The international community is legally obliged to take action on China’s alleged abuse on Uyghurs and other minorities, said a prominent group of British lawyers, adding nations could use sanctions, corporate accountability mechanisms, and international treaties preventing racial discrimination to put pressure on Beijing.
In a report released Wednesday, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) said China’s refusal to be held legally accountable for the widespread and documented human rights violations did not absolve the global community of responsibility.
“All states, including China, have unequivocally accepted that slavery and racial discrimination, torture and genocide are prohibited,” it said.
“They have committed to not carry out those proscribed acts; they have committed to their prevention; and they have committed to punishment of perpetrators where they have found individuals to have committed those proscribed acts. There can be no derogation from those commitments.”
The BHRC briefing paper, written by some of Britain’s leading human rights barristers, underlines a growing push for concrete action against China’s crackdown in Xinjiang.
It also provides some of the most specific recommendations yet for states to pressure Beijing into meeting legal obligations to its own people, and to ensure that other states do not breach their obligations by failing to act.
The report is the strongest intervention so far from the British legal community at a time when the UK and the international community have become increasingly vocal in condemning Beijing’s measures in Xinjiang.
“The UK must take all available measures to prevent and seek to end human rights violations,” it said.
Abuse and mistreatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang has been extensively documented but strenuously denied by Beijing, which claims its policies are to counter terrorism.
The evidence of mass detention in “re-education camps”, surveillance and restrictions on religious and cultural beliefs amounts to cultural genocide, critics have said.
There have also been reports of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, alleged efforts to curb the growth of the Uyghur population which human rights investigators say provide the clearest evidence yet of genocide.
On Sunday, the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses. The US government recently announced Magnitsky style sanctions against Chinese officials over the allegations, and on Tuesday France demanded independent observers be allowed into Xinjiang.
Schona Jolly QC, chair of the BHRC, told the Guardian the international community could not claim ignorance in the face of the evidence.
“The global community is not absolved of responsibility because the Chinese state has precluded itself from being found to be legally accountable under most of the usual international legal avenues,” Jolly told the Guardian.
“States must use all diplomatic means and good offices to pursue accountability.”
Many high profile international brands have been linked to Chinese manufacturers alleged to be involved in enforced labour programs, where Uyghur men and women are allegedly subjected to highly coercive conditions, including constant surveillance, the banning of religious observance, limited freedom of movement, segregated dormitory living, and mandatory ‘ideological training’.
The Chinese government said its programs were designed to address labour shortages in factories and to alleviate poverty in Xinjiang, and denied that people were ever forced to work. (Source: The Guardian)