Activist Laura Harth, of Safeguards Defenders and IPAC, explains how we got to important parliamentary actions to hold China accountable for its crimes.
by Marco Respinti
Laura Harth, is Campaign Director at Safeguard Defenders, an NGO campaigning for the respect of human rights and the rule of law in Asia, and regional liaison in Italy of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). Holding an M.A in International Law, Human Rights and International Relations, she is among the initiators of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”’s campaign for the universal recognition of the “right to know” as a fundamental right to ensure true democratic participation and full human rights compliance.
As an expert in parliamentary action to hold the CCP accountable for its misdeeds, she comments on recent initiatives and future prospects in this field for Bitter Winter.
After the US Department of State, under both the Trump and the Biden administrations, described as “genocide” China’s systematic crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic people, mainly Muslim, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, that its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkestan, Canada and the Netherlands have passed important parliamentary motions on the same lines, indicting the CCP. Which other countries are moving in the same direction?
Parliamentary proposals recognizing or referencing the crime of genocide being committed in Xinjiang have been presented in various other legislatures. Belgium was the first to see an exhaustive proposal for a motion by Belgian Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Co-Chair Samuel Cogolati. Similarly, in Lithuania IPAC member Dovilė Šakalienė called for a resolution on the persecution of Uyghurs in China. It is no coincidence that both of them, like their Dutch colleague Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma, who proposed the adopted motion in The Netherlands, were among the individuals targeted by China’s sanctions on Monday, March 22nd.
But things have also been moving along the same lines in other jurisdictions and may gain additional traction over the weeks and months to come, notwithstanding the strong opposition from Governments. Chief among them is obviously the proposed Genocide Amendment to the new Trade Bill in the United Kingdom, which was advanced by the House of Lords no less than three times, and although ultimately not adopted in its entirety, did provoke a wide-ranging debate on what is happening in Xinjiang and saw a growth in strong positioning within the British Parliament across Party lines. Here too the strongest proponents were directly targeted by Chinese sanctions, demonstrating the strong disdain of the CCP for open parliamentary debate and prerogatives, as well as its increasing unease at the scrutiny of its heinous practices in Xinjiang.
Last but not least, a resolution was proposed on March 30 in the Italian Foreign Affairs Committee by IPAC Member and Vice-President of the Committee, Paolo Formentini. Discussion on the proposal is currently underway. While we know there is heavy pressure from Government to remove any wording considered “sensitive,” it must be noted that the Italian Parliament has come a long way since Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, was detained and barred from entering the Italian Senate in July 2017 to denounce the mass internment campaign in XUAR.
Since the signing of the infamous Memorandum of Understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative in March 2019 between Italy and China, the number of Italian MPs standing up for human rights and an international order based on the rule of law and universal principles of democracy, freedom of opinion, speech and religion has rapidly grown.
The continuous attempts to intimidate and silence them, as after Joshua Wong’s hearing at the Senate in November 2019, and coordination under IPAC has significantly increased attention on the rampant repression of these values by a regime that abhors all values inherent to human life, and indeed all too often human life itself.
What are the main obstacles that Parliaments encounter on this subject? Does China have the power to actually block such actions?
It is evident from the strong opposition posed by many Governments against such parliamentary actions, which—we must remember—are a means to counter the deadlock within international organisms created to prevent genocides from occurring again, that the CCP continues to hold the power of strong moral suasion. Fear of economic retaliation against companies is an often-used excuse to refrain from assuming the responsibilities and obligations each signing Member State singularly has under the UN Genocide Convention. As China blocks any effective remedy at the multilateral level, be it within the UN Human Rights Council, be it by blocking effective and unhindered access to UN observers to the Region, or be it in not being a signatory State to the International Criminal Court, the message an increasing number of Parliamentarians is sending is that they will not be complicit in remaining silent while such crimes continue.
Too often still, MPs belonging to Governmental coalitions or otherwise silent in the face of the CCP’s blatant disregard for human rights, the rule of law, and even normal diplomatic relations—as shown by the recent sanctions, but also by its hostage diplomacy or its ‘wolf warrior’ tones—hide behind the excuse of ‘preserving’ multilateral or economic relations or the inopportunity of Parliaments making such legal affirmations. But as legal avenues are blocked, it is up to them to take a courageous moral stance and they need to ask themselves the following question: would they have remained silent as well had they sat on those benches and were presented with evidence of the Holocaust in the early 1940s? The frequent appeals for the adoption of the Genocide Amendment by the Jewish community in the UK in particular are a clear admonishment to such silent complicity.
Another big obstacle remains the lack of public information and debate on these questions. While the CCP is investing heavily in public disinformation and attacks on the issue, in most Western countries the crimes against humanity committed by the CCP all over China remain a question of minor concern, aiding the censoring efforts from China. Given the recent affirmations by EU High Representative Borrell on the EU’s incapacity to counter the efforts of disinformation from China, this issue needs urgent attention, especially in Italy where an incredible number of secret Memorandums of Understanding are active between main news outlets and their CCP-controlled counterparts.
Do you really think that China will be internationally indicted for genocide some day? And if that happens, what else will happen?
At the current moment, given the set-up of international mechanisms, which remain inter-governmental and are therefore completely and fundamentally dependent on the willingness of a member state to sign up and conform to the universally recognized principles—in particular when said State has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, that seems frankly impossible. If there were to be a regime-change, it would be up to a new Government to decide whether they wish to seize international mechanisms to indict and prosecute those responsible.
The point we have to raise today is that it should be unconceivable to continue business as usual with a regime against which there is such ample documented proof and which continues not only to deny any meaningful access to XUAR for verification but is actively engaging in targeting any individual, institution or responsible business enterprise which speaks out on the issue. This means the determinations made by Parliaments urgently serve to review a series of policies, starting obviously with the at this point unacceptable Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between the EU and China, but also the standing Extradition Treaties between various Western Governments and the RPC which provide the CCP with an extraterritorial reach for its oppressive policies everywhere, not to speak of political propaganda tools such as the upcoming “Italy-China Year of Culture and Tourism 2022.” Promotion and propaganda for a genocidal State actor holds no place in the longstanding culture of the Italian people or in that of the Chinese people at large.
There is a growing movement to push the Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics away from China because of China’s poor record on human rights. Do you think that this movement will get anywhere?
I think all pressure and tools to bring public attention to the heinous crimes being committed by the CCP is highly necessary and more than welcome. Pressure should be put on sponsors and on the International Olympic Committee to take a stance. While it is positive that international brands are denouncing forced labor in China, it needs to be asked what guarantees sponsors can receive that the forced labor of those oppressed in Xinjiang and Tibet by the CCP will not also be used in producing these Olympic Games. The answer is none. Moreover, as Beijing obviously hopes to use this occasion like so many others for propaganda purposes, I personally think the proposal made by Italian Senator Lucio Malan on the occasion of the 2008 Olympics to oblige Western broadcasters to use the Olympics to shed a continuous light on the egregious human rights violations—including genocide—underway in China might go a long way in urgently informing a wide spread of public opinion of what is going on, creating the necessary leverage to move Parliaments and Governments. Wherever we have seen informed public opinion, a public that knows, we have seen more courageous and conscientious stances.