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Lawyers say ‘genocide’ ongoing in Xinjiang


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Barristers have issued the first legal opinion that China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region amounts to crimes against humanity including genocide.

Up to two million Uyghur Muslims have been incarcerated in Xinjiang where many are reportedly used as forced labour in the region’s cotton industry which meets more than a fifth of global demand.

The legal opinion, obtained by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) in partnership with the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), will increase pressure on brands and retailers to pull out of the region.

Lawyers at Essex Court Chambers in London, led by Alison McDonald QC, concluded that the available evidence credibly established that crimes against humanity – including enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape and enforced sterilisation – were taking place.

McDonald’s team also considered potential criminal liability and concluded there was a credible case against Chinese President Xi Jinping; Zhu Hailun, Deputy Secretary of the Xinjiang People’s Congress; and Chen Quanguo, Chinese Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang; among others.

GLAN said the lawyers’ opinion also had implications for businesses, both in the UK and internationally, which it argued could be found complicit in these crimes through their ongoing commercial dealings with factories in the region.

Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, GLAN’s director, said: “Businesses can no longer turn a blind eye, and thus facilitate, these egregious breaches of international law and human rights standards in their pursuit of profit.

“Given the gravity of the situation governments need to act ensure that businesses are held responsible for failing to fully extricate their supply chains from Xinjiang.”

Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of the World Uyghur Congress, added: “As Uyghurs we have known for a long time that attempts to erase our entire culture amounted to genocide and to have it set out in such authoritative terms only increases the pressure on others to act.

“Governments globally have a duty to take action to protect Uyghurs, to prevent genocide and to hold to account those in the Chinese government responsible for these crimes. Corporations operating in the Uyghur region have a responsibility to revaluate their relationship with the Chinese government. To turn a blind eye to the truth is to be complicit in the genocide of my people.”

And Peter Irwin, senior programme officer for advocacy and communications at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, commented: “This finding makes it impossible for responsible governments to continue treating China as a normal member of the international community.”

The US last month issued a withhold-release order (WRO) banning imports of all cotton products from China’s Xinjiang region over forced labour concerns. Days earlier the UK announced steps to penalise companies which imported products from the region without carrying out due diligence.

The US House of Representatives has also backed the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which would ban imports of all products from Xinjiang under the “legal presumption” they were made with forced labour, in September. It still requires US Senate approval.

Human rights groups accuse China of the largest mass incarceration since the holocaust in Xinjiang. They claim many detainees are being subjected to forced labour and point to photographic evidence that many of the camps contain factories.

China denies forced labour is used in its cotton industry, saying that the camps are “vocational training schools” and that the associated factories are part of a poverty alleviation scheme.

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