UK’s Labour Party to recognize Uyghur genocide if it wins elections

David Lammy says China must be held accountable for human rights abuses.
By Kurban Niyaz for RFA Uyghur
2023.03.30
UK’s Labour Party to recognize Uyghur genocide if it wins elections Uyghur activist Rahima Mahmut attends a vigil outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London on Feb. 13, 2023.
AFP

UPDATED at 9:45 A.M. EDT on 03-31-2023

The United Kingdom’s opposition Labour Party will aim to declare the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs a genocide if it wins the next general election.

Labour Member of Parliament David Lammy, who serves as Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, said he “would act multilaterally with our partners” to get China’s actions recognized as genocide through international courts, he told Politico.

“What we’ve seen from China is that they continue to be more internally repressive and obviously there were huge concerns in Xinjiang,” Lammy told Politico on Tuesday during an event arranged by the left-wing think tank the Fabian Society, where he introduced Labour’s foreign policy plan for government.

“We’ve got to challenge China and they are definitely a strategic competitor in essential areas, and we’ve got to hold them to account on human rights — but there are areas where it’s important to cooperate,” he said, according to the report.

“Parliament took a decision about genocide, the international community is very concerned about genocide,” he was quoted as saying.

Lammy’s comments come as pressure builds to stop China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region amid a growing body of evidence documenting the detention of up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in “re-educations” camps, torture, sexual abuse and forced labor. 

Fellow Labor MP Blair McDougall noted that the party has always had a strong ethical element in its foreign policy.

“The UK government currently believes that to break from tradition and recognize a genocide outside of the formal international legal means would set a precedent,” he said. “But when a country as powerful as China is committing crimes we have to recognize that the existing international institutions won’t work.”

The U.S. has branded China’s actions genocide and the United Nations has said they may constitute crimes against humanity. 

But the United Kingdom has avoided doing so, preferring that the matter be determined by international courts. 

In April 2021, most members of the UK Parliament voted in favor of a motion declaring that the Chinese government was committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, though it did not compel the British government to act to recognize it.

China has consistently denied the allegations and said the camps were vocational training centers to prevent religious extremism and terrorism.

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Uyghur activists hold a vigil outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London on Feb. 13, 2023. Credit: AFP

Polls indicate that the Labor Party is favored to win the next election after more than a decade in opposition. The next general election is scheduled to be held no later than Jan. 28, 2025.

“Most people expect that Labour will form the next UK government, and a strong position on the Uyghur genocide from the UK will put pressure on other European, Commonwealth, and G7 nations to follow suit,” Mc Dougall said.

Human rights activists welcomed Lammy’s comments. 

Jaya Pathak, co-executive director of Yet Again UK and co-chair of the student wing of the UK national campaign group Stop Uyghur Genocide, said the move would provide an opportunity for the UK to lead the way in seeking justice for the Uyghur people under a future Labour government.

“David Lammy understands that the UK government has failed to fulfill their obligation under the genocide convention, and recognizes that the best way forward is for the UK to act multilaterally with its partners in order to pursue legal avenues towards genocide determination,” she said.

Rahima Mahmut, UK director for the World Uyghur Congress, said she was pleased that the shadow foreign secretary has committed to working multilaterally with international partners to secure accountability for the Uyghurs.

“I hope that this means that countries in Europe and across the world see that it is time to follow suit,” she told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.

Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, noted that Labour shadow ministers have regularly described what is happening to Uyghurs as genocide.

“The real test will be whether Labour sticks to this line when in government,” he said. “Of course, if the UK were to act to declare genocide, it would engage our responsibilities under the Genocide Convention and necessitate serious action.”

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

The story was updated to include comments from Blair McDougall and Jaya Pathak.

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