When the European Parliament passed a resolution in December of last year strongly condemning the large-scale incarceration of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China, it was seen by rights group as the economic bloc’s laying out of a blueprint for action against Beijing should it not stop its harsh treatment of the Muslim minority group.
At the time the resolution was passed, the Munich-based World Uighur Congress (WUC) called it “a turning point in the EU’s attitude and position on the crisis in East Turkestan,” the name by which many Uighurs refer to Xinjiang.
The resolution gives the EU a mandate to take concrete measures by allowing the adoption of targeted sanctions and asset freezes against Chinese officials responsible for the repression and mass detentions in Xinjiang where more than 10 million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims live.
“While the EU has been among the loudest voices calling for the camps to be closed, it had yet to take strong and concrete action to realize this goal,” the WUC said in a statement.
Though it could take months before the EU as a whole moves to implement specific measures against China, rights groups say they have high expectations that something will occur soon.
The resolution notes the rapid deterioration of the situation in Xinjiang during the last few years with the mass internment of up to 2 million people, intrusive digital surveillance, political indoctrination, and forced cultural assimilation.
It calls on the Chinese government to immediately shut down the detention centres, unconditionally release detainees, and give independent journalists and international observers unfettered access to the region.
“It’s just one step in the larger process of getting the European Union to take further action,” said Ryan Barry, WUC’s project coordinator and researcher. “It gives the EU a mandate to take some very concrete measures, including suggestions to take sanctions, which is something we’ve been calling for a long time.”
The December 2019 resolution is the third such measure to be passed by EU lawmakers in the last 18 months to address the Uighur crisis and demonstrate the body’s resolve to take substantial action to stop China from violating human rights in Xinjiang.
Going beyond the other two measures, the new resolution calls on EU companies to monitor their involvement in the Uighur region to ensure they are not complicit in or responsible for crimes against humanity taking place there, Barry said.
Others indicate an urgency for concrete action because they say China may not take the December resolution or other measures seriously. So far, the situation in Xinjiang, where authorities are believed to have held 1.8 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017, hasn’t changed.
“The resolutions may be ignored, but the EU has to be ready to follow up and impose necessary actions/measures in accordance with international law,” Bahtiyar Omer, chairman of the Norwegian Uighur Committee, wrote in an email to RFA. “We cannot stop fighting for basic and universal values just because China might ignore it.”
Gheyur Qurban, WUC’s Berlin-based youth committee director, told RFA in 2019 that China believes it can afford to ignore accountability on the Uighur crisis because of its economic superpower status.
Rights groups say that pressure must be sustained on bodies like the EU to keep the Uighur crisis out in front so that lawmakers and others will decide to implement concrete measures against China sooner rather than later, but challenges remain.
Ralph Bunche, general-secretary of the Brussels-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), notes that unlike the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, a legally binding measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2019, the EU Parliament’s latest resolution is a nonbinding statement that is asking EU institutions to act.
The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which still must clear the U.S. Senate, requires President Donald Trump to condemn Chinese abuses in Xinjiang and call for the closure of mass detention facilities.
The passage of the act by the House was followed by calls from U.S. lawmakers for Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, the architect of the internment policy, and other Chinese officials, and for efforts to prevent U.S. companies from buying Chinese products made with forced labour in the Xinjiang camps. (Source: FRA)