Human Rights Update - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 22 March.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is as clear as it is sobering. It includes satellite imagery; survivor testimony; official documentation and, indeed, leaks from the Chinese Government themselves; credible open-source reporting, including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated other reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups.

In sum, the evidence points to a highly disturbing programme of repression. Expressions of religion have been criminalised and Uighur language and culture discriminated against on a systematic scale. There is widespread use of forced labour with women forcibly sterilised, children separated from their parents and an entire population subject to surveillance, including the collection of DNA and use of facial recognition software and so-called predictive policing algorithms.

State control in the region is systemic. Over 1 million people have been detained without trial. There are widespread claims of torture and rape in the camps based on first-hand survivor testimony. People are detained for having too many children, for praying too much, for having a beard or wearing a headscarf, and for having the wrong thoughts.

I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning such appalling violations of the most basic human rights. In terms of scale, it is the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since the Second World War, and I believe one thing is clear: the international community cannot simply look the other way.

It has been two and a half years since the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on China to stop arbitrarily detaining Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province. It is over 18 months since the UK led the first ever joint UN statement on Xinjiang at the UN General Assembly’s third committee, back in October 2019. The number of countries now willing to speak out collectively has grown from just 23 to 39 as the evidence has accumulated and as our diplomatic efforts have borne fruit. That is a clear signal to China about the breadth of international concern.

Last year, 50 independent UN experts spoke out about the situation in an exceptional joint statement calling on China to respect basic human rights. Last month at the Human Rights Council, I led the calls on China to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet—or another fact-finding expert—urgent and unfettered access to Xinjiang. Since then, Ms Bachelet herself has reinforced in the clearest terms the need for independent access to verify the deteriorating situation. We regret that, instead of recognising those calls from the international community, China has simply sought to deny them. The Chinese authorities have claimed that the legitimate concerns raised are fake news. At the same time, the authorities continue to expand prison facilities, surveillance networks and forced labour programmes. China continues to resist access for the UN or other independent experts to verify the truth, notwithstanding its blanket denials.

For the UK’s part, our approach has been to call out these egregious, industrial-scale human rights abuses, to work with our international partners and ultimately to match words with actions. In January, I announced a package of measures to help ensure that no British organisations—government or private sector—deliberately or inadvertently can profit from human rights violations against the Uighurs or other minorities and that no businesses connected with the internment camps can do business in the UK.

Today, we are taking further steps, again in co-ordination with our international partners. Having very carefully considered the evidence against the criteria in our global human rights sanctions regime, I can tell the House that I am designating four senior individuals responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Alongside those individuals, we are also designating the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. That is the organisation responsible for enforcing the repressive security policies across many areas of Xinjiang. The sanctions involve travel bans and asset freezes against the individuals and asset freezes against the entity we are designating. The individuals are barred from entering the UK. Any assets found in the UK will be frozen.

We take this action alongside the EU, the US and Canada, which are all taking similar measures today. I think it is clear that by acting with our partners—30 of us in total—we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights and that we will act in concert to hold those responsible to account.

As the Prime Minister set out in the integrated review last week, China is an important partner in tackling global challenges such as climate change. We pursue a constructive dialogue where that proves possible, but we will always stand up for our values, and in the face of evidence of such serious human rights violations, we will not look the other way. The suffering of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang cannot be ignored. Human rights violations on this scale cannot be ignored. Together with our partners, we call on China to end these cruel practices, and I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 1:01 pm, 23rd March 2021

My Lords, I am pleased that sanctions against Chinese officials have finally been confirmed. This is a welcome step. I also welcome the moves made yesterday by the EU and other partners, albeit many months after the Board of Deputies, the Uighur Congress, Members across this House and in the Commons called for their introduction. However, these designations are not enough and are certainly not a substitute for Parliament gaining the power to block trade agreements with China based on a determination of genocide. The sanctions do not represent a strategy; they are just one instrument in a foreign policy that is not nearly confident enough about our values. If the Government are truly serious about holding this barbarism to account, they must be consistent in their approach. That is why what the Foreign Secretary said earlier this month is so concerning —that he has no reason to think that we could not deepen our trading relationships with China. Boris Johnson said only last month that he is committed to strengthening the United Kingdom’s ties with China, whatever the occasional political difficulties.

