Why MEPs are ‘Speaking up for the Uyghurs’

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A common sight in the European Parliament this last week has been that of my colleagues wearing face masks with the slogan: ‘Speak Up For the Uyghurs’ printed on them. Our campaign to raise awareness of the ongoing struggle of Uyghurs in Xinjiang coincided with the EU China summit that took place on Monday 14th September. From my own European Conservatives and Reformists friends to colleagues in the Greens, EPP, Socialists and Liberals, members have stood united in their belief that the European Union must do more in order to support the Uyghur people.

To an extent, we have had some success. In her State of the Union address, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen mentioned by name the Uyghur people and the need for us to do more. And she answered our calls for the introduction of a ‘European Magnitsky Act’ which will go a long way towards ensuring that we can implement targeted sanctions against those members of the Communist Regime in Xinjiang and Beijing who are most guilty of the crimes being committed against the people there.

Though these are important first steps – the European Union must do much more to rebuild trust and show that this is more than just empty language. Earlier in the week saw the EU-China Summit take place over a video call, with European leaders engaging with their Chinese counterparts mostly over the issue of trade. The EU has remained steadfast in its determination to strike a trade deal with China, despite current circumstances. It follows from a similar conference in June.

Demonstrators outside the Chinese embassy in Paris hold posters reading ‘Stop Genocide and Free Eastern Turkestan’ during a gathering against China’s abuse of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. EPA-EFE//CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

The conference took place online, against the backdrop of the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, which started in Wuhan in China and spread as a result of misinformation from the Communist regime that tried to coverup the extent of the viruses spread. Equally, this conference has taken place at a time in which the majority of Western countries have taken time to reflect on their relationship with China in light of numerous human rights violations.

Whilst human rights were on the agenda for the conference, the joint press release that put out by the leaders of the EU Institutions and Chancellor Angela Merkel only briefly and vaguely addressed the issue. It is obvious that the European Union continues to turn a blind eye to the rights of minority groups in China for the sake of what von der Leyen called in her State of the Union address this week as a critical alliance.

We, as MEPs, have been trying to put pressure on both the Commission President and the European External Action Service to take the need for concrete solutions to the problem of human rights in China far more seriously. Although the Commission has been slow to react to date, it is promising to see that real action may now be taken.

We must continue to do everything we can to ensure that support is given to those who need so, that we can be sure that the nearly 2 million Uyghurs currently held in internment camps have a voice. So that those who have been forcibly sterilised by the regime have a voice. So that those who have had their language taken away from them have a voice.

China is a state that does not follow international norms and frequently violates the rule of law. Because of this, we need the tools to be able to contain them and ensure that human rights are not violated. Be it in Xinjiang, Tibet or Hong Kong.

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