Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Speaks in Debate on ‘China’s Policy on its Uighur Population;

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Fiona Bruce MP, speaking in the debate, said:

“Thank you very much, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate. I join him, following his excellent speech, in expressing my deepest concern about the victims of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in Xinjiang.

I speak as a Member of Parliament and the chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Four years ago, we conducted an inquiry, “The Darkest Moment”, which examined the human rights situation in China up to 2016. We mentioned the ethnic discrimination against Uighurs. Sadly and very concerningly, their situation appears to have dramatically deteriorated since then. That is why we are here today.

Last week the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission instigated a new inquiry on human rights in China, which will involve hearings in Parliament and a call for written submissions. It will focus on several aspects, including the Uighurs’ situation and the situation in Xinjiang. We have our first hearing with Uighur witnesses and experts next Monday at 5 o’clock in room Q of Portcullis House. I invite all concerned colleagues to join us there.

A variety of reasons are offered for the detention of Uighurs in the camps, which we have heard about: having the messaging service WhatsApp on one’s phone, having relatives living abroad, accessing religious materials online, having visited certain sensitive countries, communal religious activities, behaviour indicating “wrong thinking” or “religious extremism”, and sometimes no reason is given at all. The latest estimate I have is, staggeringly, that up to 3 million people may have been incarcerated in these camps. That heightens the already critical level of fear that pervades the region. Disappearances can happen at any time, to any person, without warning.

I want to focus on the position of children in the region. I thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which does such excellent work highlighting these issues, for drawing this to my attention. The children of individuals detained in the camps are reportedly sent to what are called state-run orphanages; otherwise they may be called training centres or welfare facilities. One way or another, those children are also being arbitrarily detained.

Wrenched from their families, homes and villages—which are often completely abandoned—the traumatic effect on the children cannot be overstated and, for many, will be lifelong. The conditions in the camps in which they are kept are completely unimaginable. A Uighur worker at one of these so-called orphanages told Radio Free Asia that the facility was seriously overcrowded, with children as young as six months

“locked up like farm animals in a shed”.

Ethnic minority schools in Xinjiang have reportedly been effectively closed. In some cases, the schools have been changed. According to China Aid, the fourth Uighur secondary school of Xinjiang is now a political training centre, and the Chinese authorities are only permitting schools with a Han Chinese background to operate, closing those that specifically cater to Uighur, Kazakh and Mongolian children.

The conditions in which some of the children are kept are unimaginable. Teenagers are reportedly now held in adult re-education camps. According to Radio Free Asia, in March 2018, a 17-year-old Uighur boy, Naman, died of unknown causes. He was detained at a political re-education camp in Kashgar. His family was forced to bury him under police supervision. Concerningly, he was arrested after travelling to Turkey as a tourist with friends. A child’s right to an education without discrimination is guaranteed by article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights and article 13 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which China has ratified.

I have several asks of the Minister. Will the UK Government call on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to respect and protect the wellbeing and rights of children in Xinjiang by ceasing the practice of forcibly removing them from their homes and families, and by ensuring that minors are not detained in adult facilities? Will the UK Government press the Chinese Government to grant access to UN special procedures and other international human rights bodies and experts, particularly to examine what is happening to children in the region? More widely, will the UK Government call on China to abolish the use of these re-education centres, particularly for children, and all forms of extra-legal detention, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, to release detainees immediately and without condition, and to ensure that no citizen is detained incommunicado and that family members of detainees are informed of their whereabouts?

Finally, I ask the Government to press the international community. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who is so concerned about such issues, has referred to this. We must press the international community to consider all means of investigation into human rights abuses in the region, including inquiries into whether abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Government constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, and to consider sanctions against policymakers responsible for the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.”

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