as it has been in China, it is time to think again. It is time for the FCDO to reflect on the embassy’s attitude in the educational space in line with that.
I conclude with thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden for all her work in this area and for getting this debate to happen.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this incredibly important debate, and Members from across the House on their moving contributions.
What is happening to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang amounts to genocide as defined under the genocide convention. We are all used to assuming that genocide happens quickly—mass graves come to mind—but genocide can also happen more gradually: one baby not born, one identity forever altered by intimidation or indoctrination. On a mass scale it all leads to one end: the erasure of a people. So whatever its pace, it must be stopped.
We have limited time, so in my remarks I want to focus on women and children. Recent evidence has come to light of how Uyghur are being taken from their relatives and placed in state orphanages while their parents are detained. There are stories of children being taken while in school. Imagine that, Mr Deputy Speaker: one minute they are learning their times tables, and the next they are bundled into a car with a stranger and taken to a boarding school. Once they are there, they are forced to undergo political indoctrination, they suffer neglect and they are denied contact with their families, who are often taken to camps at the same time. According to Human Rights Watch, some children are warned that their behaviour could affect their relatives’ prospects of release. There has been a 76% increase in the number of children in Xinjiang’s state boarding school facilities since 2017. That correlates with the expansion of detention camps over the same period. As I am sure the House is aware, a prohibited act under the genocide convention definition of genocide is
“forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
But that is not all; sexual violence is systematically perpetrated on women and girls, as was so powerfully exposed by the BBC. An Associated Press investigation in 2020 found that Uyghur women were subjected to forced regular pregnancy checks, intrauterine devices, sterilisation and abortions. It stated:
“Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.”
Some women have reported being threatened with internment if they refuse to undergo the procedures. In some Uyghur regions, birth rates have fallen in recent years by more than 60%.
Of course, Chinese state media dismiss that and argue that population growth is higher in the Uyghur population than the Han population. However, that comparison is nonsensical. The correct comparison is between the Uyghur population before those interventions and afterwards. Critically, the comparison must be recent—within the last five years, not over the many decades that are often cited.
Birth rates depend on many factors, including social structure, religious beliefs and economic prosperity. While we all appreciate the positive effect that family planning can have in empowering women and promoting development, the key thing is that the woman should have full agency over what happens to her body. They should not be coerced or even forced, as many Uyghur women report. This is not the benign-sounding family planning—oh no; this is state-sponsored policy designed to suppress the population of a minority group for political, not public health, reasons.
It is clear to me that the evidence we have does meet the criteria for genocide in demonstrating a clear
“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
They take away their children, indoctrinating boys and girls by making them orphans after kidnapping their parents. They erase their ethnicity through forced marriages. They coerce women to undergo procedures that the women feel they have no choice in.
Of course a full determination and prosecution of genocide should pursued through the United Nations and the international courts—we all agree with that—but while we know that this is going on, how can we ignore it? How can we watch our words and wait until a UN-led investigation is allowed in by a defensive and unco-operative Chinese state? It is not going to happen. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past, as we did with the Yazidis. In 2016, this place voted to recognise that a genocide was occurring, but then nothing happened and thousands died.
The UK has imposed sanctions on some officials, which is welcome, but the Liberal Democrats want that to be extended. I also want to hear whether the Minister supports a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Beijing winter Olympics. That would send a clear message to the Chinese Government. We have to do more: enough with the hand-wringing; enough prevarication.
If we end up being proved wrong because an independent UN inspector goes in and is allowed to do their work, and it is shown that we all got the wrong end of the stick, I would welcome that. I would rather be wrong now than be on the wrong side of history later.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this important debate. I pay tribute to the wonderful and important work that she has been doing on this issue. Human rights abuses in Xinjiang are abhorrent, and I listened painfully to what my hon. Friend said about the disgusting forced sterilisation, and to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said about the equally repugnant organ harvesting. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) spoke with perpetual eloquence on Tibet and other issues related to China.
In the time available, I would like to speak to three brief points: first, the importance of recognising what is happening; secondly, specifically for the Minister, the importance of developing a policy in an inconsistent world that is morally and practically defensible; and, thirdly, what the UK is often very good at, which is building alliances around the world to protect what one might call ethical sustainability for the 21st century.
On the first point—I will be wary of time, Mr Deputy Speaker—we need to recognise the systematic suffering of other human beings whose lives are being damaged because they are being targeted en masse. That is important in itself. As certain Members have already said, we do it for the same reason that we did it in the Balkans and in Syria in recent years. We have done it in past decades in the holocaust and now have started to do with the Ukrainian holodomor—the mass starvation of the Ukrainians in the 1930s by Stalin.
The painstaking recording of death, of lives cruelly ended and of human suffering speaks to a shared ethical core of humanity and our need to record what has happened to other human beings. We do that in memory of the dead, but we also do it in recognition of the living. In relation to Syria, for example, a lot of work done recently by good people tracing the deaths, the murders and the mass slaughters has been funded by the FCDO. I congratulate it on its foresight in that, but it prompts the question whether it will be doing the same in Xinjiang. Might it start doing the same in Tibet, too? That is the first point. We record these things because they need to be recorded.
Secondly, we need a practical policy towards China that is defensible in an inconsistent world. Many improvements have been made to our policy on China in recent years by this Government, and I give them credit. We have moved on from the embarrassment of George Osborne turning up in Xinjiang about 10 years ago—that was just awful. It is nice to have politicians with an ethical strain running through them.
