The UK government is riding roughshod over its own Parliament by gesturing and nodding meaninglessly over repeated attempts to act on the Uyghur genocide
by Ruth Ingram
Impassioned speeches in the House of Lords following the admission by the British Government’s foreign secretary Liz Truss, that a “genocide is underway against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang,” have urged the government to put a stop to its delaying tactics on Uyghur atrocities before it is too late. Spearheaded by veteran human rights campaigner Lord David Alton, a cross party alliance of twenty Lords have renewed their pledge to continue fighting and call out the toothless “hand wringing” and “gesturing” of the British government in the face of irrefutable evidence of mass crimes against humanity.
Challenging the morality of continuing to claim that the crime of genocide has to be determined by international courts, while knowing full well that these courts are blocked by China, Lord Alton called out the British government for ignoring “multiple recommendations by the House of Commons, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and of the Foreign Secretary herself.”
The situation for Uyghurs and all minority groups in Xinjiang was deteriorating, he said, and to delay confronting “this evil” the British government and British industry would be complicit in the crime of genocide against the Turkic peoples of North West China.
Governments have a duty under the Genocide Convention of 1948 to predict, prevent, protect, and punish, he said, citing the eerie similarities for Uyghurs with the situation for European Jewry during World War Two. He recalled how, in Europe, “bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, used their victims as slave labour, scheduled trains to uproot them from their homes and communities, deprived them of livelihoods and positions in society, how German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners, confiscated personal property, shaved heads, sent hair, jewelry, and other artifacts as trophies, and then made prisoners build their crematoria.”
In determining a genocide, the 1948 convention was concerned with “the intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, without reference to actual numbers being killed,” he said. The moment of suspicion was the moment to act, he urged. “Not to speak is to speak,” quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “not to act, was to act.” Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, had described the UN as designed “not to take mankind to heaven but to save mankind from hell,” he said, describing the genocide underway in Xinjiang as “ a glimpse of what hell could look like.”
Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith referencing the UK’s £96 billion of bilateral trade with China, suggested, “Peace isn’t just the absence of strife. It has to be fought for over and over again. It’s something we make.” The battle would be “costly” he warned, explaining the reason many are reluctant to move on it. The fact that trade with China has doubled since 2011 and is continuing apace, indicates that it is business as usual with the superpower.
“We can’t have all the trade we want if we’re going to be a global force for good,” he said. “It’s all too tempting to strike a Faustian bargain. We have to accept that in pursuit of the good trade may be disrupted.”
Lords spoke out against the “despicable” and “disgusting” trade in organs, the complicity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office in ploughing ahead with China trade deals regardless of the human rights atrocities meted out in “alarming numbers” towards faith groups throughout the country. Citing mounting evidence of mass internments, sterilizations, torture, the abduction of at least half a million Uyghur children and the erasure of national identities of every ethnic group, the Lords demanded robust action against the CCP.
They asked why one of the main architects of the crimes in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo had not been sanctioned, why there were not more Magnitsky sanctions on complicit individuals and entities in the CCP, and why the government was still sitting on the fence regarding at the very least a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which its own MPs had voted in favor of in July.
Lord Polak, a Jewish Lord, cited the Summer of 1936 as “a dark stain on British history” when Germany was appeased in the path to its own genocide by Britain refusing to boycott the German Olympic Games. This is a watershed moment,” he warned. “If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.”
“What moral authority might we lose and what price will the Uyghurs pay if we don’t do all in our power to confront these dreadful atrocities?” Asked the Bishop of St Albans.
Lord Hannay, wracked with remorse over collective responsibility he feels for failing to avert the genocides of Rwanda and Srebrenica when the writing had been on the wall as he represented Britain on the Security Council, spoke of those events that “scarred my conscience.”
Speaking of the shameful absence of legal proceedings against ISIS following its genocidal attacks on the Yazidis in Iraq, he spoke of the evidence in Xinjiang as equally resembling a genocide, or a prelude to it. Criticizing the UK government for inertia over the Uyghurs, he urged action not prevarication. “We shouldn’t just wring our hands and wait for the bodies to be brought out.”
Government spokesman Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, promised his government were attempting to address the egregious abuses against Uyghurs, which he agreed were “one of the worst human rights crises that the world is facing today.” The emphasis was still on diplomatic action, he stressed and regardless of continuing to maintain that genocide could only be determined by a “competent court”, the label given to the atrocities should not be a deterrent to acting jointly with international partners to address the situation. Forty-three countries were now on board, he said, keen to stand against CCP abuses in Xinjiang.
He refused to commit on the Olympics, but spoke of measures being considered to tackle organ harvesting, and to liaise with the United States and other key partners over Taiwan. He agreed international mechanisms were flawed when it came to China, but was hopeful that the recently instigated British Investment Initiative might offer developing countries open and honest investment avenues as an alternative to being indebted to Beijing.
David Alton repeating Lord Anderson’s quote from George Orwell’s 1984, when the torturer told the character Winston what they were about to do to him, “You will be hollow, we will squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves,” said that this described exactly the “hollowing out of humanity” in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs.
Citing Wilberforce’s 40 year war against slavery, only hearing on his deathbed that he had won, Lord Alton was confident that by persevering, drawing on international and public support, the battle could be won.
He vowed not to stop fighting. “We will not be silenced on this issue.”