As a country, we can never turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. That means always standing with the Uighur people, not only when it is convenient for us to do so. The Foreign Secretary said that the persecution of the Uighur Muslims represents one of the worst human rights crises of our time and, for that reason, it requires one of the strongest international responses of our time, co-ordinated with our allies. Can the Minister therefore confirm why there are discrepancies between the designations in our sanctions and those of the US?

Last Wednesday, the Financial Times reported Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, when he identified 24 CCP officials. He warned that any financial institution that had significant business with these officials would also be subject to sanctions. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that we will mirror that action.

Our actions must be swift and urgent, and these designations are neither. As a country, we must reflect our values on the world stage and at home, which means that these sanctions must be equipped with domestic legislation to prevent anyone in the UK being linked to this persecution. Will the Minister commit the Government to strengthening Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act to prevent forced labour being supported by UK business supply chains?

Yesterday in the other place, despite the press reports I have referred to, the Foreign Secretary said

“that there is no realistic or foreseeable prospect of a free trade agreement and that the way to deepen our trade with China was for it to improve its human rights record.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 624.]

I hope that the Minister can today give a cast-iron guarantee that the Government have no intention of pursuing trade negotiations with the Government of China during the course of this Parliament. Above all, if the UK is determined to face down the oppression of the Uighur people, we must build bridges with like-minded allies who share our ambition to end this persecution.

Can the Minister tell us in more detail what steps the United Kingdom will take at the UN to raise the situation in the Xinjiang province? The House may also be aware that today marks the conclusion of the UN Human Rights Council’s main 2021 session, which will end without any condemnation of China’s action in Xinjiang, Hong Kong or elsewhere. The UK needs a foreign policy that is clear and confident about our values, but instead, for a decade now the Government have pursued an incoherent and inconsistent approach to the Chinese Government and the Chinese communist party. There is no greater display of this than the efforts to block the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, just as the Government announce these long-awaited sanctions.

As I have warned before, there is a yawning chasm between the Government’s words and their actions. If they share the ambition of these Benches for the United Kingdom to be a moral force for good in the world, they must do more to stand against the barbaric events in Xinjiang. That means acting with greater urgency than we have seen with these sanctions, taking steps domestically to prevent the UK being linked in any way to these events, and working in tandem with our allies who share our values.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing us this Statement. The Foreign Secretary has described the treatment of the Uighurs as

“one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/21; col. 621.]

He noted that the evidence is clear in the form of satellite images, testimony from survivors, official documents, leaks from the Chinese Government and much else besides. This has been gathered despite China’s refusal to allow in independent inspectors, as requested by Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and others.

As well as attacks on the Uighur culture and language, we see forced labour, forced sterilisation and children being separated from their parents. More than 1 million people have been detained without trial. The Statement describes this as the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since World War Two. Many experts are now reporting that every provision of the convention on genocide has been violated. Can the noble Lord say whether the Government accept that this is genocide? When the Chief Rabbi describes it as such, do the Government not concur? The Americans certainly describe it as genocide.

I note the cynicism expressed in the Commons yesterday—that this announcement was amazingly timed, just as the Government sought to see off the amendment on genocide that has come repeatedly from this House, led by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The UK has said consistently that genocide determination is a matter for the courts, and the noble Lord has always said so. But then the Government resisted that method when presented with a way of doing it. However, when it is not possible for a determination to be made by the International Criminal Court, as here, what is the pathway to genocide determination? That remains very unclear.

I welcome the sanctions announced yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. In this instance, I commend the Government for their close working with our allies. I note that not all of the Five Eyes countries have joined in. If that reflects a concern about repercussions, that is worrying and shows how vital it is that we act together. I am particularly pleased that we are acting jointly with the EU. The integrated review more or less ignored the continent we sit in, yet it was when we were in the EU, as the Minister knows, that we worked with our EU colleagues, particularly Sweden and the Netherlands, to bring forward the adoption of human rights sanctions by the EU. As he himself always and rightly says, sanctions are most effective when applied collectively.

The sanctions announced this week must be seen as a first step, not a final one, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, emphasised. Trade relations cannot be left out. The integrated review promoted more trade with China, yet also said that we would address human rights. Can the Minister assure us that no trade agreement will be sought with China while this situation continues? Cutting off ties with companies implicated in forced labour will also send a strong message to the Chinese authorities. The Government have introduced some measures to address this but, again, these can be only the first step. How will the Government go further to ensure a consistent approach across all parts of government and all aspects of UK-China relations? For example, will the UK follow the US in banning imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang?

