Plight of the Uyghurs reflects pattern of oppression in China

Uyghur men held in camps in north-west China. Estimates suggest more then one million Muslims are being held in such conditions. (Jewish News)
Uyghur men held in camps in north-west China. Estimates suggest more then one million Muslims are being held in such conditions. (Jewish News)

No one is safe under Xi Jinping’s regime in China: that is the conclusion of a major new report released this week by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and endorsed by two former foreign secretaries, two former Conservative Party leaders, the Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the last governor of Hong Kong and other distinguished politicians.

Titled The Darkness Deepens: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2016-2020, the report ends with a description of the regime’s behaviour, which it describes as “the images that … reveal the truth about the mendacity, brutality, inhumanity, insecurity and criminality of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.”

The suffering of the Uyghurs features prominently, not only in a specific chapter which describes the evidence as “indicative of genocide” but also in chapters on modern day slavery, the surveillance state and religious persecution.

The Commission notes the leading role the Jewish community has played in drawing the world’s attention to this unfolding tragedy.

Indeed the chapter on the Uyghurs begins with a quote from the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who said last year that “as a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing.”

It cites the letter from the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews to the Chinese Ambassador in London, in which she describes “similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago.”

And it argues that “when the Jewish community is drawing rare comparisons with the Holocaust, it is time for the international community to wake up and take the reports of atrocity crimes … extremely seriously and with the utmost urgency.”

But while the crimes inflicted on the Uyghurs are especially egregious, the pattern of repression is across the board in China. According to evidence the Commission received in its inquiry, Christians are facing the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution, with churches destroyed, crosses torn down, pictures of Xi Jinping and Communist propaganda replacing religious images and priests and pastors jailed.

In Tibet, the decades-long repression is intensifying. Space that a decade or so ago existed, however constrained, for human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists, bloggers, citizen journalists, whistleblowers and dissidents has almost completely disappeared. And Hong Kong has been transformed within months from one of Asia’s freest cities to a closed and repressed one as the regime tears up its promises and dismantles freedom, in flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty registered at the United Nations.

Torture is widespread, slavery endemic and an Orwellian surveillance state has been rolled out at alarming speed with the direct complicity of China’s major technology companies such as Huawei and Hikvision. Forced organ harvesting continues, forced televised confessions – broadcast on state television – are now common, and new laws allow for arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and disappearances.

In light of this evidence, the Commission urges the British government to conduct a wholesale review of UK-China policy and strategy, and work to build an international coalition of democracies to coordinate a global response to this human rights crisis. It calls for targeted sanctions, diversification of supply chains, action to end forced labour within supply chains, the establishment of accountability mechanisms and leadership at the United Nations to establish a specific human rights mechanism for China, as called for last year by 50 current UN special rapporteurs.

The report was launched the day after the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced new measures to address what he described as “barbarism” on an “industrial scale”. These include new export controls to prevent British firms from using products sourced from Uyghur slave labour. His strong words and new measures are very welcome, and represent a marked shift from the policy of appeasement we have seen until recently. But they do not go far enough. The very next day the United States banned all cotton products and tomatoes from Xinjiang – we should follow suit. The time for tip-toeing and tinkering has gone: we need robust action in the scale of such egregious crimes.

Next Tuesday the House of Commons will vote on a genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. Passed by the House of Lords last month with an extraordinary majority of 287 to 181, this historic amendment would allow our courts to make a determination in cases of alleged genocide and, if proven, require the government not to sign trade deals with states convicted of this “crime of crimes”. It has the support of some of Britain’s most eminent figures, including the former Lord Chief Justice, the former heads of the RAF and MI5, former Cabinet Ministers, bishops and all the Opposition parties, and is being led in the House of Commons by the former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Members of Parliament on all sides should back it, and their constituents should contact them before Tuesday to urge them to do so.

An independent tribunal into forced organ harvesting in China, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, reminds us that those interacting with the regime in Beijing should do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state”.

It is time to stand up to that criminal state and hold it to account. Failure to do so will result in the darkness that continues to deepen in China engulfing us too.


About the Author
Benedict Rogers is co-founder and deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
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