Students for Uyghurs Oxford is the Oxford branch of the nationwide Students for Uyghurs campaign, with the collective aim of spreading awareness of the human rights abuses taking place against the Uyghur people.
“This is not performative activism – students are actively campaigning for meaningful change”.
This collective of Oxford University students have united to push for the passing of the genocide amendment of the UK government’s trade bill. This move, proposed by Lord Alton, would give a panel of five MPs and Lords with prior judicial experience a say in verifying allegations of genocide, as well as a select parliamentary committee.
However, it has faced government opposition, including from Trade Minister Lord Grimstone who called the government’s existing plan a “reasonable, proportionate and substantive compromise”. This plan “would allow a parliamentary committee to trigger a Commons debate and vote if it decided there were credible reports that genocide had been committed by a state the UK was negotiating a trade deal with”. This has been labelled by some as “inadequate” and a case of “parliamentary games”, even prompting a Conservative backbench rebellion.
A BBC investigation showed that China is forcing hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities into hard labour. This includes cotton picking, with around 20% of the world’s cotton supply said to emanate from the Xinjiang province, where most of the nation’s Uyghurs are located. In addition, PPE used across the UK is said to come from Medwell Medical Products, a company suspected of using Uighur Muslims in the labour scheme.
The immediate significance of the amendment is that if the Chinese Communist Party is said to be conducting genocide, the United Kingdom will be under political and moral pressure to justify any trading relations with China as an established genocidal state, which the government have refused to do thus far. China has continued to deny such claims, with foreign minister Wang Yi asserting they are “ridiculously absurd”, despite the US Secretary of State stating otherwise.
Against this turbulent political backdrop, the Students for Uyghurs Oxford network have organised talks and discussions with key campaign figures from organisations such as ‘Yet Again’, ‘Stop Uyghur Genocide’, survivors from the Uyghur region and leading academics in Uyghur studies. Most recently, a talk on ‘Amplifying the voices of Uyghur Muslims: Brutality and Gendered Violence’ was held, highlighting the wide-reaching nature of this campaign. This follows accusations that China is forcing sterilization upon Uyghur Muslim women.
“As this affects everyone, we are reaching out to individual activists and collective social justice movements, faith groups, clubs, societies, and colleges” a representative of Students for Uyghurs Oxford added. JCR motions in support of the genocide amendment have also been passed by at least five Oxford colleges thus far (Corpus Christi, Somerville, Worcester, St Hugh’s, and Oriel), and is tabled for several more JCR meetings. This suggests that Students for Uyghurs’ work in Oxford has started to have a wider impact on students’ consciousness of the issue.
Students for Uyghurs Oxford also commented:
“In Oxford, the recent re-naming of the (Department of Physics) Wykeham Chair to the Tencent-Wykeham chair displays complicity and support, as Tencent is a major Chinese tech company involved with the technological surveillance and forced imprisonment of the Uyghurs. We urge students to get involved to help us to protect the Uyghur Muslims against such atrocious human rights violations. Our geographical distance from these atrocities should not disconnect us from our humanity”.
Image Credits: LSE