UK to call for UN probe of Uighur camps in China’s Xinjiang province

The UK foreign secretary wants UN investigators to be given urgent access to Uighur camps in Xinjiang as he warned that human rights abuses in the Chinese province are taking place on an “industrial scale”.

Dominic Raab will use an address to the UN human rights council on Monday to urge fellow members to address rights violations in China, Myanmar, Belarus and Russia, with particular emphasis on initiating an independent investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights into forced labour camps run by Beijing.

“The situation in Xinjiang is beyond the pale,” the foreign secretary will say. “The reported abuses — which include torture, forced labour and forced sterilisation of women — are extreme and they are extensive. They are taking place on an industrial scale.”

The UK has taken an increasingly robust stance against Beijing over the past year following the imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong, and mounting evidence that the treatment of Uighur Muslims amounts to genocide. So far more than 1m Uighurs have been detained, and many sent to factories where they are forced to work in electronics, textile and automotive supply chains.

However, Raab has come under sustained pressure from rebel Conservative MPs to go further in his criticism of Beijing. Last month Downing Street narrowly avoided defeat in a vote seeking to block a potential post-Brexit trade deal with China over its human rights record. While the foreign secretary has promised new measures to prevent UK companies using forced labour from Xinjiang in their supply chains and a review of export controls to the province, he has stopped short of imposing sanctions on individual Chinese officials deemed responsible for rights abuses. 

His address to the UN human rights council comes after Joe Biden, the US president, announced that Washington would rejoin the council as an observer, overturning Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 47-member group in 2018. At the same time, the British government is seeking to reaffirm its credentials as a force in global diplomacy and security post-Brexit. 

Speaking at the Munich security conference on Friday, Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, formally announced that the Cold War security alliance of Britain, France, Germany and the US would re-form as a transatlantic “Quad” to address problems posed by hostile states such as Iran.

“The countries we call the ‘west’ are drawing together and combining their formidable strengths and expertise once again, immensely to everybody’s benefit,” Johnson told the conference, adding that there was a “new resolve” to act with unity and determination over incidents such as the attempted murder of Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

Raab is due to confront Moscow over the treatment of Navalny in his speech on Monday, calling his recent rearrest and sentence “truly dire” and saying it was “disgraceful” that he had been prosecuted on “arbitrary charges”. 

“His treatment and the violence inflicted on peaceful protesters can only further reinforce the world’s concerns that Russia is failing to meet its international obligations,” the foreign secretary will say.

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