China has responded with its own sanctions on European officials, but I note that one official said that the action against him shows that China clearly feels sensitive about this, which means that co-ordinated pressure should continue. I also ask the noble Lord not to duck this question: as we claim we are free of the EU to have higher standards and do more on human rights, why have we agreed a trade deal with Cambodia with no restrictions because of human rights abuses there, even though the EU has used its own human rights conditions to put restrictions on its trade relations with Cambodia? As he knows, I have asked about this in Written Questions and got unsatisfactory answers, so I would be grateful if he would clarify.

In addition, what are we doing to take forward sanctions provisions to address corruption? The Minister keeps saying that they are imminent. Are we looking with allies at sanctions in relation to Hong Kong or do we not have sufficient traction on this? We are in a multipolar world, as the integrated review says, with the US superpower and the rising Chinese superpower, but the EU too. Britain alone is not such, and it needs allies. I welcome the actions here and that we are working with all our allies, but there is much more that we need to do.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their constructive remarks and will seek to address their specific questions. I also acknowledge that we have received support from the main Opposition Benches for what the noble Baroness describes as the first step on sanctions.

Addressing some of the issues, I must admit that I was a tad disappointed by the response from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the speed with which these sanctions have come about. I remind noble Lords that it was only a short while ago that we brought in the structure of the global human rights sanctions regime, and this is another example of taking it forward. Well over 70 people have now been sanctioned under that regime, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will acknowledge that we have acted. That we acted in conjunction with our allies yesterday again shows strong co-operation and the necessity of gathering evidence and ensuring that sanctions imposed on individuals—and an organisation is included in this case—are based on evidence and the facts presented to ensure that they are robust to any challenge that may be made against them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to the Trade Bill being discussed in the other place yesterday and this coincided with that. I am sure that she will reflect on how we were co-ordinating with other allies and how this falls at a time when both Houses are focused on the importance of our future relationship with countries. It is also entirely appropriate that we have introduced these sanctions regimes in co-ordination with our key partners, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord both acknowledged.

The noble Baroness asked about the absence of other Five Eyes partners, aside from Canada, the US and us. As she would acknowledge, that is because they do not yet have a global human rights sanctions regime, but we are very much co-ordinating our actions with key partners. It is worth while recognising that, when we include all the EU partners, as well as the United States and Canada, 30 countries are acting together and in co-ordination on sanctions. There was some discrepancy or difference between the sanctions—the US had moved forward on sanctioning some named individuals earlier—but we now have a coming together and consistency between all key allies in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the Trade Bill, which is returning to your Lordships’ House. Without stealing from any of the debate that will follow, I fully acknowledge the strong sentiments that we have seen over the last weeks and months. I pay tribute particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing to the fore the importance of human rights in our work representing the United Kingdom’s interests abroad. Through both Houses working together, we have seen a move forward and acknowledgement from the Government to accept many of the points that have been raised. I believe that what is coming to your Lordships’ House reflects how the Government have listened to the strong sentiments, expressions and views that have been expressed on these important issues in both Houses.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about our relationship with China, going forward, and the comments of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I reiterate that China has an important role to play on the world stage in resolving conflicts. It is equally important that China has a role in the major issues that confront us, including climate change. On any future trading relationship, we have acknowledged previously and acknowledge again that we do not turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. I stand by my right honourable friend when he described the situation of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and their desperate plight, as I am sure all noble Lords would acknowledge. Today we see the next step in ensuring that we continue to profile this abuse and, at the same time, are seen to take actions against its perpetrators within Xinjiang.

The noble Baroness specifically asked about the trade deal with Cambodia. I will write to her on that, if I may. We put a specific human rights lens as we formulate and announce all new trade deals to ensure that it is part and parcel of our thinking and planning. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the Modern Slavery Act, on which we have already seen announcements from the Government. Indeed, in January, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced new measures on issues around the supply chain. There are also further discussions taking place with the Home Office on the penalties that will be employed against those who do not adhere to the forthcoming regulations. I am sure that your Lordships’ House will be updated in due course, as we bring forward further detail on these measures.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also talked about the lack of co-ordinated activity in this respect. I challenge that directly, as the Minister responsible for both the United Nations and human rights. Let us not forget that the United Kingdom first raised this in a multilateral forum, and that was just shy of two years ago. We have seen steady support for the United Kingdom working with key partners to ensure that there are now more than 39 countries, and growing, which now speak strongly and specifically on the important issues of the abuse incurred by the Uighur community in Xinjiang. It shows the strength of UK diplomacy that we have continued to raise this issue at the UN Third Committee and have raised it consistently at the Human Rights Council.

