The Uyghurs must be heard

By Jaya Pathak


“We should not be trading with genocidal states.”

This statement underpins the fundamental principles upon which a democratic, human rights advocating country should be governed by. If we believe that British values are in alignment with these same principles, our government must follow suit.


Yet for 319 Conservative Members of Parliament who voted in favour of a motion to disagree with the Genocide Amendment earlier this week, it is glaringly evident that trade overrules morality.


As a campaigner for Uyghur rights, I have spent the past 7 months supporting the ‘Stop Uyghur Genocide’ (SUG) campaign group, led by Rahima Mahmut (UK Project Director for World Uyghur Congress; Adviser to Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China; Uyghur activist and singer), in my capacity as Co-Executive Director of the youth-led organisation ‘Yet Again’. I am now co-chairing the student wing of the SUG campaign called ‘Students for Uyghurs’, and prior to this, my efforts existed in an individual capacity before I was able to join forces with other activists.


Trying to secure a determination of “genocide” by the government for the Uyghur people has been a huge battle, especially to those of us who have been campaigning for a long time. Little to no progress had been made, and so news that Amendment 3 to the Trade Bill had passed the House of Lords, led by Lord Alton of Liverpool, Nus Ghani MP and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, was extremely welcome. If it had passed the Commons, the amendment would have provided the High Court with the power to revoke bilateral trade agreements with states that commit genocide.


Amongst many of the arguments heard during Tuesday’s debate from opposition to the amendment, some far more illogical than others, the concept of “global Britain” came up several times. Katherine Fletcher, Conservative MP for South Ribble, concluded her contribution by saying that she believes “global Britain wins arguments against repressive regimes by proudly sharing how [our] way is better for all of [our] people’s”. Although this was not the only awful thing Fletcher chose to say in her statement, it is incredibly arrogant that Fletcher believes parading the British way of living equates to standing up against authoritarian, genocidal regimes. In fact, it would be news to us all that Fletcher’s suggestion would be powerful enough to end a genocide. Who knew?


"If it had passed the Commons, the amendment would have provided the High Court with the power to revoke bilateral trade agreements with states that commit genocide."


“Global Britain” is all about the government’s goal to deliver on its “international ambition”- how should the world be seeing us in the post-Brexit climate? Of greater importance, I believe that “global Britain” should be the basic premise of who we are on an international stage, what we stand for and what message we want to give out to the world of what it means to be “British”.


For a lot of Conservative MPs who love using the phrase, they seem to forget that a huge part of defining British values post-Brexit resides in our moral convictions, for these become the precedent we set for our international relationships.


Let us not forget what genocide is - the most egregious of crimes, the destruction of an entire people. When we trade with any country, we are not only forming a working relationship with them but are also feeding into their economic cycle. If we trade with a country committing genocide, we are forming a working relationship with governance that holds no regard for human rights, and we are feeding into an economic cycle that is providing the government of that country with money, often used to carry out their genocidal actions. It should truly be unthinkable that this is a partnership Britain wants to have. Any MP who believes this acceptable is simply unfit for government.


"I believe that “global Britain” should be the basic premise of who we are on an international stage, what we stand for and what message we want to give out to the world of what it means to be “British”. "

The revised amendment will return to the Lords in the coming weeks, meaning we continue to fight to give the Uyghurs their day in court. We thank the Tory rebels who supported us and the opposition parties for doing the same. For far too long, we hear “never again” used as an empty promise by our politicians every Holocaust Memorial Day. For far too long, international human rights have been seen as an external matter. Yet we cannot forget that a threat to human rights anywhere, is a threat to human rights everywhere.


I hope that the same MPs who voted against this amendment remember the messages of Holocaust survivors Ruth Barnett and Dorit Oliver-Wolff urging them to vote with their conscience, especially as the same MPs say “never again” during Holocaust Memorial Day events this year. With this in mind, we will keep fighting for Uyghur rights, and to enshrine in legislation that our morals will always come before trade or economy. We should not be trading with genocidal states.


Jaya Pathak works with a Holocaust education charity and is the co-founder/deputy editor of the youth-led initiative Yet Again UK.


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