Janus-like, we still have two conflicting policies. One from the Foreign Office pledges to put human rights at the heart of everything we do, but our trade policy seeks to trade without asking too many questions. We have Foreign Ministers, including the Secretary of State, eloquently criticising China while Trade Ministers in the other House ingratiate themselves and dismiss human rights. This is not consistent. We pontificate on Africa, but are strangely silent on central Asia and China. It makes us look foolish and as though our values are somewhat tradeable.
We have heard of the Confucius institutes problem, the endless issues we have with the universities, and the plying for covert influence that China and Russia do in this country. We need policy—domestically and in foreign affairs—that is practical and morally defensible. No one can unilaterally change the world, not even the United States or China and not the UK, but we do have influence, and we need to understand the importance of developing consistency. Okay, we trade with China, but we need to limit our dependency.
I did a report with the Henry Jackson Society. A quarter of our British supply chain is dominated by China. The problem is that if we go further down that route, we end up like New Zealand, in a hell of an ethical mess, with a Prime Minister who virtue-signals while crudely sucking up to China and backing out of the Five Eyes agreement, which is an appallingly short-sighted thing to be doing. On that point, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australia. That is a tired cliché, but the Australians are calling out China, and doing so at trade risk. We need to make sure they do not pay an ethical price, and that brings me to the third point.
The one thing in our strategic culture that we are probably unique at—apart from being an island, which clearly shapes our geography and our outlook on the world—is that we have genuinely been better than any other nation on the planet at building alliances, whether that is from the colonial days or in the days of Europe and Protestants versus Catholics and all that. We need to build alliances for the 21st century. In the 21st century, there are two visions of humanity: there are open and free societies where political leaders are answerable to the people, and there are closed societies, which, through the use of artificial intelligence and big data, are becoming ever-more dominant and threatening to their people. We have to make sure our universal values survive, not only here but globally, so that, despite Russia, China and other regimes, they continue to be the go-to values for humanity for this century.
I stand by the motion before Parliament today and all who are supporting it. The importance of today’s debate grows with each contribution made. On our watch, a nation on this Earth is persecuting its people for their culture and faith, for the hope they carry and for the peace they want to extend. Their rights are being replaced by systematic brutality. In this holy period of Ramadan, Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province in China are being enslaved, tortured and persecuted, away from the public gaze. Technology and testimonies have exposed the zeal of Chinese officials to commit the darkest of atrocities against mankind.
This genocidal state can no longer sweet-talk the world into believing it is a reformed nation, as it has now unmasked its true identity. Through its encroachments in Tibet, Taiwan, Myanmar and now Hong Kong, its true character is being witnessed; it is there for all to see. We are being tested as to how we respond. We in the UK cannot be bystanders, and nor can we let any nation be so. We cannot be content with the few actions taken, since the growing number of horrific testimonies demand our focus and determination.
The Secretary of State says he needs a legal opinion to call China a genocidal state, so without a judgment or a court case, where is his alternative? With all the evidence to determine this genocide, this Parliament must not delay, and nor should this Government; there is no time. Each day, another truck pulls up and someone else disappears, then is stripped, then beaten, then electrocuted, then raped, then—the stories are too distressing. Women are reporting that, through sterilisation and abortion, their future is being denied. Their children are being taken; their lives are sucked from them.
We have sanctioned a few actors, but what about the others? What about those complicit with Xinjiang? Where is the curbing of their actions and inactions? We must talk trade, too. I know that the Minister says it is difficult. Of course it is difficult. They have drawn us into the web of their trading landscape and extended their tentacles across the globe, anchoring infrastructure, energy, communications, education, tourism, tech and so much more. It is all part of the plan.
Although this Government and the coalition before them were blindsided, it is time to withdraw, insert our commitment to human rights above trade expediency and take the unity of nations with us. To put the responsibility on companies to declare the source of their cotton is a woeful response. We cannot let China off the hook if one of its regions is prosecuting such violence, as the BEIS Committee report has demonstrated. These are heinous crimes against humanity.
It is not just the Uyghur. Christians have been disappearing for decades across China. Churches have closed and pastors have been jailed. It is now rapidly rising up the Open Doors world watch list as one of the most dangerous places for a person to profess their faith. Those who observe Falun Gong are having their organs harvested, and we now understand that Uyghur Muslims are too.
This June, China seeks to stand on the world stage at the G7 as a superpower state. However, unless human rights are advanced, as they must be, the summit here in the UK will only mock us all for being part of China’s pageantry. This is not about companies checking their supply chains; it is about the Government checking their values. It is about the Government holding others to account. It is ultimately about our Government refusing to walk with a regime set on genocide. The chilling, dark history of all genocides resounds in the Uyghurs’ story: none of us knows how many, but it is far too many.
This is not about re-education, abhorrent though that is; it is about enslavement and persecution, and it is the role of this Parliament to amplify this, to extend our warmth to the people of China who are suffering under this regime, and to support the diaspora communities the world over. It is also the purpose of this Parliament to stop crimes against humanity, and I trust that the cry from this debate will move the Government to do everything within their power to stop these atrocities being committed against the Uyghur.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this debate on one of the most pressing and grave human rights issues of our time.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Those words, often was misquoted and misattributed, can most accurately be traced back to the philosopher George Santayana. They now appear on tablets and plaques in museums, memorials and historical sites across the world. Most pertinently, they can be observed today in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp—the place where more than 1 million innocent men, women and children tragically lost their lives as a result of state-sponsored wholesale slaughter on an industrial scale. That concentration camp, and the words that can be found in it, should be taken by all of us who value human rights, including me and Members across the House, as a warning of the horror that humans are capable of when we are driven by our most base instincts. Instead of shying away from historical atrocities such as the holocaust, we must all strive to acknowledge and understand how they came to be, so that now and in the future such tragedies can actively be prevented. However, recent history teaches us that that is a lesson that humanity has yet to learn.
