January 31 2022
A few days ago, the Uyghur community joined the rest of the world in remembering the victims of the Holocaust and the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Despite all the “Never Again’s” and pledges from politicians to learn the lessons of history, the world continues to be scarred by atrocity crime. Atrocities continue to happen. As I put pen to paper, a genocide is raging in my homeland - the Uyghur region in northwest China.
The world cannot say they did not know about what is happening to the Uyghurs. In December last year, after gathering the largest body of evidence that exists, the independent Uyghur Tribunal concluded that the People’s Republic of China are committing genocide against us.
Satellite images of sprawling concentration camps and drone footage of men lined up with shaved heads, blindfolded and bound, have been featured on the evening news. Parliaments across the globe have passed motions declaring that the Uyghurs are victims of Chinese state-sanctioned genocide, and multiple governments have condemned the human rights abuses inflicted upon us.
But talk is cheap. The measures taken by the international community simply do not go far enough. As it stands, the UK government’s response to the crisis has been limited to sanctions on some low-level officials, and plenty of words of condemnation. What good are words against a genocide? Words will not save my people from destruction, and the longer those words remain decoupled from action, the less comfort they offer.
In future years this inertia will be remembered with deep shame. There is so much more that could be done to hold the Chinese authorities to account, and yet governments, including our own, continue to dodge their responsibilities. No concrete steps have been taken to prevent these atrocities from occurring any longer, and very little has been done to try to end my people’s torment and suffering.
Despite widespread reports of forced labour in my homeland, the UK government has spent recent years obtaining medical equipment and materials sourced from the Uyghur region. As the government continues to condemn practices of forced labour in Parliament, they continue to import the products of that forced labour for use in the NHS.
The hypocrisy on display here is symptomatic of an important truth - tough statements are not a substitute for meaningful action. It is beyond reprehensible that products made from the slave labour of my people are being used to clothe and equip this country’s healthcare workers. I am certain that if those workers were aware of the brutal conditions in which their kit was made, they too would be disgusted.
The forthcoming amendment to the Health and Care Bill would provide a solution to this problem by preventing the UK government from procuring health service goods in regions where there is a serious risk of genocide, such as the Uyghur region. It would also create a process by which the UK government is required to assess this “serious risk”, an assessment which has not yet been conducted by the UK Government, despite our moral and legal obligations to do so.
Uyghur people have had enough empty words and tired excuses. Genocide sets a clock ticking in the mind of every member of the community facing it. We live in constant awareness that time is running out to stop our people - our culture and our lineage - from disappearing into history. We are exhausted by a world that is not willing to move at the pace warranted by this moment of crisis.
It is time, as it has been for years, for action. The least the UK government can do is uphold their legal obligation to assess whether my people are at “serious risk” of genocide and prevent our healthcare workers from wearing Uyghur slave-made PPE.
Rahima Mahmut is the Uk Director of World Uyghur Congress and Executive Director of Stop Uyghur Genocide.