In the final of a two-part series ahead of the Criminal Justice Network's event on the persecution of Uighur Muslims, Charlie Harris discusses the action that must be taken to hold the Chinese Government accountable over its catastrophic human rights record.
There is a growing, bipartisan awareness across the world over the need to confront the Chinese Government over its catastrophic human rights record. For years, they have suppressed human rights across the country from Tibet to Hong Kong. In my previous article, I set out specific charges regarding the illegal detention and abuse of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region as they relate to human rights laws that China has broken. As I have said, the Chinese state has, not only violated numerous United Nations treaties that China was a signatory to but has also broken laws set out in its own Constitution (such as those regarding religious tolerance and freedom of movement). In this article, I will discuss the options available for the United Kingdom and its allies if it is to hold the Chinese Government accountable for what amounts to the systematic genocide of an innocent population.
Step 1: Publicly recognise that this is genocide.
Charging a country with genocide is difficult and complicated. It could be argued that, in many cases, this is for the best. It is a serious charge, and it should not be levelled haphazardly. However, there is a difference between thorough process and institutional obstruction. Ministers in the UK have traditionally deferred determining genocide to the ruling of the International Criminal Court.
But here lies the problem: China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council which means they have an automatic power of veto over any referral to the ICC.
In the same way that a defendant cannot sit on their own jury, it is impossible for a body in which China has so much power to hold China’s government accountable. Therefore, the UK High Court must be allowed to rule on whether a country is committing genocide, a measure that this Government has continually resisted.
Step 2: Allow Parliament to end trade deals.
The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute supports a 'genocide amendment' to the UK Trade Bill, a measure that enjoys wide cross-party support. This provision would force the UK Government to consult Parliament over whether it wishes to continue trading with states committing genocide. Currently, only the Government has that power.
The amendment would affect, not only bilateral trade deals with China, but all investment treaties and agreements. However, the Government proposed a compromise which would allow the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee to consider evidence of genocide and make non-binding recommendations to the Government. This proposal notably excludes the involvement of the judiciary.
Though the UK has no bilateral trade deals with China and is reportedly not pursuing one, China is among the UK’s primary trading partners. Between January and August 2019, Chinese businesses invested roughly £6 billion into the UK. Inevitably and regrettably, trade would seriously suffer.
Step 3: Allow Uighurs to seek refuge in the UK.
The UK Government must extend the same settlement rights, that it has extended in Hong Kong, to those fleeing persecution in Xinjiang. No country has yet taken the step of offering asylum for the Uighurs.
We must recognise that China is expanding its influence across Asia and Africa. Most disturbingly, Turkish dependence on China has resulted in a reversal of its stance on sheltering Uighur Muslims. An extradition treaty is being considered in return for supplies of China’s homegrown COVID vaccine. Turkey was once a safe place for Muslim refugees, but Erdogan’s handling of Turkey’s economic crisis and increasing isolation from the West has brought it, and its Uighur population, ever closer to the Chinese state.
This cannot be allowed to go on. The Uighurs will not be safe anywhere that China can exert political and economic influence. The UK must offer the Uighurs a clear path to unconditional safety.
This crisis will continue, and it will continue to get worse. When history judges us, it must be for what we did to help and save the people that needed us, rather than for what we refused to do. We must not lack courage and compassion in a moment that demands so much of it.
China is committing genocide. It is happening. That the UK Government has not named it as a genocide, shameful though it may be, does not change the fact that it is happening.
These are crimes against humanity, but they are also crimes against humans. Let us not forget that human beings are being persecuted, enslaved, and tortured by thugs, simply for the crime of existing.
There is no time to waver. Action must be taken, and it must be taken now. Lives must be saved. Families must be reunited. Otherwise, it will be too late.
Charlie Harris is a freelance writer and Policy Officer for the Young Fabians Criminal Justice Network. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, constitutional reform, and international relations. He tweets at @cmdharris.