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British MPs call for government to take further measures against China over treatment of Uygurs

  • Backbenchers in Parliament call for additional sanctions, import blacklists to address alleged human rights abuses

  • Parliament declared China was committing genocide against Uygurs last year, but the government has repeatedly declined to make a direct determination

Chad Bray in London

21 Jan, 2022

Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP, was among backbenchers in a debate in the UK Parliament on Thursday calling for the British government to do more to address alleged human rights against Uygurs in Xinjiang. Photo: EPA-EFE

A cross-party group of backbenchers has called for the British government to impose additional sanctions against Chinese officials, enact import blacklists and take other steps to address alleged human rights abuses against Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

The debate in the House of Commons on Thursday was sparked by an independent tribunal’s finding in December that efforts by Beijing to lower the Uygur population in Xinjiang had constituted genocide.

“When will the government stand up and sanction those who are undertaking the genocide and have the confidence to not only back the House and select committees, but also sanctioned colleagues as well?,” said Nusrat Ghani, a Conservative MP for Wealden in southeast England.

Ghani, who organised the debate, is one of several British politicians who were sanctioned by Beijing last year.

Thursday’s debate came as France’s parliament passed a motion calling for the French government to condemn China for “crimes against humanity and genocide”.

British MPs voted in April 2021 to declare that China was committing genocide against the Uygurs, but the vote did not compel the government to take any action. “They, the government, if they suspect such a thing is happening, it is inherent on them to be able to pursue this, to have an urgent assessment of whether it considers the Uygurs to be at a very serious risk of genocide,” Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green in London, said in the Commons on Thursday.

“How much more are we willing to stand by and watch, and all for the sake of cheaper goods? Do we say nothing? Shame on us for that plastic thing we bought last week, which was 10 pence cheaper than it might have been if it had been made somewhere else,” he added.

British Conservative Party MPs Nusrat Ghani (centre), who organised the debate on Thursday, and Smith with members of the Uygur community demonstrating on April 22, 2021. Photo: AFP

“Is that a reason to turn our backs on the suffering and persecution of people who deserve us to stand for them?”

Brendan O’Hara, a Scottish National Party MP for Argyll and Bute, said that “the Uygur people have been subjected to widespread abuse on a scale and ferocity that is unparalleled in modern times.

“It is a stain on the world.”

The British government has repeatedly declined to make a direct determination whether actions taken in Xinjiang constituted a genocide, saying that it has long held that such a determination should be made by an international court, like the International Court of Justice.

“This long-standing policy is consistent with our legal obligations under the Genocide Convention and does not undermine our commitment to prevent and punish genocide,” Amanda Milling, the Foreign Office’s minister for Asia, said on Thursday. “This policy does not inhibit the UK from taking robust action to address these human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.”

Milling said that the British government “has not hesitated” to make its concerns known at the highest levels, including direct discussions between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Britain has also been working with international partners to try to force Beijing to change its behaviour, including by imposing asset freezes and travel bans on senior Chinese officials in March, she said.


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