MPs have declared that Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region are being subjected to genocide.
The House of Commons on Thursday approved a motion calling on the government to act to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, for the UK, the attribution of genocide is a matter for the courts.
But during Thursday’s debate in the Commons, former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith urged the government to “rethink their position.”
“We will not gain any particular friendship by not calling out genocide from the Chinese,” he told MPs. “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.”
Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, who moved the motion in the Commons, acknowledged some MPs were “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,” she said. “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. “All five criteria of genocide are evidenced as taking place in Xinjiang,” she added.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran said: “If we end up being proved to be wrong because an independent, UN inspector goes in and is allowed to do their work and it’s shown that we all got the wrong end of the stick, then I would welcome that. But I would rather be wrong now than be on the wrong side of history later.”
Speaking on behalf of the government in the Commons, Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams highlighted how the UK recently sanctioned Chinese officials over activities in Xinjiang.
But Mr Adams repeated that the UK’s “longstanding position is that determining whether a situation amounts to genocide or crimes against humanity is an issue for competent national and international courts.”
Meanwhile, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) applauded the unanimous passing of the genocide motion and said British MPs have underscored that the UK cannot sit in silence whilst national parliaments around the world are debating this exact question.
“Uyghur survivors have begged for recognition of what is happening to them. The international community, including governments, parliaments, and civil society groups are moving towards a genocide designation,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “It is an important step in the right direction that British MPs have joined the momentum and call it what it is: a genocide.’’
WUC’s UK Director, Rahima Mahmut said in reaction to the news: “Statements of solidarity mean a lot, but Uyghurs need them to be followed up with meaningful action. Only when the Chinese government faces the consequences of its actions will it be deterred from further abuses. That the British parliament has unanimously recognised this as genocide is a major victory for all those who have been drawing attention to these abuses over many years.”
China denies that it is committing genocide and says its detention camps in Xinjiang are necessary to improve security and crack down on extremism and terrorism.