APPG statement on UK sanctions on China and Burma

The All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] for International Freedom of Religion or Belief [FoRB] welcomes the growing pressure the UK is placing on those violating this fundamental human right. APPG Members congratulate the UK Government on its recent imposition of sanctions on FoRB abusers in China and Burma but call on the Foreign Secretary to take further action.

Britain’s parliament has spoken with one voice to unanimously declare the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Uighurs in Xinjang a genocide. During the three-hour debate, MPs lined up to recount the long list of abuses being carried out against Uighurs and to wholly condemn the treatment of China’s minority religious groups. MPs highlighted that Uighurs, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners have all faced oppressive policies and mass incarceration, with members calling for the UK government to ban the sale of goods made with forced labour in Xinjiang’s network of detention camps to ensure that British consumers are not unwittingly funding this persecution.

These reports from Xinjiang of the systematic and harrowing repression of China’s Uighur Muslim community by Chinese state authorities have shocked the world. Despite continued denials from Chinese government officials, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has told Parliament the evidence “is clear as it is sobering”. The independent London-based China Tribunal also concluded “beyond reasonable doubt” that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised by state-authorised officials in China “for a substantial period of time”. The UK Government is yet to endorse the Tribunal’s findings and move to bring those responsible for this heinous practice to account. The motion declaring genocide, though non-binding, adds to the pressure building on the UK government to take a harder line, with Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams telling the Commons the government “acknowledged the strength of feeling” on this issue.

This spring, the UK Government stepped up moves against human rights abusers implicated in persecuting their own citizens. Through the Magnitsky Sanctions mechanism, it placed asset freezes and travel bans on both Chinese officials and Burma companies involved in the gross human rights violations witnessed within their respective states. The APPG is greatly encouraged by this important first step. Civil society groups and aid agencies have identified a number of unilateral actions the UK government can take now to further their efforts. Party Secretary Chen Quanguo was notably absent from the UK’s sanctions list, for instance, despite having overseen the human rights violations being carried out in both Xinjiang and Tibet.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief seconds the UK government’s call for Beijing to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to Xinjiang. As the Chinese Communist Party has, however, continued to indicate that such an invitation will not be forthcoming, it is time for the UN to demand such access and assess the ever-growing list of crimes against humanity being perpetrated there. The APPG calls on the UK government to further press for international partners to join Britain in a broad coalition of voices demanding not just access, but also justice.

The APPG also welcomes the UK government’s efforts to lead a coordinated international response to the military coup in Burma. Foreign secretary Raab said the Burma military “has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people”. More than 500 people have now been killed protesting against the coup. The UK has been a prominent actor in securing United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions condemning the military’s actions and calling for enhanced evidence collection on its reported human rights violations.

The response to the coup has prompted the UK government to also impose sanctions on Burma military-linked businesses for their involvement in funding a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in 2017. While the APPG welcomes such sanctions, four years have passed since hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were forced to flee across the border into Bangladesh to escape military violence. Bangladesh now hosts more than a million Rohingya refugees, with the vast majority still sheltering in temporary accommodation. One such camp, Kutupalong, has become the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 600,000 people living in just 13 square kilometres. Their situation is both precarious and pressing. Kutupalong stands as a reminder of the failures of the international community. The APPG calls on the UK government to provide asylum for Rohingya refugees and harness the renewed focus on the region to rally the international community to ensure the Rohingya can soon return to their homeland free from fear of persecution.