Since the holocausts from Rwanda to Cambodia and from Bosnia to Syria, tyrannical and totalitarian regimes have too often been able to discriminate against, persecute and murder segments of their populations with impunity, based on nothing more than someone’s ethnicity or faith. Such actions too easily and too often culminate in mass slaughter and genocide. Looking at the world in which we live today, we really need to examine the evidence of human rights abuses taking place. At this very moment, as is being increasingly and commendably recognised by fellow parliamentarians and foreign officials in democracies around the world, like America, Canada and the Netherlands, the persecution of Xinjiang’s Uyghur people is being thrust to the centre of the global stage.
Despite the best efforts of the Chinese Communist party’s officials and their affiliates via aggressive diplomacy, blatant disinformation, threats and coercion, evidence is mounting that this widespread persecution requires condemnation. From reports of organ harvesting and the forcible sterilisation of women—both heinous in equal measure—to the mass detention of at least 2 million Uyghurs across Xinjiang, which has long been the region of the world that this people called home, the evidence points to the fact that these officials and affiliates have been engaged for several years in verifiable and serious human rights abuses that not only constitute crimes against humanity but contravene article 4 of the People’s Republic of China’s constitution. That article, which supposedly guarantees the equality of all nationalities in China and prohibits any related discrimination or oppression, is undermined by the reported actions of the Chinese Government. Instead of helping to preserve the Uyghur way of life, culture, traditions and language, as enshrined in the constitution, the Chinese Communist party is reportedly actively seeking to destroy them and all those who claim them as their own. While today’s debate rightly focuses on the plight of the Uyghurs, we must not forget the numerous other groups in China also facing persecution, such as the Mongols, the Tibetans and, indeed, the brave Hongkongers.
If we, as Members of this House, wish to demonstrate that we have learnt from the horrors of recent history and show that we understand the meaning of the words “never again”, it is imperative that, where evidence exists of mass human rights abuses and crimes against humanity, such as those against the Uyghur in Xinjiang, it is highlighted, called out, confronted and condemned. That is why this debate, mirroring those being had in other democratic countries, is so important. It is also why I offer my unwavering and wholehearted support to this motion and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden, as well as all those other Members of this House and the Lords, academics, individuals and organisations who have been unscrupulously sanctioned by the Chinese Government.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart). All the speeches so far have been moving and powerful. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling the debate and particularly congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on the passion and determination that she has shown on this issue over many months, along with members of the APPG on Uyghurs. I know that this is an issue of great importance for many of my constituents. They want to see MPs and this Government stand up for human rights across the world. One constituent who wrote me to said that we need to
“demonstrate Parliament’s commitment to upholding basic human rights.”
Every year on Holocaust Memorial Day, we confirm that we have a shared responsibility to fight the evils of genocide. Today’s debate is about showing our fundamental commitment to human rights and specifically making clear our opposition to the horrific treatment of the Uyghur people and the other ethnic groups in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Members have described the state-sponsored arbitrary detention, displacement and forced labour of the Uyghur Muslims and others in the Xinjiang province.
I have time to address only two issues today. The first is the impact of Chinese state policy on women. As was said on foreignpolicy.com,
“Uyghur women are the most vulnerable…Their bodily autonomy has been violated through sexual, medical means and forced labor.”
The evidence is available in numerous reports from many sources which have found that the Uyghur women are raped, sterilised and forced to have abortions. Just reading those reports makes my blood run cold—a feeling that I am sure is shared across the House.
Secondly, I want to touch briefly on trade and the recent report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee which looked into the supply chain, particularly the concerns that companies across the world were profiting from forced labour in the province of Xinjiang. The link between global consumption and such atrocities is, sadly, not new and has been going on for centuries. I will give just one example. At the turn of the 19th century, we saw slavery in the Belgian Congo, along with forced displacement, arbitrary arrests and many other horrific crimes, while at the same time goods such as rubber flowed out of the Congo into Europe. Back then, campaigners from the Congo and activists across civil society—including, I am proud to say, a member of my family, William Cadbury—stood up in opposition to those atrocities and urged Parliament to act. It is therefore right that today Parliament considers our duty and our role on the world stage in standing up to these horrors.
However, our Government fail to address these serious concerns. On one hand, the Foreign Secretary describes what is happening in Xinjiang as
“barbarism we had hoped was lost to another era”—[Official Report, 12 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 160.]
and says that we should not be doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”—[Official Report, 12 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 168.],
and yet the Government whipped their MPs to vote against the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. Furthermore, legislation such as section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 needs to be amended to ensure that all companies have a responsibility to prove that their supply chains are free of forced labour, and we must strengthen the sanctions for non-compliance.
