The UK government was asked to assess the risk of genocide in North West China and take concrete action to stand up to it.
by Ruth Ingram
Years of sitting on the fence must stop, implored MP Nus Ghani, whose motion urging ministers to decide for themselves as to whether there was serious risk of a genocide taking place against China’s Turkic communities was passed unanimously in the British parliament on Thursday.
Following the landslide vote, ministers now have two months to analyze the evidence Ms Ghani claims they have long known about, and devise a strategy to confront the genocide.
The challenge to the government comes in the wake of the December 2021, Uyghur Tribunal’s judgement that genocide, crimes against humanity and torture were being carried out against the Uyghur people by the PRC. Despite a unanimous vote in parliament last April agreeing that a genocide was in fact being carried out, ministers have continued to drag their heels, claimed Ms Ghani. She urged ministers to step up to their responsibilities under the Geneva Genocide Convention and refuse to be complicit in the ongoing human rights atrocities against minority groups in the region.
Ms Ghani and several other MPs at the debate, called out the UK government for ignoring evidence that had been staring it in the face since 2017, not only from in-house committees set up by itself, but from a wealth of proof evinced by the tribunal’s scores of testimonies, mountains of witness statements, and teams of academics, lawyers and human rights groups around the world.
According to the 2007, ICJ (International Courts of Justice) ruling in the Serbian genocide against Bosnia, “a State’s obligation to prevent and the corresponding duty to act, arises at the instant that the State learns of the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed,” said Ms Ghani. “Whilst the catalogue of evidence now presented by the Tribunal, in conjunction with other international reports, legal opinions and Parliamentary declarations, demonstrates that the UK Government has long been aware of, at the least, the existence of a serious risk of genocide, it has failed to acknowledge or discharge its obligations.”
Despite being aware of the unfolding genocide since 2017, the international community has largely turned a blind eye and failed to take meaningful action. The UK government, despite many opportunities to take a stand, still insists that genocide determinations are for international courts, knowing full well that China’s power of veto in the two principal world legal bodies would always make that impossible.
Ms Ghani, frustrated at Amanda Milling’s (Minister for Asia) parroting of the government line on genocide determination, also criticized sanctions imposed on a handful of Chinese officials as derisory. They stopped short at Chen Quanguo, the main player in the atrocities, and laws to prevent imports tainted with slave labour were toothless.
MP Layla Moran was mystified why the government, privy to countless horrific accounts of witness survivors of the internment camps in Xinjiang, were still resisting a genocide determination. She recalled a witness who had said, “I am a walking corpse. My soul and my heart are dead,” and quoted Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who reminded onlookers, “what hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”
Politician after cross party politician stood up and castigated the government inaction over the Uyghur issue. Not sparing in their contempt for the “despotic, brutal and dictatorial” CCP that represents a “bullying and intimidating” regime that has carried out and continues to inflict “horrifying and inhuman” treatment on its Turkic populations, they urged action over trade deals. Sir Iain Duncan Smith warned the government of Beijing’s pernicious and underhand influence throughout the world, and said that the Uyghur crisis should be a “wake up call to the free world” that the CCP was eroding democracy day by day.
Nus Ghani reminded ministers that the UK had signed up to the Genocide Convention and should not shirk its obligations to prevent and punish genocide they know to be taking place. “We are bound by Article 1 and have a moral obligation to discharge our responsibilities the moment we are aware a genocide might be taking place,” she said.
Just as Serbia was blamed by the ICJ in 2007 for failing to take measures to prevent the Bosnian genocide, Ms Ghani pointed out that the UK was inextricably bound up in the Uyghur genocide.
Goods made by forced labour are still being sold in UK markets. This, she says “emboldens” the PRC to “perpetrate its genocide” by pursuing bilateral trade and economic integration as the world looks passively on.
“Contrary to Government policy, the obligation to prevent and punish genocide does not require a judicial determination of genocide by an international court and tribunal in order for these obligations to be engaged. Naturally, judicial determinations are only possible after the fact, and therefore meaningless in the context of prevention,” she pointed out.
Ironically, says Ms Ghani, despite measures within the UK law to confront atrocities carried out in times of war and within fragile states, Uyghurs are suffering genocide in a time of peace and within the borders of a stable state. “They are excluded from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) current approach to atrocity and denied the protections under the Genocide Convention so long as the UK fails to undertake genuine and meaningful action. It is therefore vital that an assessment of serious risk is made and acknowledgement is given to the UK’s obligations under the Genocide Convention.”