Given what the Uighur are facing the government’s stance is unforgivable
Today MPs are expecting to vote on a proposal that would block future trade talks with China if the High Court, which must first be consulted, rules that the atrocities against the Uighur and other mainly Muslim-minorities in China’s far west amount to genocide.
Boris Johnson’s government, unlike the administration of the US president, Joe Biden, seems determined not to mention the G word. Conservative MPs are under massive pressure to vote down the proposal. The outcome hangs by a thread.
A lifetime ago our grandparents’ generation, scarred in their souls by an unspeakable horror, said “never again”.
What scarred them was a genocidal project. It filled them with remorse that they had been powerless to stop it sooner, to grasp sooner it’s true enormity.
So that future generations would never have to feel the same remorse, those who bore the scars bequeathed to us the 1948 Genocide Convention. The convention gives a name to the evil it addresses. It is the highest expression in international law of our common humanity.
Today it seems there is another project. It aims, apparently, to wipe out an ancient culture; to put an end to a way of life; to destroy the very identity of the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim groups in Xinjiang.
Beijing has denied that is what is happening. But there is a growing body of evidence. It includes reports that the victims of this project have been rounded up by the hundred thousand and herded into camps; put to work as slaves in factories and fields; subjected to the systematic use of rape and torture to break their will; and forcibly sterilised. Many have allegedly had their children taken from them and consigned to state “orphanages”, where it is feared they are taught to hate their families, their religion, their culture.
Every gesture, word and deed are allegedly policed by the most advanced technological means; and in many cases, according to reports, they must accommodate state officials who monitor them around the clock in their homes, on pain of being sent to the camps. Places of worship, it has been credibly claimed, have been demolished, sacred texts vilified and beliefs abased.
In the face of this, our government has done all it can to avoid calling this evil by its name and to prevent its hands being tied by any invocation of the convention.
With all international options blocked by the Chinese authorities, the only path available runs through our own courts, as the government well knows. It’s not perfect. But it would hardly drive a coach and horses through our judicial system. The lesser evil is obvious.
The government first demanded that the UN high commissioner for human rights visit China to gather new evidence before any determination on genocide. But there is already a great deal of evidence, and ministers surely know that access will either be denied or so stage-managed as to be meaningless.
The government now wants a parliamentary committee to be charged with making a determination instead of the courts. But any credible ruling must be independent, and seen to be independent, of politics.
The government has, yes, announced modest measures to insulate UK supply chains from the alleged slave economy in Xinjiang. But it has failed to invoke its own much-trumpeted “Magnitsky” sanctions against Chinese officials. It will it says keep them under review. But if not now, when?
Right now our government is saying to the world: “Of course we are against these atrocities. But as long as our companies and consumers are not sullied, we will not call this evil by its true name, we will not stand with all our might against it; we will make our stand sitting down”.
Some say we cannot afford to confront a rising China. We do not call for China to be confronted. We do say that for our standing in the world and our own self-respect, we cannot afford not to call to account those responsible for a project that looks to us prima facie as genocidal as any since the convention was written into international law.
We have just, we are told, taken back control. The price of control is the obligation now to tell the world who we are and what we stand for. That is the question MPs will be asked. How each one votes will not soon be forgotten. What is decided will be entered on a slate that cannot be wiped clean.
Theologian and ant-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”. We appeal to the government, even at this eleventh hour: do the right thing and stop blocking the genocide proposal. We appeal to MPs of all parties: give this proposal the resounding support it deserves.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion
John Ashton was a senior UK diplomat. He served in Beijing and Hong Kong