I was pleased that my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on the Opposition Front Bench called on the Government to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on officials responsible last year, and the Government finally listened and acted just last month. I welcome the Government’s acting, even if they did take rather a long time to do so, but they need to do more. The Biden Administration have described what is happening in Xinjiang as “acts of genocide,” yet the UK Government struggle to engage constructively in the debate and have to be forced to respond.
If the UK is to be a serious player in the world, our Government need to show leadership, demonstrate our British values and no longer see the issue merely through the prism of protecting the UK’s trade. I will not stand aside and Members here today will not stand aside. Our Government must no longer stand aside in the face of these appalling crimes.
May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing the debate? There are clearly human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang province in China. They are taking place in an otherwise peaceful nation, perpetrated by a cold, calculating state.
We have seen in Xinjiang the dehumanisation of the Uyghurs. They are subject to mass-surveillance; information is collected from and about them, including by teams who visit their homes. Religious activity has been suppressed. They have died in police custody. Women have been forcibly sterilised. Children have been forcibly transferred to what are euphemistically called “child welfare guidance centres”. More than 1 million have been detained without trial. We have seen Uyghurs herded on to trains to be used as forced labour, and there are widespread claims of torture and rape in labour camps. All the while, the Chinese state has used its advanced propaganda techniques to play down events in an attempt to present a false picture of a happy and contented native population.
Those features of Chinese Government action have been compared to the events of Europe in the 1940s. While I hesitate to use words such as fascist, as they are so often used liberally and misleadingly in public discourse, I do not think such comparisons are too wide of the mark. Events in Xinjiang have been condemned by all right-thinking people, and I certainly join in that condemnation.
There is the question of whether that amounts to genocide. I agree that it probably does. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) set out well and in detail the criteria under the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide and how they might be fulfilled by what has been done. I slightly hesitate. This might appear pedantic, but it is a technical question that requires a technical answer. Genocide is a crime, and it has been described as the crime of all crimes—it is the most heinous act that man can do to man—but there are limits to a Member of Parliament answering that question with authority. It is a legal question. The genocides of the 1940s and the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda were all adjudicated by courts. This House is not a court. As a Member of Parliament I can express a view on something, but I cannot adjudicate on a matter of genocide in the same way that I cannot adjudicate on, for example, a case of murder. However, I accept that passing a resolution in this House is an important symbolic move, and I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden on bringing the debate to the House.
We have seen action taken by the Government along with international allies to designate individuals responsible for violations and impose sanctions on them, including freezing their assets and travel bans. I appreciate that China’s role in the world makes action through the United Nations difficult, but I urge the Government to view the measures taken so far as the beginning, not the end, of those in this matter, to continue to put the maximum pressure on the Chinese Government, and to do everything we can to ensure that those who perpetrate these awful actions will never get away with it.
I absolutely support the motion and congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing the debate. The way China has treated the Uyghur community and other minority groups is abhorrent. That is why I and other hon. Members have spoken in the Chamber again and again to call on the Government to stand up to China and to stand with the Uyghurs.
It is long overdue for the Government to face the fact that what is happening is genocide. The CCP treats the Uyghurs as though they are not human and have no rights. It enslaves them and strips them of their dignity. Its dealings of intimidation and force means that their worth to the Chinese Government is only as much as picking cotton. This is a human rights abuse and must be called out. It is fundamentally wrong that children continue to be kidnapped or stolen from their parents, and women made victims of the most unspeakable and horrific sexual, violent and emotional crimes. This is what we need to do, but what more is happening that we actually do not know about?
This afternoon, we are hearing from hon. and right hon. Members about organ harvesting, rape and so much more. Our country and our Government cannot and must not ignore this, but again and again our country has denied the scale of the atrocities in China. The Government whip their MPs to keep the door open to trading, and have resisted strengthening our anti-slavery laws. After the miserable outcome of the Trade Bill debates, I wondered if our moral credibility could sink any lower, and then yesterday the news broke that the Foreign Office plans to cut foreign aid to China by 95%. Does the Foreign Secretary realise that this is just another blow to the oppressed people already struggling to survive in China? With one hand we are giving our money through trade to the CCP, and with the other hand we are taking it away from the victims of its regime.
A report published last month by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy found that the Chinese Government have violated every act in the second article of the Geneva convention. Over 30 global experts contributed to this report, finding China guilty of genocide—we have already heard that in this Chamber—and, in February, a survivor of a Uyghur prison camp said:
“Their goal is to destroy everyone”.
Yet our UK Government think they know best and they know better. The Government must take a stronger stand. Nothing we have said or done so far has made an impact on China’s programme of abuse. We must finally have the courage to condemn it as genocide and to take action to show China we will not tolerate it.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on her tireless and unwavering support of the Uyghur and her courageous refusal to be silenced, a sentiment that is of course extended to all those who have spoken out, even at their own personal cost.
How could we stay silent when the world is presented with such overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses? Nobody can turn a blind eye. There are accusations of torture, the forced abortion of babies, the sterilisation of women and the removal of their wombs. This must be stated for what it is: a genocide of the Uyghurs is happening before our eyes. Recent reports reveal the inhuman actions of Chinese Government officials in visiting the family members of those who have fled the region and then video-calling them from a relative’s phone threatening punishment for their family. It is persecution, it is manipulation and it is a horrifying 21st-century oppression. If we look on, history will condemn our unforgivable cowardice and ask why those in power did not act.
