The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales has today published a new high-level Briefing Paper on the responsibility of governments under international law in relation to the widely reported severe ill-treatment, repression and abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims by China. The report has been endorsed by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Lord Alton of Liverpool and has been written by leading human rights barristers in England and Wales who are members of BHRC.
As disturbing covert drone footage filmed last year resurfaces, alleged to be of hundreds of Uyghur men blindfolded and taken onto trains, this Briefing Paper is a timely and important intervention on the grave allegations of widespread and systematic persecution of the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim people in Xinjiang. It makes clear that, whilst international legal accountability for alleged crimes of the most serious order in Xinjiang may be limited owing to the multiple Chinese reservations placed on dispute resolution in international forums, alternative routes do exist which the international community can use to place pressure on China to meet its own legal obligations towards all peoples within its border. Indeed, the Paper makes plain that third party States must take all available measures to prevent any violations of international law from occurring, to seek to bring any on-going violations to an end, and to call upon China to immediately cease all and any alleged practices and policies – violating its obligations and responsibilities – towards Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.
The report provides practical next steps which governments, and in particular the UK Government, should urgently consider. These include:
- Creating and applying Magnitsky-style sanctions on individuals, whether state or non-state actors, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect the person is involved in serious human rights violations in Xinjiang;
- Actively supporting the establishment of an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism – such as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, a Panel of Experts appointed by the HRC, or a Secretary General Special Envoy – to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China.
- Using and enforcing domestic avenues of accountability, including corporate accountability relating to supply chains.
- Using those international mechanisms which may be available, as outlined in the Briefing Paper.
Foreword from Baroness Kennedy QC and Lord Alton:
- With multiple reports continuing to emerge of alleged atrocities in Xinjiang, China, remaining silent is no longer an option for the international community.
- The international legal order was created, in part, to ensure that the most vulnerable populations would be protected by it.
This impressive high-level Briefing Paper, produced and published by the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, under the leadership of its Chair, Schona Jolly QC, is a timely and important intervention on the grave allegations of systematic persecution of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim people in Xinjiang.
It not only throws light onto a corner of the world which has been kept in darkness, but also seeks to engage the international community, through its parliamentarians and diplomats, by encouraging it to take meaningful steps in accordance with international human rights law and international criminal law.
The Paper is grounded in careful research and thoughtful legal scholarship, meriting wide consideration amongst those charged with maintaining the international legal order.
We strongly welcome the clarity and commitment to international human rights which this report engenders. It also provides timely practical next steps which governments, and in particular the British Government, should urgently consider. The Paper is published in the aftermath of the announcement of the UK’s new sanction regime of Magnitsky powers. These may be utilised to boost protection for persecuted groups. We are pleased that the Paper refers to this. The Paper also considers, at a high-level, the potential availability of domestic or corporate accountability routes, which are an important tool in seeking accountability
for human rights violations in the twenty first century.
- This Paper makes clear that, whilst international legal accountability for alleged crimes of the most serious order in Xinjiang may be limited, alternative routes exist which the international community can use to place pressure on China to meet its own legal obligations towards all peoples within its border, as well as addressing the legal obligations of States other than China.
We commend this report to the UK government, to governments of EU member states
and all other nations who have committed to prevent atrocities and to protect minorities
It is an important step away from impunity towards accountability for allegations of
some of the most serious human rights violations of our time.
- Lord David Alton of Liverpool Baroness Helena Kennedy
QC of the Shaws – July 2020