MPs have been urged to “put aside politics” and unite to back the Genocide Amendment when it returns to the House of Commons tomorrow, having been asked “If not now, when?”
Representatives of the Uyghur people, alongside a Holocaust survivor, Parliamentarians and others, came together at a Board of Deputies event this afternoon to call on MPs of all political parties to support the amendment, which would allow the UK High Court to make a preliminary determination regarding whether a State is carrying out a genocide. Millions of Uyghurs are currently incarcerated in concentration camps in Xinjiang province, China. Many have been forced into slave labour, while women are being sterilised and hundreds of thousands of children have been forcibly separated from their parents.
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, cited a letter she had written to the Chinese Ambassador in July 2020 last year, saying that while the Jewish community shied away from Holocaust comparisons, “nobody could fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago: People being forcibly loaded on to trains; beards of religious men being trimmed; women being sterilised; and the grim spectre of concentration camps”.
With regard to the House of Commons vote on the Genocide Amendment tomorrow, she cited the words of Hillel the Elder, asking MPs, “If not now, when?”
Rahima Mahmut, a representative from the World Uyghur Congress, described some of the horrifying revelations of systemic rape published by the BBC last week, which she had helped to translate. She spoke of gang rapes being conducted in public – and quoted a survivor of the camps saying “it was their way of testing the detainees [to see] whether they have transformed. In other words, whether they have given up their humanity. While hearing the girl’s painful plea – ‘rescue me please, help me please’ – I felt I died. I was dead.”
Ms Mahmut said that the only thing that keeps her going is “to tell the truth, tell the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves.”
She urged MPs to “please give Uyghurs the chance to have their day in court.”
Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American who represents the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, described how his people had been “disconnected, separated and tortured as a result of the policies of Beijing. Beijing is committing genocide as the international community is going about business as usual.” He noted the bipartisan support in the US on the question of genocide and questioned how any MP could vote against the amendment “if the concept of ‘Never Again’ means anything to them”.
Dorit Oliver-Wolff, a Holocaust survivor, spoke of her experiences as a little girl. She lost all of her family in the Shoah, except for her mother. Regarding the Genocide Amendment, she said she could not “stand by and do nothing. Because I know what it is to be singled out, to be hungry, to be hiding and to be afraid that somebody is going to kill you. My only ‘crime’ was to be Jewish. It is the same with the Uyghur people…I cannot be just a bystander and I am asking those people who can do something about it; put aside your political views – bring out your humanity”.
When the House of Commons voted on the amendment last month, it fell just 11 votes short of being passed. A revised bill was subsequently reintroduced in the Lords, where it was passed last week with a majority of 171.
Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and Leader of the SNP at Westminster, said it was right that Parliament remembered past genocides, but urged other MPs to “hold the mirror up to ourselves. When we sign books of condolence or remembrance – our responsibility as Parliamentarians is to the here and now. I want to appeal to Parliamentarians right across the House, because this is not a party political issue, this is about man’s inhumanity to man. Tomorrow, friends, colleagues, sometimes opponents, we can stand up and say ‘this is not in our name’.
“We cannot turn away, we must not turn away. Tomorrow is our opportunity to do the right thing, to recognise that we cannot wait for someone else to take responsibility.”
Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden, who is leading the efforts to pass the bill in the Commons, told the audience at the Board event that the amendment was “in absolute keeping with Government policy”, stressing that Government representatives, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary “have repeatedly said that determination of genocide is for the courts, it is a judicial matter.” She noted that once the court made a decision, “the power then goes back to the Executive, Ministers in the UK Parliament and MPs, to debate how to take that forward.” She urged MPs across the House to vote for the amendment and cited the late Lord Sacks, who, when asked where God had been during the Holocaust, responded that the question was not “where was God, but rather where was Man.”
Lord Alton, who drafted the amendment, spoke movingly of how he had stood at mass graves and charred remains of those who had been murdered in genocides. Responding to those who have claimed the amendment would lead to a rash of vexatious claims, he said it was “important to remember how high that threshold [of genocide] is, not least because of the difficulty anyone would have in bringing a vexatious case or complaining about a human rights violation, as though in some way that were comparable with this crime above all crimes.”
Edwin Shuker, Vice President of the Board of Deputies, concluded the meeting by telling viewers “Our message to Members of Parliament is ‘please support the Genocide Amendment tomorrow. Please make sure your colleagues are aware of the importance of that and the importance of Britain keeping its position as a supporter of Human Rights.”
He quoted Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel; “What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”
The video of the full event can be found here.