The noble Lord referred to the various resolutions that have passed. Today, we passed a new resolution on Sri Lanka, which I am sure that many noble Lords will welcome. At the same time, the issue of China, in the context of both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, was very much part and parcel of my right honourable friend’s contribution to the Human Rights Council.

I pick up the point on corruption sanctions that was rightly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. I have used this phrase before in the context of these sanctions, but we are working through this specific framework. They are very high on our agenda and we hope to come to your Lordships’ House and the other place, in the near future, on the framework to widen the scope of the sanctions regime.

I assure all noble Lords that we will continue to engage proactively on this issue, because I know it carries great strength of views, which are expressed in your Lordships’ House and which I greatly value, particularly in my capacity as Human Rights Minister. We will continue to work constructively and engage with noble Lords when these issues arise in the Chamber and, as we have done previously, by proactively updating them on developments.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers are brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 1:20 pm, 23rd March 2021

My Lords, as a result of coronavirus, the world, in so many ways, is upside down. Yesterday in the other place 29 Members from my party voted for the genocide amendment and were called “rebels”, including a former leader and a former Foreign Secretary. They are not rebels; they are righteous heroes. As Elie Wiesel said,

“We must take sides … Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In this Statement, the Foreign Secretary’s words that,

“The suffering of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang cannot be ignored” are welcome, and he was right to begin to impose sanctions. But I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will continue to ask for unfettered access to Xinjiang, and whether he agrees that there is an urgent need to establish mechanisms to collect and preserve the evidence of the atrocities, which the Foreign Secretary described as

“one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

[Inaudible]—and also his own work in this respect. As I have already mentioned, I align myself with and recognise the strong sentiments of and the incredible role played by many in your Lordships’ House, and in the other place, on all sides of the two Chambers, in ensuring that we move forward in a constructive way on the important issue of the continuing suffering of the Uighur people. I fully acknowledge and respect the important contributions and role of Members in the other place, as well as your Lordships, in this respect.

On the specific point that my noble friend, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, raised on ensuring that unfettered access should be guaranteed, I absolutely agree; we are calling for that for Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On the specific issue of accountability and justice for those committing these crimes, I am sure my noble friend has noted the statement that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made jointly with the US Secretary of State and the Canadian Foreign Minister in this respect.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s Statement and its repetition here today by the Minister. In thanking him, and the Foreign Secretary, for the role that they have played in making a reality of these Magnitsky sanctions, I endorse everything that the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Polak, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, have said. I have two questions for the Minister. First, higher up the food chain are people like Chen Quanguo, who has been responsible for giving the orders in Xinjiang against the Uighurs. Can the Minister, without going into individual cases, at least assure us that just because people are higher up the food chain, they will not avoid these Magnitsky sanctions in the future? Secondly, returning to the point made by the noble Baroness about pathways to determining genocide, can the Minister at least assure us that if he believed there to be convincing evidence of a genocide under way, in Xinjiang or anywhere else, he would not be in favour of continuing trade with a country complicit in genocide?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, the United Kingdom has been seen to be taking action against anyone, or any country, that is found to be engaging in genocide following a judicial process, and, indeed, even where genocide has not been declared by a legal court. A good example is the suspension of trading relationships and other agreements. In answering the noble Lord’s first question, I also recognise that, yes, the United Kingdom does ensure that we produce a robust evidence base. As was seen recently with the situation in Myanmar, there have been occasions where we have taken action directly against people such as those leading the coup in that country.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Labour

My Lords, speaking about the Uighur Muslims, the Foreign Secretary described the evidence of human rights abuses as clear and corroborated, as we have heard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lord Collins described the various ways in which that is true. In summary, Mr Raab himself described it as

“egregious, industrial-scale human rights abuses”.

