Commons to vote on declaration of genocide in Xinjiang province
Organisers seek backing of two-thirds of MPs for all-party motion citing China’s treatment of UyghursPatrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
The House of Commons is to be given a chance to vote to declare that a genocide is under way in Xinjiang province in China, in a move likely to damage Sino-British relations.
The organisers hope that at least two-thirds of MPs will vote on 22 April to back the all-party motion in a declaration of intent against China for its treatment of the Uyghur Muslims.
Relations are already at a low ebb after China sanctioned 10 individuals and entities in the UK in response to the Foreign Office imposing sanctions on four Chinese officials implicated in setting up detention camps in Xinjiang.
Ministers are likely to be asked to abstain in the vote on the basis that the government believes it is for the international courts alone to declare a genocide. The Foreign Office also supports the UN high commissioner on human rights being allowed by China to go to Xinjiang to conduct an unfettered inquiry.
China has already slapped sanctions on some MPs critical of China’s human rights record, including the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat, and the chair of the Conservative party policy board, Neil O’Brien.
It is very rare for the Commons to make collective decisions on genocide, but MPs did vote in April 2016 by 278 to 0 in April 2016 to say the Yazidis had suffered genocide at the hands of Islamic State. The latest motion does not declare a terrorist group is committing genocide, but a fellow member of the UN security council.
The Foreign Office minister at the time, Tobias Ellwood, said he believed personally that a genocide was under way, but it was not for the UK government to have an opinion.
Although the new vote will be dismissed as non-binding on government, a large number of British MPs denouncing China for committing genocide could have a large diplomatic and moral impact.
The motion due to be included on the order paper on Thursday reads: “This house believes the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang region are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide.”
It also calls on the government to fulfil its obligations under the convention on the prevention of genocide and other instruments of international law to bring it to an end.
The motion points out that two of the UK’s closest allies – the US and Canada – have declared it a genocide.
The organisers of the motion are hoping that opposition frontbenches will impose a three-line whip to ensure there is a strong turnout on Thursday afternoon, and as many as 400 MPs will go through the division lobbies.
The Yazidi vote in 2016 was on a Wednesday when MPs were less likely to have already returned to their constituencies.
The foreign affairs select committee investigation into Xinjiang detention camps is looking at whether the UK should follow the US with a total ban on cotton imports from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. It is also likely to recommend an update to the Modern Slavery Act, with a new corporate duty to prevent harm in business supply chains, so mandating companies to undertake due diligence or face fines. The Modern Slavery Act merely requires companies to publish reports on their diligence.
The committee has also been given evidence on “the conspicuous silence of the UN International Labour Organisation about the extent of forced labour in Xinjiang”.
The news of the vote comes as a group of parliamentarians led by Lord Patten and the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, call for Boris Johnson to extend limited sanctions to Hong Kong officials.
In a letter to Johnson, more than 100 parliamentarians write: “This unprecedented attack on democratic representatives of the western world deserves a robust and coordinated response.
“The time has come to expand the list of Chinese officials sanctioned for the gross human rights abuses taking place against the Uyghurs, including the architect of the detention camps, Chen Quanguo, and to finally introduce Magnitsky sanctions against the officials and entities responsible for the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.”