April 22 (UPI) -- Britain's parliament has become the latest government to declare China's treatment of its Uighur citizens as genocide, attracting the condemnation of Beijing.
Lawmakers in the British House of Commons passed a motion unopposed after a three-hour debate Thursday declaring that the Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region of China "are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide."
MP Nusrat Ghani, who China sanctioned along with four other members of parliament last month, introduced the bill telling lawmakers that while they must never misuse the term genocide they must also never fail to use it when warranted.
"Today, this parliament has a historic chance, together -- regardless of party difference in most other matters -- to hold its head up, stand tall and stand for those who have no voice," she said in her introductory remarks. "Let us make the statement today, loud and clear, that the UK has not forgotten the Uighurs and others and that we will stand for them and insist that our government do exactly the same by calling this a genocide."
Beijing has been accused by the United States, the European Union and other mostly Western nations of interning more than a million of its Uighur citizens in Xinjiang camps where they are subjected to forced labor, torture and sterilization.
It has also been accused of unlawful killings, forced disappearances and other human rights crimes -- all of which China vehemently disputes, arguing the camps are to stamp out terrorism while demanding the foreign nations to stop interfering with its international affairs.
The governments of Canada, the Netherlands and the United States have all said China is committing genocide.
However, the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has criticized China for its treatment of Uighurs, has been reluctant to call it a genocide stating such a declaration is for the courts.
"A finding of genocide requires proof that relevant acts were carried out with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic or religious group," Nigel Adams, the minister of Asia, said during the debate. "For these reasons, we do not believe it is right for the government to make a determination in this, or in any other case where genocide or crimes against humanity are alleged."
Ghani told lawmakers that she brought the motion to the parliament because the government says the determination can only be made by a court, for which every route has been blocked by China.
"We need to take back control," she said. "Our route to declaring genocide cannot be controlled by China."
China's embassy in Britain on Friday admonished the politicians, calling the declaration "an outrageous smear against the development achievements of Xinjiang" and its policies.
The embassy in a statement reiterated its stance that Xinjiang-related issues are in nature about counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and anti-separatism, stating the accusations of a handful of British MPs "is the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people and a gross breach of international law and the basic norms governing international relations."
The move is excepted to further fray relations between the two nations that have already become strained as Britain has repeatedly taken action against China for its treatment of its former colony, Hong Kong.
Following a year of mass protests in the city, Beijing imposed a draconian national security law upon Hong Kong last summer and this spring overhauled its electoral system reducing the number of elected officials and permitting only so-called patriots to hold office.
London said these measures violate conditions to maintain Hong Kong's high-degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that returned the city to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
In response, Britain has launched a new visa for specific Hong Kong residents with a pathway to citizenship.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the British parliament has shown the world "the egregious abuses the Chinese state commits against the Uighur people."
"We owe it to the victims of this genocide to call out the Chinese Communist Party's brutal persecution of the Uighurs," he said. "The free world must be united in holding the Chinese government to account for these abuses."
The World Uighur Congress, an international organization of exiled Uighurs, celebrated Britain's declaration.
"Uighur survivors have begged for recognition of what is happening to them," WUC President Dolkun Isa said in a statement. "It is an important step in the right direction that British MPs have joined the momentum and called it what it is: a genocide."