UK failure to impose sanctions on China over Uighurs ‘painful and hurtful’
Kim Sengupta·3-min read
The British government’s failure to include Chinese officials in the latest round of its ‘Magnitsky Sanctions’ on human rights abuses has been described as “painful and hurtful” by a leading Uighur activist.
The UK’s Global Human Rights Sanctions, announced on Thursday, World Human Rights Day, targeted officials from Venezuela, Russia, The Gambia, and Pakistan. Those named, said foreign secretary Dominic Raab, faced asset freezes and travel bans, adding: “Global Britain will stand up for democracy, human rights and the rule of law as a force for good in the world.”
But there were no sanctions against the Beijing government over mass abuse in Xinjiang, where up to 1 million Uighur Muslims have been sent to prison camps and the community subjected to draconian laws with religious and cultural practices suppressed.
Rahima Mahmut, the UK project director at the World Uighur Congress and an advisor at the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said that Britain’s lack of action was the legacy of David Cameron’s government, which turned a blind eye to Beijing’s malpractice in the hope of ushering in a “golden era” of trade.
She said the lack of sanctions was “really painful, really hurtful… The transition cannot come so quickly when the previous government believed in that ‘Golden Era’, in golden opportunities.” Speaking at an event organised by the US embassy in London to mark World Human Rights Day, Ms Mahmut continued that the UK will take action against Beijing over the abuse in the future. But in the meantime, she wanted to stress “my people are getting murdered, getting raped, getting forcibly sterilised. The young are being particularly targeted. We have a mountain of evidence on all this now”.
Luke de Pulford, a fellow of Hong Kong Watch, and a commissioner for the Conservative Party’s Hunan Rights Commission, pointed out that the US has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, and made the evidence behind it available to the British government.
Mr De Pulford had himself, he said, placed an additional dossier of evidence over the abuse of the Uighurs in front of the British government.
Nathan Law, a prominent pro-democracy activist and former student leader in Hong Kong, said the UK’s decision could not have been based on lack of evidence. “If it’s about evidence, then the Xinjiang officials should have long been sanctioned. This is a political decision”, he said.
Mr Law held that the British government was attempting to use the threat of sanctions to get concessions from Beijing, predicting that the strategy would fail.
He said: “I really think this is about this UK hedging strategy and I hope it will come to an end. They have expressed a lot of different messages of being strong and tough towards China. The policy can be used as a leverage in terms of other interaction. [But] there is nothing to expect from China and there is no fantasy to be had about the Chinese communist party and the nature of the Chinese government’s policies.”
The US administration has imposed sanctions on 14 senior Chinese officials this week for their role in “developing, adopting, or implementing” the punitive National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong. “These individuals and their immediate family members will be barred from traveling to the United States. Their assets within the jurisdiction of the United States or in the possession or control of US persons will be blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them”, said the state department .
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing responded: “The Chinese government and people express strong indignation to and strongly condemn the outrageous, unscrupulous, crazy and vile act of the US side”. It accused the US of “severely violating basic norms governing international relations”.