Thank you for your petition received on 15 February 2021, calling for the attention of High Representative/Vice President (HRVP) Josep Borrell to the situation of Ilham Tohti and Uighur people in Xinjiang.
The EU has taken a firm stance against the worrying human rights developments in Xinjiang. The EU is gravely concerned by the existence of a large network of political re-education camps, widespread surveillance, systemic restrictions on freedom of religion or belief against Uighurs and other persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, as well as by reports about forced labour, forced sterilisation and forced birth control. This position has been conveyed to Chinese counterparts in several EU-China bilateral meetings, including during the EU-China Summit in June 2020 and the two EU-China leaders’ meetings in September and December 2020.
The EU has repeatedly called for the immediate release of Ilham Tohti and other human rights defenders, lawyers and intellectuals who have been detained and sentenced under the guise of national security concerns. This request has been reiterated several times in the framework of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as in ad hoc EU statements.
Moreover, the EU has also repeatedly urged China to grant access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In his address to the Human Rights Council at the High-level Segment of the ongoing 46th session, on 23 February 2021, HRVP Borrell reiterated this request, stating that:
‘Once again, we urge China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including High Commissioner Bachelet. This is key to enable an independent, impartial and transparent assessment of the grave concerns that the international community has.’
On 22 March 2021, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted a package of listings under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (GHRSR), including four individuals and one entity responsible for human rights violations and abuses targeting Uighurs and other minorities. Sanctions under the EU GHRSR signal the EU’s strong determination to stand up for human rights and to take tangible action against those responsible for violations and abuses.
Protecting human rights and combatting forced labour is a priority for the EU. The EU is committed to eliminating all violations of fundamental principles and rights at work, including in particular forced labour and the worst forms of child labour, and to protecting the victims of business-related human rights abuses. The ratification and effective implementation of the fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) labour rights conventions are essential to this end.
The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment – concluded politically at the end of 2020 – is an investment agreement seeking to rebalance our economic relationship with China. At the same time, it contributes to promoting EU values through legally binding and enforceable commitments on sustainable development, including responsible business conduct and labour rights. Concretely, it includes a commitment by China to make continued and sustained efforts to ratify the fundamental ILO conventions No. 29 and 105 on forced labour, which include an obligation to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms. The EU leadership recalled the importance of the ratification of these conventions during the EU-China leaders’ meeting on 30 December 2020. The EU will continue to call on China to translate this commitment into concrete action.
Furthermore, the Commission intends to propose legislation on sustainable corporate governance this year, which may introduce horizontal mandatory human rights due diligence requirements across supply chains, including effective mechanisms for EU companies to identify and address forced labour risks in their supply chains.
The EU will continue to speak out for human rights in Xinjiang and seize every opportunity, be it in bilateral meetings with Chinese counterparts or in multilateral fora, to reaffirm its position on the need to combat forced labour and the worst forms of child labour.