Last year, over 130 Members across the House joined me in expressing our horror in a letter directly to the Chinese ambassador. The embassy’s reply is truly chilling, stating that we have been “misled by lies of the century, cooked up by anti-China forces”. We are even warned: “It is hoped that UK parliamentarians will see Xinjiang’s development achievement from a comprehensive and objective manner. Do not spread or believe lies and do not take Xinjiang issues as an excuse to interfere in Chinese internal affairs.” Interfere? The flagrant denial of oppression in Xinjiang is almost as terrifying as the rare image or video that filters out. The Chinese Government’s actions must be stated for what they are—an apparatus of control with a systematic and calculated programme of ethnic cleansing against the Uyghur people.
So outraged was I at the embassy’s reply that I shared it directly with the Minister, but his response was just astonishing. He said that he recognised that there were internment camps with over 1 million Uyghurs. He acknowledged reports of forced labour. He noted human rights violations, so he proposed: more research. I say to the Minister that condemning the world’s next superpower is easy. Taking action is much harder.
The Foreign Secretary said in January that we should not be doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”—
yet by rejecting the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, the Government have done everything they can to protect the UK right to do deals with potentially genocidal states. Can the Minister explain this rank hypocrisy? Why have only four Chinese officials been sanctioned? Why has the Modern Slavery Act not been strengthened to ensure that UK business supply chains do not include workers subject to forced labour in Xinjiang? And why are we not calling this what it is: a genocide? Is it because he knows the international ramifications of arriving at that definition? A cowardly country could hide behind the linguistic excuse. Shame on us if we choose that path, because this time, no one can say that we did not know.
When we discuss genocide, we must understand the horrific ordeal that those who are persecuted suffer. Mr Deputy Speaker, imagine having your family and loved ones torn away from you, imprisoned, tortured, raped, sterilised and murdered, all for the crime of being who they were, or being different. Imagine being discriminated against for your belief or being subject to political or ideological indoctrination. For millions alive today, this shared nightmare is their reality and these horrors are just some of the sickening crimes being inflicted upon the Uyghur people, with knowledge, approval and consent from Beijing and the Chinese Communist party.
This is a genocide. More than 1 million Muslims, most of whom are Uyghurs, have been detained, indoctrinated, sterilised and tortured. We have not seen the systematic detention of an ethnic minority group on this industrial scale since the holocaust. This is not only an evil programme, designed to eradicate an entire culture, but an effort to profit off the back of human slavery, suffering and misery. At least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred from Xinjiang camps to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. The report entitled “Uyghurs for sale”, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, provides a damning insight into these slave factories. One factory in eastern China that manufactures shoes for Nike is equipped with
“watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.”
These crimes must cease. We, who live free, possess a moral duty to stand up to the Chinese Communist party and uphold the values of pluralism, decency and human rights. Doing nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence would render us complicit in this most monstrous crime. Enough of words alone. If the United Kingdom is to be regarded as a true defender of liberty, freedom and justice, we must act. The International Court of Justice’s position on genocide could not be clearer: the obligation to prevent arises the instant that a state party believes that there is a risk of genocide. The case law states that we are obliged to do all we can to protect the very moment that we reasonably suspect genocide is a serious risk. As parliamentarians, we must do all we can to stop these atrocities. The time to act is now.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on securing this very important debate, which could not come soon enough.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate. I know that I have the full support of hundreds, if not thousands, of residents in Putney and across the country in hearing about these issues today and seeking action. Really, I have had enough of speaking in debates and hearing the words “never again” about genocide. Talk is cheap and of little consequence to those who are suffering in Xinjiang right now. It is time to step up our actions, as we have heard from every speaker in the debate.
I was glad that the Government heeded the Opposition’s call to apply sanctions to Chinese officials who have played a role in the persecution. However, while I welcome that, I still cannot understand why the Government whipped their MPs to oppose the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill and are refusing to engage constructively in this debate today. I may hear otherwise from the Minister later. It is just not good enough. By rejecting the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, the Government have protected the UK’s right to do trade deals with genocidal states, which I do not think any member of the British public wants to do.
Language is a powerful tool, and we need to start calling the situation what it is: a genocide. Genocide is the intent to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group. That is what is happening in Xinjiang. Hundreds of thousands of women have had birth control forcibly inserted. There is mass organ harvesting, slavery, gang rape and torture of a whole people. Two major independent analyses have investigated reports of alleged genocide in the Xinjiang region, and one of those was a formal legal opinion. Both reports conclude that there is sufficient evidence that the prohibited acts specified within the genocide convention and the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court have been breached with regard to the Uyghurs. How much more evidence do we have to keep on seeking before we declare the situation a genocide? One of the reports, from the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, conducted by over 30 independent global experts, found that the Chinese state is in breach of every act prohibited in article 2 of the genocide convention.
As has been mentioned several times, investigations by the United Nations and international courts are being blocked by China. The system simply is not working. We need another route to legitimately declare the systematic acts by the Chinese authorities as genocide. People’s tribunals such as the Uyghur tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, are one of the few remaining routes to establish an independent, impartial and informed legal investigation into the suspected crimes taking place right now and to gather evidence for future prosecution so that there can be justice. For that reason, I am very pleased that the Uyghur tribunal has been established. I would like an assurance from the Minister today that the Government will commit to co-operating with, examining and acting on the findings of the tribunal.
Between now and then, though, there are still concrete actions we can take, and I will outline four. First, we must declare this a genocide. We could do that now through this motion, which I will be supporting, or if not, through making Government time for a further debate in which we can make that declaration. America, the Netherlands and Canada have done this.