I greatly respect the Minister, but I wonder whether he might not reflect that he has been a little complacent about the speed at which we have used Magnitsky sanctions, and that we have missed a number of opportunities to co-operate internationally. If the Government are resistant to using the word “genocide”, will the Minister at least confirm that he can use the expression that is used at the UN, that there are “crimes of concern to humanity” and “crimes against humanity”? If he can, will he confirm the good sense of amending the Trade Bill to make sure that those who benefit from such crimes will not do so by having trade opportunities in their hands?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

[Inaudible]—on a lighter note, I am always conscious that, when in an opening line “great respect” is expressed for the Minister, what will follow thereafter is a reflection of a challenge, and that has been proven correct today. Of course, I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has said. The Trade Bill will be up for discussion in your Lordships’ House today and I look forward to that. On the issue of complacency, I will challenge the noble Lord; I am afraid, on this occasion, I cannot agree with him. We have seen a structured approach to the new regime being introduced; we have close to 76 people, I believe, who have been sanctioned as part of this, and it is right and important that we acted once we had the evidence. But it is also right, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, acknowledged, that we act in conjunction with our key partners, because acting together shows the strength of the international community in the face of the continued human rights abuses we are seeing in Xinjiang.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, the joint UK-China communiqué on the occasion of President Xi addressing both Houses of Parliament in 2015 highlighted seven co-operation agreements, strategic partnership agreements and joint alliances covering preferential trading terms and UK market access—not available to many other countries. Given the horrors we now know of, how many of these preferential trading agreements have been suspended?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

[Inaudible]—in respect of what the noble Lord asks, I will write to him. I also acknowledge that, while these agreements were signed in 2015, the international community was alerted to the situation that we see emerging in Xinjiang only in 2016. But on the specifics, I will write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, noble Lords across the House acknowledged the Government’s work on this issue, particularly the work of my noble friend the Minister. We were of course one of the first countries to raise the Uighur issue at the UN two years ago, and my noble friend has led and built a strong coalition. I ask him what the next steps are for Her Majesty’s Government—what ties need to be built, and how? Why, in light of my noble friend’s sincere commitment to this issue, which is in no doubt, are the Government unable to hear the strength and breadth of the coalition standing behind the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in this place, and my honourable friend the Member for Wealden in the other place? What is stopping the Government supporting and adopting these amendments?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On my noble friend’s second point, I have already acknowledged the important work that has been done in both Houses in this respect. The Government’s amendment reflects those sentiments quite specifically, and I am sure that there will be further debates in your Lordships’ House on that. In thanking my noble friend for her remarks, in terms of the next steps on building alliances, there is a major area that we need to work on, and that is the lack of condemnation of what we have seen in Xinjiang among the Muslim countries of the world—the Islamic countries. Therein lies a challenge for all of us within the existing alliance, to ensure that we strengthen our partnerships with the OIC, and other specifically bilateral ties, to ensure that we see Muslim countries speaking out against the suffering of over 1 million Muslims in China.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Non-affiliated

My Lords, I welcome the repeat of the Statement and the Government’s positive move to apply Magnitsky sanctions to principal actors, but I note that there was no reference to genocide, even though there is credible evidence of systematic repression, imprisonment, gang rape, torture, forced sterilisation and the suppression of the Uighur language and culture. Does the Minister agree that putting all this horrific treatment together surely amounts to genocide by any definition, whether it be a moral, political or legal question? Could he tell the House why the Government fail to call it out as such by name?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On the specific definition of genocide, my response and those of other Ministers are well documented. But I recognise the description that the noble Lord gave us all of the situation in Xinjiang, and I stand by the fact that the human rights abuses that we have seen, and which he described, are why we are acting with partners today.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I welcome the strong Statement and the actions that are to follow from it, but will the Government act with consistency and similar firmness in relation to other countries where human rights are grossly violated? I could mention a number, but I shall mention one that gets almost no publicity: the continuing atrocities and ethnic cleansing in West Papua. For example, the retired General Hendropriyono, the former head of Indonesian intelligence—the BIN—has called for 2 million West Papuans to be forcibly removed from their homes and relocated elsewhere in Indonesia. I know that the Government repeatedly condemn such actions, but will they go further, be consistent and impose sanctions on him and others involved in what is, in effect, an attempt to destroy a whole people and its culture?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Again, as the noble and right reverend Lord acknowledged, the Government have rightly consistently called out human rights abuses, not just in the situation he described but elsewhere in the world. On sanctions specifically, as I have indicated, a process is followed to ensure that the sanctions we impose are evidence-based and robust. We will continue to act. We do not shy away. Many rightly challenged us for a number of months that we were not acting on sanctioning figures from China. We have done so, and China is a major world power. We have not shied away from our moral responsibility in this respect. The fact that we have acted with 30 other countries demonstrates the will of the international community.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

