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UK Parliament Unanimously Designates Abuses in Xinjiang as Genocide in Historic Vote

2021-04-22 -- The U.K.'s lower house of parliament on Thursday unanimously voted to label abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) part of a policy of genocide and crimes against humanity, becoming the third global legislative body to do so.

The historic vote marked the first time a motion declaring genocide has been passed unopposed in the British parliament and follows similar designations of genocide by the U.S. government, as well as lawmakers in Canada and the Netherlands.

Authorities in the XUAR 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. While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China in 2019 changed tack and began describing the facilities as "boarding schools" that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities. Former detainees have also described being subjected to torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses while in custody.

Thursday's debate motion was led by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani, a member of the cross-party Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), and received backing from all major opposition parties, IPAC said in a statement. The motion calls on the U.K. government to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Genocide Convention and to use "all relevant instruments of international law" to bring the abuses against Uyghurs to an end.

"Today Parliament has spoken with one voice and called out the Chinese Communist Party's brutal oppression of Uyghurs for what it is: a genocide," Ghani said.

"The work does not stop here. We have a solemn obligation under the Genocide Convention to act to prevent further atrocities from taking place. History will not judge us kindly if we fail to do so."

Ghani said that the U.K. can no longer conduct "business as usual" with China amidst rights violations in the XUAR, adding that the government must conduct due diligence on supply chains to ensure they are not tied to forced labor in the region.

As international scrutiny over the situation in the XUAR has grown, Beijing has increasingly "graduated" detainees to jobs largely under forced labor conditions, often in the region's key cotton production sector. In recent days and weeks, well-known brands such as Nike, H&M, and Adidas have made public commitments to stop sourcing cotton from the XUAR, after which they were openly threatened by the Chinese government and became the targets of citizen boycotts across China.

"The British government must guarantee that it will not pursue deeper trade or investment ties with China until its government ends the persecution of the Uyghurs and lifts sanctions on its own MPs," Ghani said.

Follow words with 'meaningful action'

Thursday's vote was also welcomed by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Marco Rubio, vice-chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The two lawmakers are also IPAC co-chairs.

"Today the British Parliament has shone a light on the egregious abuses the Chinese state commits against the Uyghur people," Menendez said.

"We owe it to the victims of this genocide to call out the Chinese Communist Party's brutal persecution of the Uyghurs. The free world must be united in holding the Chinese government to account for these abuses."

Rubio added that the world "cannot stand idly by while these horrific abuses continue" and called on like-minded nations around the world to "hold the Chinese Communist Party to account for its actions."

Rahima Mahmut, director the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group and adviser to IPAC, called the vote "a major victory for all those who have been drawing attention to these abuses over many years."

"Statements of solidarity mean a lot, but Uyghurs need them to be followed up with meaningful action," she said.

"Only when the Chinese government faces the consequences of its actions will it be deterred from further abuses. The Chinese government cannot be allowed to continue to carry out crimes against humanity and genocide with impunity."

Upcoming debates

WUC President Dolkun Isa told RFA's Uyghur Service that the unanimous decision marked "another historical day for the Uyghur people" and expressed gratitude for the support.

"Today's recognition helps pave the way for the freedom of millions of Uyghurs languishing in Chinese concentration camps," he said. "This recognition not only gives hope to the Uyghur people but also encourages other governments to recognize the 21st century genocide."

In a statement, the WUC urged other governments to "follow suit" and make concrete efforts towards a legal determination of the crimes against Uyghurs and other Muslims in the XUAR.

Next week the Italian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee plans to debate a resolution proposed by IPAC member Delmastro delle Vedove condemning the abuses against Uyghurs, while a motion led by IPAC member Samuel Cogolati labelling the Chinese government's actions in the XUAR as a genocide has been tabled in the Belgian parliament, IPAC said.

IPAC members Margarete Bause and Gyde Jensen will lead a public hearing on the XUAR genocide claims in the German Bundestag next month.

Reported by RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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