On the 28 April 2020, a letter was sent to the Government on behalf of two British Uyghur clients, Rahima Mahmut, a human rights activist and head of the World Uyghur Congress’s London Office and Enver Tohti Bughda, who is also an activist and a member of the International Advisory Committee of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China.
This letter requested that the Government agree to reconsider allowing the company Huawei to take part in the provision of the United Kingdom’s 5G network given the strong evidence that Huawei plays an integral part in the systematic oppression of the Uyghur and other Turkic people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) which amounts to crimes against humanity and a breach of jus cogens norms of international law as well as evidence of the use of forced labour and slavery in Huawei’s supply chain.
Our legal team received a response from the Government on 11 May 2020 in which they stated that a decision to allow Huawei access to provide infrastructure for the 5G system had not yet been taken. Following the receipt of this letter, on 24 May 2020 it was announced that there would be a further review as to whether Huawei will be allowed to provide 5G infrastructure.
On 2 June 2020, following the Government’s announcement, our legal team have written to the Government to insist that this review, as well as considering the security implication of allowing Huawei access, also considers issues relating to human rights, including Huawei’s alleged involvement in forced labour and international crimes amounting to breaches of jus cogens norms.
The claimants, in this case, are represented by a team made up of human rights barrister Michael Polak chair of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, specialist judicial review solicitor Oliver Carter of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, and Dr. Aris Georgopoulos, Assistant Professor in European and Public Law at the School of Law, University of Nottingham and Head of the Research Unit for Stra¬tegic and Defence Procurement of the Public Procure¬ment Research Group (PPRG).
In regards to what the team are asking the Government to do Michael Polak has stated the following:
At no stage in the Government’s decision making process have they stopped to consider the evidence of the gross human rights violations facilitated by Huawei against the Uyghur and other Turkic people or the evidence of slavery within Huawei’s supply chain.
The evidence suggests that Huawei is ‘deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang’ and it is bizarre and very concerning that our Prime Minister and Government have not stepped in to prevent this company selling 5G infrastructure whilst they are involved in what can only be considered as crimes against humanity.
We call on the Prime Minister and the Government to make the important commitment, that at the very least, the evidence of involvement in the systematic oppression of the Uyghur and other Turkic people will be considered before any Huawei decision is made.
Doing so would send an important message to companies who are facilitating international crimes that the United Kingdom will not support such actions and that behaving in such a way will have consequences for their ability to do business here.’
Rahima Mahmut, one of the Claimants in this case, and head of the World Uyghur Congress London Office has stated:
‘'Gross human rights violations and slavery are considerations that the UK Government should be taking into account before deciding to allow a company such as Huawei access to infrastructure contracts. As a British Uyghur, I call on the Prime Minister and Government to agree to properly consider the evidence we have provided them before making any decision'.
Enver Tohti, the other Claimant has stated that:
‘Why should the British Government open the door to a company which is deeply involved in the oppression of the Uyghur people? Those who are implicated in crimes against humanity have no place doing business in the United Kingdom.’
The claimants welcome donations from those from around the world who want to support them in their fight against the repression of the Uyghur and other Turkic people. Donations can be made here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/challenge-to-huawei-5g/
In regards to slavery within Huawei’s supply chain the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), an independent think tank has published a report titled ‘Uyghurs for Sale: ‘Re-education’, Forced Labour and Surveillance Beyond Xinjiang’ which states that ‘The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country…… Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour….’ and that this forced labour includes Uyghurs working in factories which are part of Huawei’s supply chain. Conservative estimates of the number of Uyghur workers forced into servitude by the Chinese authorities are that 80,000 have been enslaved in this way; however, as the Report notes, the number is likely to be significantly higher.
Facilitation of Crimes Against Humanity
The evidence from the ASPI Report Mapping China’s Technology Giants alleges that Huawei is ‘deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang.’ (page 16)
Through their research the ASPI has ‘mapped 75 Smart City-Public Security projects, most of which involve Huawei’ and reported that these projects ‘include the provision of surveillance cameras, command and control centres, facial and licence plate recognition technologies, data labs, intelligence fusion capabilities and portable rapid deployment systems for use in emergencies.’ The Report also explains that ‘Huawei provides the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau with technical support and training….’ and that ‘the company’s work with Xinjiang’s public security apparatus also includes providing a modular data centre for the Public Security Bureau of Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang and a public security cloud solution in Karamay. In early 2018, the company launched an ‘intelligent security’ innovation lab in collaboration with the Public Security Bureau in Urumqi’ and ‘According to reporting, Huawei is providing Xinjiang’s police with technical expertise, support and digital services to ensure ‘Xinjiang’s social stability and long-term security’.
The ASPI also reports that ‘Huawei’s work in Xinjiang is extensive and the company works directly with the Chinese Government’s public security bureaus, and police forces, in the region….This work is reported by China’s state media, Huawei’s corporate news and detailed by local authorities’ and that ‘ some of Huawei’s promoted ‘success cases’ are Public Security Bureau projects in Xinjiang, such as the Modular Data Center for the Public Security Bureau of Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang. Huawei also provides police in Xinjiang with technical support to help ‘meet the digitization requirements of the public security industry’. Huawei also established an ‘intelligent security industry’ innovation lab in Urumqi,’ jointly with the Xinjiang Public Security Department at the launch of which ‘a Public Security Department official stated that that Huawei had been supplying reliable technical support for the department. In 2014, Huawei participated in an anti-terrorism, Belt and Road Initiative-themed conference in Urumqi as ‘an important participant of’ a program called ‘Safe Xinjiang’ (code for a police surveillance system). Huawei was said to have built the police surveillance systems in Karamay, Kashgar and was praised by the head of Xinjiang provincial police department for its contributions in “Safe Xinjiang”.
The involvement of Huawei in the Xinyang Uyghur Autonomous Region security apparatus is also alleged in the ‘China Cables’, a set of highly classified Chinese government documents that were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
There are significant allegations that the Chinese authorities are committing crimes against humanity including torture, enslavement, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment and other sever deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, enforced marriage and pregnancy, persecution based on religion, race, and ethnicity, and the enforced disappearance of persons. The expert evidence alleges that Huawei’s role is integral to the commission of these breaches of jus cogens rules of international law.
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Notes to Editors
Lawyer for Uyghur Rights, www.lawyersforuyghurrights.com is a group made up of barristers, solicitors, paralegals, academics, and students who are working together to develop strategies to combat the mass oppression and atrocities being carried of the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) The organisation is chaired by Michael Polak.
Michael Polak is a barrister practising in both international and domestic human rights law as well as criminal law defence. He practises from Church Court Chambers in London and is a Director of Justice Abroad (www.justiceabroad.co.uk). He is chair of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights and works closely with the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur community.
Oliver Carter is a solicitor in the Public Law & Human Rights team at Irwin Mitchell, specialising in civil liberties and judicial review work, and is instructed to act for Ms Mahmut and Mr Tohti. In July 2019, he received a Legal Aid Practitioners Group Special Award for making an exceptional contribution to legal aid and access to justice at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.
Dr Aris Georgopoulos is Assistant Professor in European and Public Law at the School of Law, University of Nottingham and Head of the Research Unit for Stra¬tegic and Defence Procurement of the Public Procure¬ment Research Group (PPRG). He has been a Global Governance Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, and a Grotius Fel¬low at the Law School of the University of Michigan and has acted as expert advisor to national authorities, international organisations and institutions (such as the OECD, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, The European Court of Auditors and USAID)