Block China’s seat on human rights council over Uighurs, urges Lisa Nandy

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Originally published by The Guardian on October 10, 2020

The UN must be allowed to conduct an inquiry into possible crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, the shadow foreign secretary says

Britain must oppose giving China a seat on the UN’s human rights body this week in protest at its abuse of Uighur Muslims, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary has warned.

With the government facing accusations of confusion over its relationship with Beijing, Nandy will join other organisations in calling for Britain not to support China’s place on the council until the UN is allowed to conduct an independent investigation into its treatment of the Uighurs.

In a letter to foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Nandy cites UN guidance that countries should “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights” when voting for membership of the human rights council.

“Labour is calling on the government to oppose China’s election to the UN human rights council … until such time as access is granted – and make clear to the world the reasons for doing so,” she writes. “In the current circumstances, China cannot be regarded as meeting the required standards.”

She asserts that the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang is “prima facie, a crime against humanity” and also “appear to share features of genocide within the meaning of the 1948 convention”. She continues: “You know, as well as anyone, that international law matters and that silence in the face of such horrors will be seen by some as complicity. The UK must take this opportunity to show solidarity with the Uighur people and demonstrate that we can still be trusted to defend human rights around the world.”

It comes after Raab last week suggested that Britain could boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 if evidence mounts over the abuse of Uighur Muslims. He said that the attendance of prominent figures such as the Duke of Cambridge at the games would also have to be “looked at very carefully”. He added that China was guilty of gross and egregious human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.

Nandy said, however, that such gestures were inadequate in the face of the “disturbing evidence of mass detention, forced sterilisation and slave labour” emerging from the region. “The UK government must step up and lead international action to provide the UN with immediate, unfettered access to Xinjiang,” she told the Observer.

“The government must show the Chinese government that there are consequences for these actions by taking a public and active stance against China’s election to the UN human rights council this week. Anything short of this would be a complete failure of our responsibility to the Uighur people and call into question whether the UK can be trusted to uphold human rights.”

She said the government’s approach to China had been “deeply confused”, with diplomats criticising Beijing over human rights, while another wing of government was considering “handing over significant control of our nuclear energy to a Chinese state-backed company”.

Human Rights Watch and the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network have both already called for China’s place on the council to be opposed this week. Elections will be held for 15 three-year terms on the council. The UK is already backing a call from an alliance of 39 countries for an independent inquiry. A resolution has been laid by Germany.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “As the foreign secretary has said, the international community will not turn a blind eye to egregious human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.

“This week at the UN general assembly, we and 38 other countries expressed our deep concern, calling on China to allow unfettered access in the region, including for the UN high commissioner for human rights.”

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