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Uighurs in Xinjiang

Volume 817: debated on Thursday 16 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conclusion of the Uyghur Tribunal on 9 December that a genocide is underway against Uyghurs in Xinjiang; and what steps they intend to take in response.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so declare that I am a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs.

My Lords, we have followed the Uyghur Tribunal’s work and are studying its conclusions carefully. I welcome the tribunal’s contribution to international understanding of the deeply disturbing situation in Xinjiang. The UK has led international efforts to hold China to account at the UN, imposed sanctions and announced measures to help UK organisations avoid complicity in human rights violations. We will continue to work with our partners to increase pressure on China to change its behaviour.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his, as ever, helpful reply. Does he agree that International Court of Justice jurisprudence is clear on when a state has an obligation to prevent genocide? It is, and I quote:

“the instant that the State learns of … a serious risk“

of genocide. Given that the Uyghur Tribunal, led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milošević, has conducted easily the most comprehensive examination of the Uighur crisis, having reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and declared in a very tightly drawn judgment there to be a genocide, will the Minister, instead of perhaps telling the House again that genocide determination is a matter for courts, tell us whether the Government have performed the required assessment under the genocide convention of whether Uighurs are at serious risk of genocide and, if not, whether they will now do so?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know my response. Obviously, the British Government’s position on genocide and the declaration of genocide has not changed, but I believe that the tribunal—he will know this from our own exchanges—has again provided what I would describe as the most harrowing evidence of what has happened and continues to happen in Xinjiang, and we are looking at that very carefully.

My Lords, what contact have the Government had with Sir Geoffrey and the tribunal? Have there been official meetings? If not, will my noble friend undertake to ensure that he meets Sir Geoffrey at an early date?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we have met Sir Geoffrey Nice—indeed, I have met him on several occasions over various reports and work he does. Our officials followed the tribunal very closely and engaged directly with Sir Geoffrey Nice.

My Lords, the Minister says that we have led the way, and I certainly appreciate the actions of the United Kingdom’s Government. He has also stressed before that sanctions really become effective when we act in concert with our allies, so can he explain why the United States is able to sanction more people and a broader range of people to stop this genocide than the United Kingdom? Why can we not match the actions of the United States on this important issue?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to work with our allies: the US is one, as are other countries. When we did act together—indeed, we acted with 29 other countries with the sanctions we announced in March—that sent the clearest possible signal. Of course, I am very mindful that the United States has further sanctioned additional individuals, and we will continue to look at the situation on sanctions, but I cannot speculate any further.

My Lords, the Government have accepted that the human rights abuses against these people is carried out on an industrial scale, but in response to a question I asked the Minister on 23 March, he confirmed that no preferential access arrangements for Chinese trade to the UK and access to our financial services have been suspended or notified to be suspended. One of those would allow a state entity in Xinjiang to own more than 50% of a UK pension fund, so why have the Government not even signalled their intent to suspend any preferential access to Chinese finance companies to the British market?

My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord back and we will catch up on his travels. On 8 December, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade announced, via a WMS, a package of measures to update the UK’s export control regime. This included an enhancement to our military end use control that will allow the Government to better address threats to national security and human rights and completes the review of export controls as they apply also to Xinjiang that was announced to Parliament. The point he makes on financial services is a specific point and I will continue to engage with him on that issue, but we are sending quite specific signals and the announcement made on 8 December is a good example of that.

My Lords, I understand that the BBC has film evidence of the atrocities that have been addressed in the Uyghur Tribunal, but has been reluctant to show the programmes to date, having set the evidential test so unrealistically high that it cannot be met. Will the Minister ask for these films at least to be available for a private viewing to inform parliamentarians, so that people may be better informed in their own thinking and have another source of information?

My Lords, I will certainly reflect on and take back that suggestion. I often see the written details of reports which come through, some of which are quite detailed, and they are harrowing—I use the word deliberately. I can only imagine what some of these pictures would depict, but I will certainly reflect on what the noble Baroness has said.

My Lords, I think the vast majority of the population welcomes the Government’s decision to diplomatically boycott the Olympics along with other countries, but do they really believe that Coca-Cola and other major multinational corporations should be sponsoring the Beijing Olympics and thereby indicating support for a Government who are willing to commit the atrocities to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred?

My Lords, as someone who worked in the private sector, I think it is important that companies look at the responsibility of their own actions. I am sure they will take note of the decision not just of the UK but of other countries to announce that diplomatic boycott.

My Lords, these findings clearly have major implications for businesses’ ESG policies. When do the Government plan to follow the lead of the US and produce an investment ban list of firms known to be exercising or participating in the worst human rights abuses?

My Lords, presenting specific lists is always a challenge, though I hear what my noble friend has said. Certainly, the announcement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade reflects our continued concern in looking at this very carefully and systematically. Equally, I feel that companies, as I just said to my noble friend Lord Hayward, need to reflect on their actions and the business they are conducting.

My Lords, given the importance that the FCDO has attached, for example in the Trade Bill debates, to securing unrestricted access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, what steps has it taken to support her in seeking that access? What progress has been made since this was last discussed in Parliament, which I believe was in March?

My Lords, we championed that proposal and suggestion; it was in my meeting with Michelle Bachelet that we proposed that directly to her. We have been very supportive. She has been challenged by the Covid crisis, which has prevented her travelling. I know that she has agreed in principle and we will continue to make the case, as we have since March, that the first step—I know the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is seized of this—must be for Michelle Bachelet, in her capacity as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to be given rights of access to Xinjiang.

My Lords, turning a blind eye or looking the other way is no answer; we know that from history. We know what is going on and I welcome the Government’s announcement of the diplomatic and political boycott of the Winter Olympics, but that should just be the start. Do the Minister and the department have a list of activities through which we can keep the pressure on the Chinese Government?

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend. I assure him, as he will know all too well from our conversations, that it is not a question of turning a blind eye. We are very clear-eyed in our relationship with China; we accept that it makes some important contributions on the global stage, particularly on climate change, but all options remain on the table in what we are considering. As I have said, we have exercised leadership at the UN and resorted to exercising sanctions as and when necessary.

My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of kitemarking products which originate in Xinjiang province so that people can be informed that they may be produced by slave labour? That would help the economy take action in this important area, where we face such atrocities.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point on supply chains, ensuring that the sourcing of particular products is clearly identified. This was a matter specific to supply chains which we discussed during the recent G7 meeting of Ministers. I will certainly write to him on his point about identifying products from specific sources.