Secondly, the Foreign Secretary has described what is happening in Xinjiang as
“barbarism we had hoped was lost to another era”.—[Official Report, 12 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 160.]
Therefore, when will this House be presented with legislation strengthening section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 so that all companies have a responsibility to prove that their supply chains are free of forced labour, and also strengthening sanctions for non-compliance?
Thirdly, in the light of Beijing’s decision to sanction British Members of Parliament, including the hon. Member for Wealden, for raising legitimate concerns around genocide in Xinjiang, does the Foreign Secretary intend to defend our democracy by conducting an audit of every aspect of the UK’s relationship with China? Fourthly, what steps is he taking to make sure that the UK leads international efforts to ensure that the United Nations is given full and unfettered access to conduct investigations in the Xinjiang region?
Enough talk: it is time for the Government to stop tiptoeing around this issue and make a proper stand against the abuses taking place in Xinjiang. That is what the British public want. History will not look kindly on those who look the other way.
I am pleased to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on setting the scene, and all her colleagues in the magnificent seven who are prepared to take a stand in this House, in the other House and outside Parliament. Despite the Chinese Communist party’s attempts to conceal the unconscionable human rights abuses carried out in Xinjiang, we hold clear and irrefutable evidence, which hon. Members have referred to, of the atrocities being perpetrated against the Uyghurs there.
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. In that role, I am aware of a systematic campaign against freedom of religious belief in China: the religious activities of the country’s more than 70 million Christians, 10 million Falun Gong and 8 million Tibetan Buddhists are also severely restricted, with widespread state surveillance, harassment and detention of religious leaders. The Chinese Government have created a stifling and intimidating environment for Tibetan Buddhists who wish to practise their religion, with surveillance, travel restrictions and re-education programmes.
The independent, London-based China Tribunal has also found that it is beyond reasonable doubt that forced organ harvesting at a commercial level from these prisoners of conscience has been practised in China
“for a substantial period of time…by state organised or approved organisations or individuals.”
I believe it is time that the House called again, as it has in the past, for that to be ended as soon as possible.
I ask three things of the Government. First, while I welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s introduction of targeted sanctions, much more needs to be done to hold the Chinese Communist party to account. The Government’s integrated review states that FORB is a priority and they
“will not hesitate to stand up for our values”.
I know that the Government are committed to that and will do that, so as we prepare to host the G7 summit, the UK Government have the perfect opportunity to defend our values on a global stage. I therefore call on the Minister and the Government to lead their foreign counterparts at the G7 not only in demanding foreign access to Xinjiang with a collective voice, but in unequivocally condemning all human rights abuses in China. It is time to show the CCP that its substantial economic might can no longer buy silence from the west. Our values are not for sale.
I echo the request made by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) to lead calls for the 2022 winter Olympics to be moved from China. Allowing the genocide games to go ahead as planned is tantamount to the international community condoning the CCP’s actions. Moreover, if the Chinese Government plan to welcome thousands of people to China for the Olympics, perhaps they can first welcome UN human rights observers.
The CCP has already shown complete disregard for media freedoms. The BBC is banned from the country for the supposed crime of reporting on the abuses in Xinjiang province. While the UK Government are committed to protecting our journalists who are set to cover the games, can they ensure that our standards of press freedom are not compromised to spare China’s blushes? I call on Her Majesty’s Government to give public assurances to Britain’s world-class athletes that they will be protected if they choose to champion the cause of those oppressed by the very officials who are charged with their protection.
Finally, I stress that this would not be the first time that the Olympic games were played in the shadow of concentration camps. The 1935 request for a boycott of the Berlin games for the sake of minority and religious groups fell on deaf ears. We knew then, as we do now, the genocidal action that an authoritarian regime was taking against its religious minorities. More than 80 years later, when we see people with shaved heads, stripped of their belongings, lined up at gunpoint and loaded on to trains to dissident camps for no reason other than their peacefully held beliefs, those stark images should serve as a warning. Let us never again be forced to ask how the world could let that happen.
Throughout this debate, we have all heard the harrowing stories of the mass human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We have heard about the mass detention camps; forced labour; systematic campaigns of rape, sexual abuse and torture; forced sterilisation; the separation of children from their parents; the destruction of mosques; and the erasure of Uyghur culture.
The Chinese Communist party has a shambolic record on human rights, with long-established repression of Christians, Tibetans and Falun Gong. Indeed, the lessons learned from the oppression of Tibetans has been applied in Xinjiang. The Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy has concluded that the Chinese Government have breached every article of the UN genocide convention in their treatment of Uyghurs and bear responsibility for committing genocide. The UK Government cannot continue to appease China, given these crimes against humanity. It is imperative that the UK Government go beyond words of condemnation and use every possible avenue to end the persecution and punish those who have instigated and participated in it.
Given the overwhelming evidence of genocide, international authorities must be given the unfettered access to establish whether that it is taking place. We welcome the talks that are under way between China and the UN to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit Xinjiang but, given China’s intransigence and crackdown on critical voices from the international community, can we really be anything other than sceptical of China’s commitment to transparency? China’s delegate to the UN Human Rights Council panel said:
“The door to Xinjiang is always open , and we welcome the High Commissioner to visit Xinjiang”,
but we know that the Communist party’s attitude is far from welcoming.
