UK Labour aims to declare China’s treatment of Uyghurs ‘genocide’
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LONDON — The U.K. Labour Party will pursue legal routes toward declaring China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims a “genocide” if it wins the next election, the shadow foreign secretary has announced.
David Lammy said that if Labour formed the next British government, he would “act multilaterally with our partners” to seek recognition of China’s actions as genocide through the international courts.
China has detained Uyghurs at camps in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where there have been allegations of torture, forced labor and sexual abuse. The Chinese government claims the camps carry out “re-education” to combat terrorism.
China’s actions have already been branded genocide by the U.S. State Department, and as potential crimes against humanity by the U.N. But successive Conservative governments in the U.K. have resisted using the term, saying it is up to international courts to declare a genocide.
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Lammy made the commitment Tuesday in conversation with POLITICO at an event organised by the Fabian Society, a left-wing think tank, where he launched his party’s foreign policy plan for government. Current U.K. polling suggests Labour is on course to win the next election after more than a decade in opposition.
In 2021 Labour backed a Commons motion accusing China of genocide, helping it to pass despite a lack of government support.
Asked by POLITICO whether this was still his party’s position Lammy said: “Yes it is. I think that what we’ve seen from China is that they continue to be more internally repressive and obviously there were huge concerns in Xinjiang.”
He added: “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.”
Asked whether this meant Labour would declare China’s actions genocide if it entered government, Lammy said “yes.” He later clarified: “We would act multilaterally with our partners. Parliament took a decision about genocide, the international community is very concerned about genocide.”
Responding to Lammy’s comments, Rahima Mahmut of the World Uyghur Congress said: “This is very encouraging news. While many on the Conservative benches courageously spoke up for the Uyghur people, there has been very little action from successive governments. Meanwhile our people have endured a horrific genocide, and nothing concrete has been done for us — they haven’t even given the crimes of the Chinese government their proper name. Having a promise that a Labour government would not forsake us for trade advantage gives us hope.”
Lammy’s Labour colleague Stephen Kinnock, then the shadow minister for Asia, said in the Commons in April 2021 that the government should introduce a General Assembly resolution at the U.N. “requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of genocide.”
Kinnock added that the U.K. should “explore legal avenues via other international treaties and conventions, such as the convention against torture, to which China is a signatory.”
A Labour official said these were the steps that Lammy would take if he became foreign secretary.
Such a move would likely be met with fury from Beijing and put further strain on relations with London, jeopardizing trade between the two nations. China vehemently denies that its treatment of the Uyghurs constitutes genocide and has sanctioned seven U.K. lawmakers over what it calls “lies and disinformation” about the issue.
Labour said it was determined to carry on collaborating with China on trade, climate change and global health, mirroring the government’s current stance. U.K. trade with China was worth £103.5 billion last year.