British Parliamentarians Recognize The Atrocities Against The Uyghurs As Genocide
On April 22, 2021, British Parliamentarians recognized the atrocities perpetrated against the Uyghurs as genocide. This debate was only the second time the U.K. House of Commons was asked to recognize ongoing atrocities as genocide, with the first being in the case of Daesh atrocities against Yazidis, Christians and others. This recognition of genocide follows similar determinations made by the U.S. State Department, Canadian and Dutch Parliamentarians.
The evidence discussed during the debate included allegations of mass killings, mass incarceration in camps where Uyghurs would be subjected to torture and abuse, including rape and sexual violence, separation of children from their parents, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, forced labor and much more. The Chinese government denies these atrocities.
As it stands, it is very unlikely that the Chinese government will take notice of this determination. Indeed, on March 31, 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying rejected the allegations of genocide stating that: “No State, organization, or individual is qualified and entitled to arbitrarily determine that another country has committed genocide. In international relations, no country should use this accusation as a political label for rumor-mongering and malicious manipulation.” However, as it was discussed by British Parliamentarians during the debate in Westminster, currently there is no court that could consider the atrocities and determine them as genocide.
Indeed, as experts emphasize, “In a perfect world, the allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs would be considered by an international court or tribunal or a specially established UN investigative mechanism, but this has not been done and it is unlikely to happen, given China’s powerful position at the UN and reservations to, or non-membership of, relevant treaties. This, however, does not preclude States making their own determination and acting accordingly. In fact, States, as the duty holder under the Genocide Convention, must make such determinations to inform their responses.”
However, it cannot stop at recognizing the atrocities as genocide. Action should follow.
Indeed, the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) imposes duties upon State parties: the duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. Commenting on the duty to prevent, experts commented that: “States must conduct their monitoring, analysis and determination of at least the serious risk of genocide very early on – in order to engage their duties. This means that States need to consider the legal elements of genocide and/or risk factors, as set out, for example, in the U.N. Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes and the Jacob Blaustein Institute’s Compilation of Risk Factors and Legal Norms for the Prevention of Genocide. Where, after the analysis of all relevant evidence, states conclude that the evidence indicates commission of genocide or a serious risk of genocide, their failure to act incurs their own responsibility. The obligation to prevent exists distinct from other obligations and does not simply disappear for failure to draw a conclusion in the face of available evidence.” Unfortunately, not many States engage with such monitoring, analysis and determination that would enable them to be effective in their responses to genocide.
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As more and more States consider the question of genocide against the Uyghurs, it is crucial to take steps to give effect to the duties under the Genocide Convention. This includes suppressing the atrocities and protecting the victims. This also means ensuring justice. In order for justice being done in the future, work needs to be done now. Documenting and preserving evidence at the time of the suspected atrocity is the only way to effectively ensure justice in the future.
This could be done by a specially established U.N. mechanism. Indeed, over the U.N. established such mechanisms several times in recent years, most notably, the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM), and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM). Considering China’s powerful position at the U.N., establishing such a mechanism is not going to be easy. However, this should not prevent States from trying. Silence and inaction cannot be justified.