In recent months, numerous accredited international journalists have been expelled from China. BBC World News has been banned and, as we heard earlier, the BBC’s John Sudworth left Beijing at short notice last month after nine years reporting from China, amid concerns for his family’s safety after he reported on the persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Shamefully, the Chinese Government imposed sanctions on five elected Members of Parliament for simply doing their jobs and speaking out against the horrific human rights abuses that are currently taking place. Who knows whether all of us who have spoken today could be added to that list? I say, feel free—we stand together and will not be silenced.
Given such behaviour, what faith does the Minister have that China will allow full access to the Human Rights Commissioner to visit Xinjiang for a full and robust investigation into the genocide that appears to be taking place? Indeed, what access to Xinjiang has been given to officials in the UK embassies in China? Will the Government support visits by groups of MPs, such as the APPG on Uyghurs and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, to see the reality for themselves?
Moreover, if China continues to be obstructive, what legislative action will the UK Government take? What can we learn from allies that seek to uphold the international rules-based order? To give one example, the USA enacted the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act 2018, which denies Chinese Government officials access to the US if they are responsible for implementing restrictions on Americans who seek access to Tibet. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has spoken today, has introduced a similar Bill, of which I am a sponsor; I urge the UK Government to give that Bill their full support and extend the legislation to cover other areas of China, including Xinjiang.
The time for appeasement is over. We cannot ignore the reality that the evidence of genocide is overwhelming. We have a moral duty to condemn it and accordingly to support the strongest possible action. The UK Government ought to declare that they regard the situation as genocide—genocide. Will the Minister do that today? The Government seem terrified of living up to their moral responsibilities. Despite lobbying from their own Back Benchers, last month they whipped their Members to defeat the anti-genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. It is inexplicable that the Government wanted to resist that amendment, although as we know from the Foreign Secretary’s leaked remarks, the Government appear to be more concerned with trade deals with the growth markets of the future than the protection of human rights.
The UK must follow other countries and introduce specific legislation to make clear its support for the Uyghurs as a persecuted community. For example, it is estimated that as much as 20% of the world’s cotton is gathered in Xinjiang, much of it by prisoners in camps; the Government should legislate to sanction any produce that originates from the province, to ensure that supply chains do not tacitly support slave labour. Furthermore, we need to offer asylum to those who escape persecution in China. If we can do it for those wishing to leave Hong Kong, we can do it for those fleeing genocide in Xinjiang. We need to protect Uyghur communities based here in the UK to ensure that they do not suffer intimidation from Chinese officials for bringing these abuses to light. Can the Minister commit to those measures?
Finally, although China has emerged as a global superpower, we cannot cower in fear as it systematically attempts to destroy the culture and lives of millions of people. We cannot be picked off nation by nation in turning a blind eye to genocide for the sake of trade deals. As we know from history, the true scale and horrific details of genocide rarely become fully known until much later. For all the statistics that we know of, for all the tormenting stories that we have heard of, and for all the secret images that have been smuggled out of China illustrating what is happening, the likelihood is that the situation is much, much worse. Therefore, we must be on the right side of history and take action now. This is not just a moral obligation, but a legal one, too. As a signatory to the UN genocide convention, the UK has an obligation
“to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide.”
We in the SNP wholly support this motion today. It is time for the UK Government to uphold that commitment to do everything in their power to prevent further atrocities from taking place and, in alliance with our international partners, ensure that the Chinese Government are held to account for their horrifying crimes.
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.
I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) for securing this debate, and I pay tribute to her, and to all hon. and right hon. colleagues who were the recipients of those ill thought-out and ludicrous sanctions announced by China recently, for their continued work on this important issue.
I of course acknowledge the strength of feeling across the House on this critically important issue. We have heard some powerful speeches from all parts of the House today. Parliaments and individual parliamentarians rightly play a pivotal role in drawing global attention to human rights violations, wherever they occur. I am very grateful for all the contributions and I will try to answer the points raised within the context of my speech. I am conscious that I need to leave my hon. Friend some time to wind up the debate.
As we have heard from across the Floor, the situation faced by Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang is truly harrowing. We have repeatedly emphasised our grave concern at the serious and widespread human rights violations occurring in the region. There are credible reports of the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghur people and other minorities in political re-education camps since 2017, extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities, forced separation of children from their parents, forced sterilisation of women, systematic restriction on Uyghur culture, education and the practice of Islam, and the widespread use of forced labour.
The evidence of the scale and severity of the violations in Xinjiang is extensive. That includes, as the whole House knows, satellite imagery, the testimony of survivors, credible open-source reporting by journalists and academic researchers, and visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups. United Nations special rapporteurs and other international experts have also expressed their very serious concerns.
Meanwhile, leaked and publicly available documents from the Chinese Government themselves verify many of the reports that we have seen. Those documents show guidance on how to run internment camps, and lists showing how and why people have been detained. They contain extensive references to coercive social measures and show statistical data on birth control and on security spending and recruitment in Xinjiang.
In the face of that evidence, the United Kingdom has acted decisively. In March, the Government took the significant step of sanctioning four senior individuals responsible for the violations that have taken place, and which persist, against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. We also designated the organisation responsible for enforcing the repressive security policies across many areas of Xinjiang.
