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The real insult to the Chinese people is to condone the Uyghur genocide committed in their name

Faced with inhumanity on a scale not seen in our lifetimes, our government has been resolute only in its determination to stick its fingers in its ears, write Caroline Lucas and John Ashton

Tuesday 14 December 2021 10:35 GMT
Xinjiang is now the world’s largest open prison
Xinjiang is now the world’s largest open prison (AP)

Now there can be no doubt. Genocide is being visited upon the Uyghur people of Xinjiang in Western China. That’s the key finding of the Uyghur Tribunal, the most thorough and authoritative investigation yet conducted into their plight.

The story that emerges from the Tribunal’s report, released last week, is almost too awful for words. Yet that is precisely why everyone lucky enough to live in a free society should give it their attention. Our parents and grandparents, the “never again” generations, would expect no less of us. They would recognise the grim litany.

Possibly over a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and others, mostly Muslims, rounded up, torn from home and family – often simply made to vanish – and detained under unspeakable conditions in camps whose very existence was long denied. Torture and rape used systematically to subjugate. Forced abortion and sterilization on a scale “intended to destroy a significant part” of the Uyghur people, with births crashing in places by two thirds. Forced labour, integrated into the economy, in Xinjiang and in factories across China.

Xinjiang is now the world’s largest open prison, policed with the most intrusive methods of surveillance and control ever devised. Mosques and cemeteries have been desecrated and demolished; signs of faith prohibited and punished. Children are routinely taken from their homes, treated as orphans, and indoctrinated in special schools.

There is more than one way to destroy an entire people. You can murder them one by one. Or you can crush their culture, erase their rituals, beliefs and symbols, break their will, take away their reproductive rights and brainwash those who survive until they have forgotten who they were and where they came from.

The UK has a solemn obligation under the 1948 Genocide Convention to protect victims of genocide. But faced with inhumanity on a scale not seen in our lifetimes, our government has been resolute only in its determination to stick its fingers in its ears and keep whistling.

New Report Details Human Rights Violations Against Uyghur Muslims

It refuses to discuss the subject of genocide, arguing cynically that only the courts can decide it. It knows China would veto any recourse to the International Court of Justice – and that other international mechanisms are equally inaccessible. But it blocks all attempts to ask UK courts for the preliminary ruling they could provide.

One can only speculate about why our government should be willing to pay such a high price in complicity. But our prime minister declares himself a “fervent sinophile”. His chancellor wants a relationship with China that is “mature and balanced” in accordance with “the potential of a fast growing financial services market”.

The new German government has repudiated the relaxed attitude of its predecessor. A growing number of governments (including the US administration) and parliaments (including ours) accept that this is genocide.

Our government should immediately follow suit. It should ask our High Court for a judicial ruling. It should put urgently before parliament a package of measures to fulfill the UK’s obligations under the Genocide Convention. These should include comprehensive, watertight and transparent mechanisms to stop any company trading in UK markets that may be complicit, whether through supply chains or its own operations in China, including in communications, artificial intelligence, surveillance and enforcement as well as in textiles.

The government should also rule out trade and investment deals with governments implicated in genocide. It should mount a diplomatic campaign for a global boycott of all goods and services possibly linked to forced labour in China. And it should extend the existing “Magnitsky” sanctions on Chinese officials to all those directly implicated, however senior, including Xinjiang Party boss Chen Quanguo, a leading architect of the genocide.

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The prime minister promised parliament a diplomatic and political boycott of the Winter Olympics. He should now work with counterparts to press commercial sponsors to withdraw. Athletes should, with support from their funders and sporting bodies, reflect on whether by attending they will lose more than they can ever gain from any laurels in what will go down in history as the Genocide Games.

We hold no animosity towards a great nation that has itself been traumatized by past imperial oppression. On the contrary, we want to see a China risen beyond its deadly cycle of historic abuse and helping others to do the same, a China centre stage in a concert of nations working together to make the world a better place. The real insult to the Chinese people would be to condone genocide committed in their name, not to stand against it. They too deserve a future forever free from the stain of this uniquely abhorrent crime.

If in this small and crowded world we lose our compassion for our fellow peoples, however different their cultures and distant their homelands, we lose everything. It is time to wake up. Time to act.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

John Ashton was a senior UK diplomat, who served in Beijing and Hong Kong

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