China’s Policy on its Uyghur Population

Siobhain McDonagh Excerpts
Monday 12th October 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Gray. I defer to the great knowledge of Members in this room. My own interest and involvement in the plight of the Uyghurs come from watching the Andrew Marr interview with the Chinese ambassador in July. The flagrant denial of oppression in Xinjiang was almost as terrifying as the images and videos that accompanied the interview on screen: row after row of men blindfolded with their heads shaven, waiting to be loaded on to trains. The images were so shocking that they play on one’s mind for days and weeks, and even now. The similarities, as so many have said, between that video and historic footage of Nazi concentration camps are truly chilling. All of us rightly remember and reflect on the sickening and frightening ways in which humans treat one another, and we pledge that it must never happen again. Now that the world is presented with such overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses, nobody can turn a blind eye.

Some 141 parliamentarians, including some Members in this debate, joined me in publicly expressing absolute condemnation of such oppression in an open letter to the ambassador after his interview. More than a month on, we have still not received a reply. In the meantime, shocking testimony and frightening reports have filled our in-boxes and our screens, each more terrifying than the last. There are accusations of torture, the forced abortion of babies, the sterilisation of women and the removal of their wombs. A genocide of the Uyghurs is happening before our eyes.

The Minister knows how important the word “genocide” is in international law. He might even be under strict instructions not to use that word here today, but he will know how unlikely it is that the world will arrive at a definition, given the countries that sit in the United Nations and the veto that they hold. A cowardly country could hide behind the linguistic excuse. Shame on us if we choose that path, because the Chinese Government’s actions must be stated as what they are: a systematic and calculated programme of ethnic cleansing against the Uyghur people.

An independent tribunal is under way, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. Government endorsement of the findings, whatever they may be, is surely the moral and necessary action to take. Organising and leading an international tribunal would be even stronger. No one could leave this debate anything other than horrified at the situation in Xinjiang. Condemning the world’s next superpower is easy. Taking action is much harder. If we look on, history will condemn our unforgivable cowardice and ask why those in power did not act. This is a heavy burden for the Minister, but he is the person in the chair in a position of influence. Warm words are simply not enough because this time no one can say that they did not know.