UK Lawmakers Urge Action to Hold Chinese Officials Accountable For Rights Abuses in Xinjiang

People participate in a rally to fight for the freedom of the majority-Muslim Uyghur population imprisoned in Chinese internment camps

A group of lawmakers in the U.K. called on the government Wednesday to “act urgently” in holding Chinese officials accountable for rights abuses against minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

In a statement, the U.K. branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) submitted evidence it said should encourage the government to act against Chinese officials deemed complicit in repression in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

Composed of 46 parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament, with representation from all major political parties, IPAC U.K. called for government support for the opening of an investigation by The Hague-based International Criminal Court into “crimes committed by Chinese officials.”

It also called for an invocation of China’s responsibility for breaches of the Genocide Convention and for Downing Street to “take action” in multilateral forums, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, pursue independent means to make preliminary judgements on genocide determination, and raise China’s violations of international obligations in bilateral and multilateral settings, such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

IPAC U.K. said the government should discourage private sector firms from contributing to rights abuses in the region by issuing penalties for businesses facilitating forced labor and implement a policy of “presumptive rebuttal” for said businesses based on the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Chinese officials have said internment camps in the XUAR are centers for vocational training. However, reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Under increasing international scrutiny, detainees have been “graduated” and sent to work at nearby factories as part of an effort to label the camps “vocational centers,” although those held in the facilities regularly toil under forced or coerced labor conditions.

U.S. Congress may soon debate the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would prohibit imports from the XUAR to the U.S. amid the growing evidence that internment camps in the region have increasingly transitioned from political indoctrination to forced labor, with detainees being sent to work in cotton and textile factories.

The act, introduced in March, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.

IPAC U.K. also called on the British government to offer support to members of the Uyghur diaspora and others who are “experiencing persecution and harassment abroad” by automatically considering Uyghur asylum seekers as a persecuted group deserving of refugee status and coordinating international efforts to protect Uyghurs in danger of deportation to China, where they are likely to face persecution.

Luke de Pulford, an IPAC coordinator who worked on the submission who is also an advisor to the U.K. branch of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the alliance hopes the submission will lead the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to “adopt a strong approach in their report.”

“The Committee has a number of very well-informed members on the China issue,” he said in an emailed response to RFA, adding that he wants the committee to “take IPAC’s submission seriously.”

Even if lawmakers refuse to accept IPAC’s submission, Pulford said the alliance will push ahead with its objectives, namely to “[set[ the agenda in the U.K. Parliament and [push] the [Boris] Johnson government to adopt a tougher line.”

Additional US visa restrictions

Wednesday’s submission comes a day after the U.S. State Department issued additional restrictions on the issuance of visas for Chinese officials it deems responsible for rights abuses, including what it called “draconian restrictions” on the freedoms of expression, religion of belief, association, and the right to peaceful assembly.

The restrictions will target officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, policies or actions aimed at repressing religious and spiritual practitioners, members of ethnic minority groups, dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, labor organizers, civil society organizers, and peaceful protestors, the State Department said in a statement. Family members of said officials may also be subject to the restrictions.

“The United States stands with the many individuals persecuted for their peaceful efforts to exercise their rights,” the statement added.

“We call for their immediate release and urge CCP authorities to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which the people of China are entitled under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the new measures were the latest example of Washington “weaponizing its visa policy to impose various visa sanctions on Chinese individuals citing so-called issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, religion and human rights.”

He told reporters on Tuesday that “in response to the erroneous U.S. practice, China has lately imposed reciprocal sanctions on U.S. personnel who shoulder major responsibilities towards interfering in China’s domestic affairs, harming Chinese interests, and undermining China-U.S. relations as well as their families.”

Amid a stronger stance by the EU, the U.S. has aggressively ramped up its response to reports of abuses in the XUAR, with President Donald Trump’s administration in July leveling sanctions against several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for rights violations in the region, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington had sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress at the end of May. The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them.

Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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