As member of the Bar Human Rights Committee, Sangeetha attended the BHRC’s panel discussion in Parliament entitled ‘Hiding in Plain Sight – The extraordinary scale of human rights violations in Xinjiang, China’ on 26th June 2019.  The event was co-hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Human Rights group.  The discussion shone a light on the treatment of Turkic muslims in Xinjiang and how to hold China accountable for the extraordinary extent of the human rights violations taking place.


The most authoritative estimate of figures suggest that since Spring 2017 over 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being detained in ‘political education camps.’  Several million more Uyghurs are subject to restrictions on their liberty in the same region.  China first denied that the detentions were taking place but in the summer of 2018 finally acknowledged the existence of ‘education centres.’  Beyond this the only sources of evidence relied upon are official procurement documents for contracts show that the Chinese government have contracted to build ‘transformation education centres’, satellite imagery and reports from diaspora Uyghurs.


Human Rights Watch describes treatment in the camps ‘they are subjected to forced political indoctrination, renunciation of their Islamic faith, mistreatment, and, in some cases, torture. Numerous UN experts, treaty bodies, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed grave concern about the situation in Xinjiang and called for unrestricted access to the region.’  


The discussion raised concern about the impossibility of obtaining domestic remedies for detention.  Human rights defenders and lawyers are systematically being prevented, through mass arrests, prosecution for sedition and disbarment, from challenging the State’s unlawful exercise of detention and torture.  It is unclear what the legal basis is for the detentions that are taking place.  Under China’s constitution one can only lawfully detain for up to 15 days for crimes that do not fall under the criminal code, but we know people are being detained for much longer.  The only domestic challenge to the education centres (which are similar to the legal education centres used to eradicate falun gong supporters) has led to the detention and torture of the four lawyers concerned.


All those present, including the MPs, agreed that the scale of these systematic detentions, which are both arbitrary and unlawful, the curtailment of freedom of religious expression and of liberty requires urgent and innovative international attention.  An APPG has now been established to explore the potential avenues of accountability.  Under international law there is strong evidence to suggest that what is happening in the re-education camps may constitute crimes against humanity, however there is no prospect of referral to the ICC whilst China holds a right of veto in the Security Council.  Consideration must be had to whether the UK should exercise jurisdiction to prosecute Directors of Chinese companies or officials from the region who are complicit in the abuses being committed.  This requires a proper body of evidence to form the foundation for such accountability.  The UK has the power to establish a fact-finding mission to report to the Human Rights Council in an internationally recognised mechanism.


It is imperative that advocates for human rights engage with the APPG to build political will around this urgent issue.


The APPG’s report can be found here.