Just vague enough not to cause trouble

26 Jul

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke in yesterday’s Summer adjournment debate in the House of Commons, accusing the government of Brexit-induced cowardice in the face of human rights abuses around the world:

I usually use this debate to talk about very local issues. Today I want to deviate a little, because many of my constituents have written to me about their concerns for people who live elsewhere in the world and their fear that our voice might be silenced or muted because of Brexit and our pursuit of trade deals.

My constituents have pointed out Trump’s obsession with walls and putting children in cages, and his insidious support for the damaging and highly dangerous great replacement conspiracy theory. They asked, “What did we do in response?” Well, we gave him a state visit.

There are concerns about other powerful countries too, like China. As we know, more than a million men, women and children are in detention camps, based on their ethnicity and their Muslim faith. Families have been torn apart by the state, children from their parents. Credible reports say that detainees are forced to swear oaths of allegiance, renounce their religion and learn Mandarin in place of their mother tongue. Some reports even talk of summary execution and the harvesting of organs.

Our Government has recognised that human rights abuses are happening today on a huge, almost unimaginable scale. Uyghur Muslims fear a genocide. Why have we not taken targeted steps? Frankly, we do not need more words. It is clearly a business. We could identify those who develop racist software to identify the targets. We could identify those who are building the camps. We could refuse them contracts with the UK, couldn’t we? We could speak up much more strongly about Hong Kong as well, couldn’t we? We could address the increasing fear of Hong Kongers that their free society is just slipping away. We could help—but we have not, and I fear that we will not because China might move away from freer trade, and we need that free trade now as a substitute for what we are losing.

I fear that it is the same with Modi’s Government.

On 17 June, when the new Indian Parliament was being sworn in, members of the ruling party chanted the Hindu nationalist slogan “Jai Sri Ram” whenever a Muslim representative stood up to take their oath. It was an attempt to intimidate and delegitimise those elected representatives based on their religion. Those words could simply be an expression of faith, but they have been twisted into something horrifying.

Since then, there have been repeated Islamophobic attacks, accompanied by that same chant. On 22 June, Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole, beaten and abused by a crowd in the open. He cried and begged for mercy. After the crowd were done with Tabrez—after they had forced him to repeat their slogan and taken yet another step to erase his difference—the police took him into custody. Reportedly, he was refused medical help. His family members were threatened with similar beatings and not permitted even to see him until, four days later, he died of his injuries.

There have been many further attacks. A Hindu video is being shared, with the lyric:

“Whoever doesn’t say Jai Sri Ram, send him to the graveyard.”

Frankly, that is the language of genocide.

As hon. Members will know, I could go on. I wanted to talk about Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Saudi Arabia and our arms deals as well. To be entirely honest, it seems to me that FCO Ministers, many of whom I deeply respect, have raised human rights issues in terms just vague enough not to cause trouble.

What is our role in this new world if we swallow our words and turn away when we see persecution escalating, risk to lives and liberty, and possible genocide on the horizon? How will this new Government show us that they are not cowards, they are not distracted and they are not restricted because of Brexit?

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