MPs approve Commons motion declaring Uighur Muslim genocide

Richard Wheeler and Caitlin Doherty, PA Political Staff
·4-min read

MPs have approved a House of Commons motion which declares Uighur Muslims and other minorities are “suffering crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang.

Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, one of five MPs sanctioned by China for criticising its treatment of the Uighurs, moved the proposal and insisted the UK must take action.

The non-binding motion does not compel the UK Government to act, but is a further sign of the growing outcry among MPs over the situation in China.

Uyghur protest
Flags are flown during a demonstration in Parliament Square (Yui Mok/PA)

Ms Ghani said: “I know colleagues are reluctant to use the word genocide. For many, the word will forever be associated with the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and I agree with colleagues that we should never diminish the unique meaning or power of this term by applying it incorrectly.

“But there is a misunderstanding that genocide is just one act – mass killing. That is false.”

Ms Ghani said genocide concerns intent to “destroy in whole or in part” a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, adding: “All five criteria of genocide are evidenced as taking place in Xinjiang.

“While we must never misuse the term genocide, we must not fail to use it when it’s warranted.”

Uyghur protest
Conservative Party MP Timothy Loughton speaks during a demonstration (Yui Mok/PA)

Ms Ghani noted the UK Government believes genocide can only be determined by a competent court, but she warned “every route to a court is blocked by China”, adding the UK is “handcuffed, paralysed” by the United Nations.

“Our route to declaring genocide cannot be controlled by China,” she argued.

Ms Ghani said there are internment camps where detainees are subjected to “brutal torture methods, including beatings with metal prods, electric shocks and whips”, with programmes designed to “indoctrinate and ‘wash clean’ brains”.

She added “credible reports” indicate “up to two million people are extrajudicially detained in prison factories and re-education centres”.

On measures to prevent births, Ms Ghani said: “I do not believe there is any other place on Earth where women are violated on this scale.

“The Handmaid’s Tale is a fairy tale compared to the reproductive rights of Uighur women.

“This abuse is evidenced by the Chinese government’s own data – 2014, over 200,000 birth control devices were inserted in women in Xinjiang. By 2018, this had increased by 60%.

“Despite the region accounting for just 1.8% of China’s population, 80% of all birth control device insertions in China were performed in the Uighur region.”

Uyghur protest
Iain Duncan Smith after he joined Uyghurs at a demonstration in Parliament Square (YuiMok/PA)

Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith added: “Why haven’t we declared this a genocide? I do urge the Government to rethink their position on this.

“We will not gain any particular friendship by not calling out genocide from the Chinese. It is simply not a tradable item.

“The UK Government has said endlessly – and I understand this – that only a competent court can declare genocide, that is absolutely the original plan.

“But the problem is that getting to a competent court is impossible. At the United Nations it is impossible to get through to the International Court of Justice, it is impossible to get through to the International Criminal Court as China is not a signatory to that and therefore will not obey that.”

For Labour, shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Kinnock said the Commons was “instructing” the UK Government to carry out its legal duties to prevent and punish genocide.

He urged MPs to “take a stand”, adding: “Today we can speak with one voice, today we move forward with our eyes open and our shoulders broad, today we send a clear and unambiguous message that genocide can never be met with indifference or inaction.”

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams insisted the UK has taken “robust” action against China over its treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, highlighting sanctions imposed and efforts to tackle use of forced labour in UK supply chains.

He added the UK is “ramping up pressure” on Beijing through the United Nations.

Mr Adams earlier reiterated that the UK Government believes genocide is an issue for “competent national and international courts after consideration of all the available evidence”.

Prior to the debate, Conservative MPs Sir Iain, Ms Ghani and Tim Loughton joined around 30 protesters gathered in Parliament Square Gardens at a demonstration calling for China to be “held to account”.

In a statement following the approval of the motion, Sir Iain said: “This is a historic moment. Even though the Government maintains that only a court can determine genocide, Parliament has chosen to disregard that and vote itself. This puts the UK Parliament in line with Holland, Canada and the US.”