UK court told govt must probe Uyghur forced labour claims
The UK government's failure to investigate cotton product imports allegedly linked to forced labour by China's Muslim Uyghur minority in its Xinjiang region is "unlawful", Britain's High Court heard Tuesday.
The court is being asked to decide a case brought by the German-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which wants British authorities to launch a criminal probe into the sale of goods sourced from Xinjiang, in northwest China.
The non-governmental organisation -- which is suing the UK's interior ministry, tax department and the National Crime Agency (NCA) -- argues the region's cotton factory labourers are subjected to "detention and coercion".
Rights groups say more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are detained in what the United States and lawmakers in some Western countries have said amounts to genocide.
Britain's parliament passed a nonbinding declaration last year that crimes against humanity and genocide were being committed in Xinjiang.
A recent UN report found credible allegations of torture and forced labour there.
However, Beijing has long denied any such accusations, claiming the United States and Western allies are using the issue as a "political tool".
In its legal filing, the WUC warned there was a "high risk" that cotton products sourced from some Chinese businesses by British companies could be produced by "prison or forced labour".
It said the UK government had "resolutely declined to engage" in evidence gathered since 2020 showing the "horrors" allegedly perpetrated against Uyghur people.
Britain's Foreign Prison-made Goods Act and Proceeds of Crime Act may have been breached, but authorities have failed to launch a money laundering probe or civil confiscation processes, the WUC said in written submissions.
Lawyers for the UK government, which has repeatedly criticised Beijing's treatment of the Uyghurs, argue the WUC has brought a "hypothetical" case based on "generalised" evidence.
They note the NCA has concluded there was "insufficient material from which to develop any line of inquiry or criminal investigation".
The two-day hearing before judge Ian Dove is set to conclude on Wednesday, with a ruling expected at an unspecified later date.