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China: Muslims

Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Amnesty International “Like We Were Enemies in a War”: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang, published on 11 June.

My Lords, the Amnesty International report is a compelling addition to the already extensive and irrefutable body of evidence about systematic human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang. The Government have taken careful note of the report and FCDO officials have already discussed the findings with Amnesty International. We will continue to engage with a wide range of NGOs and other experts to inform our further understanding of the situation on the ground in Xinjiang.

My Lords, with Amnesty’s report detailing arbitrary detention, forced indoctrination, torture, mass surveillance and crimes against humanity, along with newspaper reports from Xinjiang of the destruction of 16,000 mosques, harrowing evidence being given last week to the independent Uyghur Tribunal, whose brave witnesses and families now experience threats and intimidation, and further legislatures joining the House of Commons in declaring atrocities against the Uighurs to be a genocide, when will the United Kingdom raise this report from Amnesty at the UN Human Rights Council and seek judicial remedies? Will the Government commit to co-operating with, examining and acting on the findings of the Uyghur Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC?

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, I have met directly with Sir Geoffrey Nice on numerous occasions and we continue to monitor the tribunal as it takes place. My understanding is that the first session has now been completed. On the independent evidence, the noble Lord might be aware that I met with some of the people who gave evidence to the tribunal last week as part of our direct engagement with members of the Uighur community. With the session of the Human Rights Council coming up we will look at this report very carefully. As I said, we have met directly with Amnesty International on its recommendations and findings.

My Lords, I know that my noble friend is personally extremely concerned about and engaged with this issue, and I thank him for that. Can he tell the House when the Government plan to introduce export controls on goods associated with human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and whether they will accept recommendations made by the BEIS Select Committee to require companies operating there to convincingly evidence that supply chains do not involve forced labour?

I thank my noble friend for her kind remarks. This is rightly an area of great concern across the House and many parts of society. As she is aware, on 12 January my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced our commitment to review existing export controls as they apply to China. We are also conducting a review to see whether additional goods used for internal repression and human rights violations in Xinjiang can be brought into scope. We will report back to Parliament on the outcome of the review in due course.

What the report confirms is utterly shocking in its scale and the systematic nature of the abuses perpetuated. Of course, the question is: what can we do about it and what are the Government doing about it? Will they at least contemplate economic sanctions against mid-ranking officials, such as the governors of the areas in which the internment camps are situated?

My Lords, on sanctions specifically, we keep the whole situation under review. As the noble and right reverend Lord and your Lordships’ House will be aware, on 22 March, under the global human rights sanctions regime, we introduced asset freezes and travel bans on four senior Chinese government officials, as well as an asset freeze against the public security bureau in Xinjiang. We will continue to see the impact of these sanctions and will review future sanctions as the need arises.

My Lords, in the integrated review and elsewhere, the Government have described their policy towards China as a balance between trading and supporting human rights. How can that balance be legitimately maintained in the light of the damning conclusions of the Amnesty report?

My Lords, as I have said from the Dispatch Box before, we totally recognise the role China has to play. China remains a permanent member of the UN Security Council and its trade with the UK remains an important element. However, notwithstanding the fact that we recognise the importance of its trading relationship, we will not stand by. As we have already demonstrated, we will call out egregious abuse of human rights. We will continue to hold China to account, raise issues directly and bilaterally with China, and raise issues directly through multilateral forums such as the Human Rights Council.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s response to the report of UN special rapporteurs and experts that the CCP is targeting minorities, including Falun Gong, Uighurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians, with forced organ harvesting? The judgment of the China tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, to which my noble friend Lord Alton has already referred, reached the same conclusion. What steps are the Government taking to stop this horrendous practice of organ harvesting, to hold the Chinese authorities to account and to ensure that no UK entities are complicit, knowingly or unwittingly, in these crimes?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, I am fully cognisant of the suppression of freedom of religion or belief in Xinjiang and more widely in China, particularly as regards specific minorities, as the noble Baroness articulated. On organ harvesting, I have engaged directly with Sir Geoffrey Nice and, as noble Lords will be aware, have taken up the issue with the World Health Organization. We continue to monitor the situation. It remains the Government’s position that, if true, the practice of systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting would constitute a serious violation and an egregious abuse of human rights.

My Lords, the West has, sadly, very little influence over the policies of China, but we should recall the propaganda triumph that the Berlin Olympics of 1936 gave the Hitler regime, whereas the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 made them a somewhat damp squib. Could my noble friend encourage other ministries and, indeed, other countries, to look at boycotting the Winter Olympics in China next February?

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware from his own insights and experience, I cannot comment specifically on any boycott of the Olympic Games; that is very much a matter for the independent Olympic committee. But I am sure everyone will consider the situation on the ground in any decisions that they make.

My Lords, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently said that he does not want to start a new cold war with China. I fully agree with him on that point. However, there are many challenges that the world is currently facing with China, such as the lack of human rights for Uighurs and Hong Kongers as well as the instability in the South China Sea. How would the United Kingdom like to resolve these issues—or will they be ignored for the sake of trade with China?

My Lords, as I have already indicated in my previous answers, while we recognise China’s important role, including on issues such as our challenges around climate change, we will call out egregious abuse of human rights. We have done so. We have led a coalition of like-minded partners at the UN Human Rights Council and Third Committee, and we take up these abuses directly and bilaterally with China as well.

My Lords, perhaps I might return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about specific actions. Since the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill was blocked, we have not seen extensive sanctions against officials responsible for these terrible crimes, and we have not seen action on forced labour—so I once again ask the Minister the question I have repeatedly asked: when will we see the promised changes to the Modern Slavery Act introduced, including Section 54?

My Lords, I am fully aware of the noble Lord’s interest in this. At the moment, I cannot give him a definitive answer, but this remains a live issue on the Government’s agenda.

My Lords, Amnesty’s report on the treatment of the Uighurs is subtitled Chinas mass internment, torture and persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang. Would the Minister categorise the reaction of the UK, the G7 and the world as adequate, given those words?

I am sure the noble Baroness recognises the role the United Kingdom has played. We were the first country to lead and call out the situation in Xinjiang and we have been directly engaged on the continuing suppression of democratic freedom in Hong Kong. The Government have repeatedly led international efforts to hold China to account. The first two statements at the UN were led by the UK. I am sure that recently the noble Baroness noted, as did other noble Lords, that the G7 leaders’ communiqué on 13 June specifically called for China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang. We will continue to work with key partners and to use all instruments at our disposal to ensure that the issue remains to the fore of people’s minds and that the human rights violations come to an end for the people of Xinjiang.