'Historic moment': MPs declare Uighur Muslims are 'suffering genocide' in China

22 April 2021, 18:20 | Updated: 22 April 2021, 18:35

Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament on Thursday
Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament on Thursday. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

MPs have declared Uighur Muslims and other minorities are "suffering crimes against humanity and genocide" in Xinjiang, China.

The approval of the House of Commons motion, debated by MPs on Thursday, has been described as a "historic moment".

Although it is non-binding and does not compel the UK Government to act, it is a sign that growing outcry is increasing pressure on ministers.

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After it was approved, former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: "Today's debate shows that Parliament has accepted that the Chinese government is guilty of genocide against Uighurs and others in north-west China.

"This is a historic moment. Even though the Government maintains that only a court can determine genocide, Parliament has chosen to disregard that and vote itself. This puts the UK Parliament in line with Holland, Canada and the US."

Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, one of five MPs sanctioned by China for criticising its treatment of the Uighurs, moved the proposal and insisted the UK must take action.

Ms Ghani told the Commons: "I know colleagues are reluctant to use the word genocide. For many, the word will forever be associated with the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and I agree with colleagues that we should never diminish the unique meaning or power of this term by applying it incorrectly.

"But there is a misunderstanding that genocide is just one act - mass killing. That is false."

Ms Ghani said genocide concerns intent to "destroy in whole or in part" a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, adding: "All five criteria of genocide are evidenced as taking place in Xinjiang.

"While we must never misuse the term genocide, we must not fail to use it when it's warranted."

Ms Ghani noted the UK Government believes genocide can only be determined by a competent court, but she warned "every route to a court is blocked by China", adding the UK is "handcuffed, paralysed" by the United Nations.

"Our route to declaring genocide cannot be controlled by China," she argued.

Ms Ghani said there are internment camps where detainees are subjected to "brutal torture methods, including beatings with metal prods, electric shocks and whips", with programmes designed to "indoctrinate and 'wash clean' brains".

She added "credible reports" indicate "up to two million people are extrajudicially detained in prison factories and re-education centres".

On measures to prevent births, Ms Ghani said: "I do not believe there is any other place on Earth where women are violated on this scale.

"The Handmaid's Tale is a fairy tale compared to the reproductive rights of Uighur women.

"This abuse is evidenced by the Chinese government's own data - 2014, over 200,000 birth control devices were inserted in women in Xinjiang. By 2018, this had increased by 60%.

"Despite the region accounting for just 1.8% of China's population, 80% of all birth control device insertions in China were performed in the Uighur region."

Sir Iain said during the debate: "Why haven't we declared this a genocide? I do urge the Government to rethink their position on this.

"We will not gain any particular friendship by not calling out genocide from the Chinese. It is simply not a tradable item."

He added: "The problem is that getting to a competent court is impossible. At the United Nations it is impossible to get through to the International Court of Justice, it is impossible to get through to the International Criminal Court as China is not a signatory to that and therefore will not obey that."

For Labour, shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Kinnock said the Commons was "instructing" the Government to carry out its legal duties to prevent and punish genocide.

He urged MPs to "take a stand", adding: "Today we can speak with one voice, today we move forward with our eyes open and our shoulders broad, today we send a clear and unambiguous message that genocide can never be met with indifference or inaction."

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams insisted the UK has taken "robust" action against China over its treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, highlighting sanctions imposed and efforts to tackle use of forced labour in UK supply chains.

He added the UK is "ramping up pressure" on Beijing through the United Nations.

Mr Adams earlier reiterated that the UK Government believes genocide is an issue for "competent national and international courts after consideration of all the available evidence".