Communal leaders have welcomed the foreign secretary’s decision to place sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
The UK, US, Canada and the European Union announced penalties against those deemed to be linked to appalling human rights abuses, including forced labour and detention in Xinjiang. Dominic Raab’s travel bans and asset freezes are against four senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.
The Foreign Secretary said the abuse of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang was “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and the international community “cannot simply look the other way”.
Board president Marie van der Zyl thanked the government for “acknowledging the necessity of such steps”, saying: “Whatever setbacks there may be, the Board will remain steadfast in its support for the Uyghur people and will continue to do what it can to help them in their plight.”
It was announced as the government came under severe pressure to pass an amendment put forward by Conservative rebels, to limit ministers signing trade agreements with countries deemed by judges to have been involved in genocide. China has been accused of a genocide against Uyghur Muslims, with reports of forced sterilisation, forced labour, and a million interned in ‘re-education’ camps.
On Monday evening, the House of Commons voted 319 to 297, majority 22, to disagree with a Lords’ Genocide Amendment to the Trade Bill.
This would have established a parliamentary panel of judicial experts to determine whether any proposed signatory to a trade agreement with the UK had committed genocide. Instead, a further Government amendment to the Bill was approved.
Trade minister Greg Hands said the bill will require the Government to formally put in writing its position should any select committee publication raise “credible reports of genocide” in a country with which the UK is proposing a bilateral free trade agreement.
The division list showed 29 Conservative MPs rebelled over two votes in a bid to stop the removal of the Lords genocide amendment. They included former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
This comes amid a campaign by Jewish community groups, including this paper, to raise awareness about the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China. The Government has been engaged in a long-running battle with some of its backbenchers and the Opposition over the issue, with Prime minister Boris Johnson writing a letter to one of the leading rebel Tories Nus Ghani MP, saying the situation “remains a priority”. The backbench politician delivered a campaign to Number 10, with Jewish News, signed by 150 parliamentarians.
Speaking to Jewish News, Nus Ghani MP said: “The Ghani/Genocide Alton Amendment was defeated by a narrow 18 votes but we didn’t fail.”
Over the months of votes and pressure the Government conceded many key points and we were able to secure historic legislation on Genocide and Trade.”
We now have a select committee process to assess if Genocide is taking place and we also secured the first 4 sanctions against Chinese Officials.”
We have cemented the principle that Trade and Genocide are linked and the plight of the Uygur is heard loud and clear.
I will continue to expose atrocities against the Uygur in Parliament.”
Sir Bob Neill, Conservative chairman of the Justice Committee, said there remained “difficulties” in the Lords amendment given the involvement of judges in political decisions.
The Trade Bill is now on the verge of becoming law following a lengthy parliamentary process known as “ping-pong” in which it moved between the Commons and Lords following amendments.
Campaigner Luke de Pulford, who was instrumental in drafting the genocide amendment, said on Twitter: “Massive advances made today for human rights. This campaign has secured huge wins and UK Genocide debate will never be the same.
Nus Ghani called the 29 Tory rebels “heroes”, saying: “We didn’t secure the #GenocideAmendment by 18 votes. BUT we gained sanctions against China Officials complicit in Uyghur abuse.
We secured a Select Committee process to assess Genocide. And no trade deal with genocidal states without parliamentary security.”
Rahima Mahmut, UK Project Director for the World Uyghur Congress, and advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “While disappointed Lord Alton’s ‘genocide amendment’ was voted down in parliament last night, our campaign has certainly made gains.”
Not only have sanctions been imposed on four senior Chinese government officials implicated in the Uyghur genocide, a government compromise amendment that allows for parliamentary scrutiny of trade policy was also passed. These are bold steps in the right direction and while there is certainly more work to be done, I am confident that the UK is up to the challenge.”
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