My Lords, I too welcome this important collaboration with many partners and the creation of these targeted sanctions. I will speak specifically about our embrace of targeted sanctions. Is the Foreign Office engaging with countries that so far do not have targeted sanctions as part of their regimes for dealing with human rights abusers and things such as genocide? The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the absence of some of our Five Eyes partners from the coalition of targeted sanctions announced in this last day. The reality is that Australia, for example, does not have a targeted sanctions regime. Are we persuading other democracies to take on board this great new development in international law? It gives teeth to international law in a situation where one cannot get people before international courts.

I will also pick up on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Targeted sanctions must be used in a very strategic way. To go after lesser persons is not using the regime in the way that it was supposed to be used. For example, the United States of America has on its list the governor of Xinjiang province, Mr Chen Quanguo. Why do we not have him on our sanctions list? He has been sanctioned by the United States; why not by us?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness has done in the context of media freedom and the coalition. The independent legal panel has produced some excellent reports in that respect, including on the use of sanctions. The short answer is that we are speaking to other key partners, specifically some of those she mentioned, to see how we can share our experiences so that they can bring about their own sanctions regimes.

On the specifics of future people who may be sanctioned, it would be mere speculation, but I assure the noble Baroness that we remain very firm on working and sharing evidence with our partners in this respect. We have worked very closely with the United States in particular on these issues and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

Are we giving the world the moral leadership that it is crying for, or are we just repeating what Pastor Niemöller said of the Nazi regime: “First of all they came for the Jews. I wasn’t a Jew so I didn’t speak out. Then they came for the communists. I wasn’t a communist so I didn’t speak out. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I wasn’t a trade unionist so I didn’t speak out. Then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak for me”?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are giving clear leadership and working with allies. While we are touching on a sobering subject—the situation of the Uighurs in China—we should recognise that we have not shied away. On my personal commitment, I assure the noble Lord that I meet many members of persecuted communities around the world. Yes, we may not always act with the speed that noble Lords desire, but I am proud of the fact that the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in standing up for those who do not have a voice and acts when it needs to, as we did yesterday with international partners in sending a very strong message to a country such as China that we will call out human rights abuses.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

My Lords, Australia and New Zealand —Australia in particular—were threatened by China earlier this year over coronavirus. What steps are we taking to get the other two of the Five Eyes firmly on board? Secondly, what steps are we taking in the Council of Europe’s ministerial council, where there are a lot of belt and road countries that are now in deep financial trouble? Thirdly, what are we doing in the Commonwealth to try to get to some Commonwealth solidarity?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I believe that I have already answered my noble friend’s first question in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. He is right to raise how we can further strengthen the profile of human rights abuses and get a wider, more diverse selection of countries to support the actions we have taken. The Council of Europe and the Commonwealth provide opportunities for this. I assure my noble friend that we will focus on specific issues of human rights as part of our discussion at the next CHOGM in the upcoming summit in Kigali.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the sanctions, but in relation to our new trade agreement with Turkey, are HMG also concerned about the increasing clamp-down on human rights there and its withdrawal from the Istanbul convention? Does he agree with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, who said:

“Any anti-terror operation should comply with international human rights law, and should not be used to target dissent”?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Turkey remains an important partner for the United Kingdom, but I assure the noble Earl that I engage directly on the issue of human rights with the Turkish Government. They have recently produced a new report on the actions they will take this year. We would rather they stayed on board with the Istanbul convention. I agree that any actions we take to ensure that our countries are secure from the scourge of terrorism need to ensure that human rights are always protected.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, like others I welcome the decision to enforce sanctions, but I will press the Minister again on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Can he explain explicitly why the Communist Party boss in Xinjiang is not on the list of those being sanctioned, given that he is considered by many to be the main enforcer of hard-line policies there? If the Minister cannot be explicit now, could he possibly write to me to explain the very odd decision not to include him?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I have noted what all noble Lords have said in respect of sanctions of other individuals. I am sure that noble Lords respect the fact that I cannot be specific on particular names, but, as the noble Baroness requested, I will be happy to explain the process we go through before we sanction any individual or entity under the regime.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I am afraid that the 20 minutes for Back-Bench questions has now finished. I regret that it has not been possible to call all the Members on the list.

Sitting suspended.