The sanctions involve travel bans and asset freezes against the individuals and an asset freeze against the entity that we are designating. These individuals are barred from entering the UK and any assets that they hold in the UK are frozen. By acting alongside our partners, the United States, Canada and the European Union, on an agreed set of designations, we have sent a clear and powerful message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to serious and systematic violations of basic human rights. These countries amount to a third of global GDP.
On 12 January, we announced robust domestic measures to help to ensure that UK businesses and the public sector avoid complicity in human rights violations in Xinjiang through their supply chains, including a review of export controls as they apply to Xinjiang, the introduction of financial penalties for organisations that fail to comply with their transparency obligations under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and robust and detailed guidance for UK businesses to target those who profit from forced labour and those who would support it financially, whether deliberately or otherwise.
We have also acted internationally to hold China to account for its policies in Xinjiang. In February, in the first personal address to the UN Human Rights Council by a UK Foreign Secretary in more than a decade, my right hon. Friend underlined his call for China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, or another independent expert,
“urgent and unfettered access to Xinjiang.”
That point was made powerfully by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and was reinforced by the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).
Working with our partners, we have built an international caucus of countries calling China out for its gross human rights violations and increased the diplomatic pressure for Beijing to change course. On 6 October 2020, alongside Germany, we brought together 39 countries to express grave concern at the situation in Xinjiang in a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee. That was an increase on the 23 countries that supported the UK-led joint statement a year earlier.
We continue to raise the human rights violations in Xinjiang directly with the Chinese authorities. I had direct conversations recently when I summoned the chargé to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has raised his serious concerns on a number of occasions with his counterpart, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi.
The motion before the House is that the situation in Xinjiang amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. The UK of course treats all allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity with the gravity they demand. As a nation, we have a strong history of protecting global human rights, but as the House is no doubt aware, the UK’s long-standing position, like many countries around the world, is that determining whether a situation amounts to genocide or crimes against humanity is a matter for competent national and international courts, after consideration of all the available evidence.
I will be very brief. Will my hon. Friend now commit the Foreign Office and the Government, given that they do not want to say genocide, to co-operating with and giving full evidence to the Uyghur tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice? Can he now give that commitment that they will co-operate and give evidence? It will define genocide, and then the Government could sign up to it.
I have made our position clear. Incidentally, I have met Sir Geoffrey Nice. I met him yesterday, along with Lord Anderson of Ipswich. We had a very constructive dialogue, and we will continue to have dialogue with Sir Geoffrey. Our policy is that a competent court should determine genocide. Sir Geoffrey is an eminent lawyer and he has done fantastic work in this area, but his tribunal is of course not a criminal court. That is our policy.
What I will say to my right hon. Friend is that competent courts include international courts such as the ICC and the International Court of Justice, and national criminal courts that meet international standards of due process.
Genocide and crimes against humanity are among the most egregious of all international crimes. We believe —my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) concurred with this in his powerful speech—that the question of whether they have been committed is for a competent court of law to decide. Genocide and crimes against humanity are subject to a restrictive legal framework under international law. In particular, a finding of genocide requires proof that relevant acts were carried out with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Proving such intent to the required legal standard can be incredibly difficult to achieve in practice.
For these reasons, we do not believe it is right for the Government to make a determination in this, or in any other case where genocide or crimes against humanity are alleged. Parliaments in Canada and the Netherlands have passed motions saying it is a genocide, but the Dutch Prime Minister’s party voted against the motions and Prime Minister Trudeau’s Government abstained.
The United Kingdom is committed to seeking an end to serious violations of international human rights law wherever they occur, preventing the escalation of any such violations and alleviating the suffering of those who are affected. Our approach has not prevented us from taking robust action to address serious human rights violations, as we have done and will continue to do in the case of Xinjiang. We are also committed to ensuring that, where allegations are made, they are investigated thoroughly, including, where appropriate, independent international investigation by relevant bodies and experts. The Foreign Secretary has been clear that we wish to see the UN commissioner for human rights or another independent observer have full and unrestricted access to Xinjiang to investigate the situation on the ground. Today, I again call on China to grant that without further delay.
A number of colleagues mentioned the issue of the winter Olympics. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we are not normally in favour of sporting boycotts, and of course the participation of the national team at the Olympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association, which is required to operate independently of the Government under International Olympic Committee regulations. The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) mentioned the recent announcement of the official development assistance cuts in China. We have cut the budget to China by 95%, but every single penny of the remaining budget for China will be spent solely on open societies work and human rights work.
The Government understand the strength of feeling on this issue and share the grave concerns expressed by Members. I commend the efforts of hon. and right hon. Members to draw attention to the deeply troubling situation in Xinjiang. We have taken robust action. We have introduced sanctions, we are tackling Uyghur forced labour in UK supply chains, and we are ramping up pressure on Beijing through UN human rights bodies. We will continue to work with international partners to hold China to account for its gross violations of human rights against Uyghurs and other minorities in the region.
I thank hon. and right hon. Members across the House for speaking with one voice and the appropriate tone in considering the crime of all crimes, genocide. There is absolute recognition that all five markers of genocide have been met. The House, I hope, will speak with one voice in a few moments and unanimously support my motion. Unfortunately, that puts the Government in a very difficult position because at some point they will have to undertake their UN obligations.
China sanctioned us for opposing its crimes against the Uyghur. Parliament must now prove that it will not be cowed and back my motion unanimously. We will continue to stand up for the Uyghur people.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House believes that Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide; and calls on the Government to act to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and all relevant instruments of international law to bring it to an end.