Few relationships are as close as the bond between Canada and the United Kingdom. We have been joined in battle, from the fields of Vimy and the Somme, to the deserts of Afghanistan. We are the only two countries that are members of the G7, NATO, the G20, and the Commonwealth. We work together to promote our fundamental values, exemplified by the Canada-UK Media Freedom Award, and we hope to have a new trade deal in short order.
Our respective parliaments have called the world to action on the Uyghur genocide. Following a report earlier this year from the Parliament of Canada, the UK Parliament’s foreign affairs committee published a ground-breaking report this week on the atrocities unfolding in Xinjiang. The committee heard from hundreds of witnesses, from civil society, Uyghur activists, China experts, and legal and human rights experts. The evidence is unequivocal: the Uyghur people are enduring a genocide. They face forced sterilization, the destruction of their cultural heritage, forced labour, and re-education camps.
The advice is unequivocal too: countries like the UK and Canada must step up our efforts to hold China accountable and build a global coalition to stop the horror we can no longer ignore. In both our countries it is often said that China’s influence is too great and its economy is too big for us to take bold steps. But united we can exert as much influence and as much moral force. As we saw when the EU Parliament recently suspended the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, in response to China’s sanctions on EU parliamentarians who had spoken up against the Uyghur genocide. When we stand together, we can make a difference.
The committee’s report on the Uyghur genocide provides a blueprint to hold to account a great power committing mass atrocities. That is why Canada and the UK should lead in creating a coalition of countries beyond Europe and North America, encompassing the democracies of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, that will coordinate consistent action regarding Xinjiang. Countries in the Middle East should also be included in this coalition in defence of Muslim lives.
We should support each other in multilateral fora, such as the UN and the ICC. Our countries built these institutions; we cannot let autocratic countries frustrate their purpose. We should increase pressure on the Chinese government to allow observers into Xinjiang. We should build on Canada’s recent statement by proposing a motion at the UN Human Rights Council to enable the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an investigation in Xinjiang.
UNESCO is failing to preserve Uyghur culture. Our countries should urgently push for a review of UNESCO’s investigatory powers, so that it has the tools to protect culture even in the face of great power oppression. We must work together to block the efforts of the worst human-rights abusers to render UNESCO impotent.
The UK and Canada are great trading nations, committed to the rules-based international order. We cannot tolerate practices such as forced labour and slavery that undermine this order. The committee’s report estimates that 570,000 people are forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang, a source of 84% of China’s cotton. Stronger measures are needed to hold accountable companies that deliberately use supply chains tainted with forced labour. Our trade representatives need better tools to identify and respond to allegations of forced labour. Our countries should consider banning imports of all cotton products produced in Xinjiang.
Finally, there is more we can do at home. Our countries are justly proud of our welcoming spirit and our commitment to the protection of refugees. We must consider ways to make it easier for Uyghur people to claim asylum. We must work with like-minded countries to ensure that China does not pressure smaller countries to arrest Uyghurs and deport them to China on trumped-up charges. This happened with Canadian Huseyin Celil, whose whereabouts in China remain unknown.
For centuries, our respective parliaments have played a historic role in founding and codifying human rights – from the bill of rights and habeas corpus in England to the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must now redouble our efforts to fight for the rights of the Uyghurs whose voices have been silenced in Xinjiang.
Michael Chong is the MP for Wellington-Halton Hills in the Parliament of Canada
Alicia Kearns is the MP for Rutland and Melton in the Parliament of the United Kingdom