Social Impact Briefing | Justice for Uyghurs, America First and saving the Arts industry

Authors: Jack Maycock
  • Posted on: July 6, 2020

THIS WEEK OUR SOCIAL IMPACT BRIEFING COVERS THE PLIGHT OF THE UYGHURS IN CHINA, THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF A NEW UK SANCTIONS POLICY, THE EMERGENCE OF NATIONALISM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19, AND A SUDDEN LIFELINE FOR THE ARTS INDUSTRY.

| JUSTICE FOR THE UYGHURS

Since 2014,  at least 120,000 (possibly up to one million) Chinese Uyghurs have been detained in concentration camps in China’s western Xinjiang region. Last week saw the release of a concerning report claiming the Chinese government is carrying out forced sterilisations of Uyghur women inside internment camps within the country’s mainland.

Recent reports have highlighted the nature of China’s policy towards the Uyghurs with mass incarceration in “re-education” internment camps , indoctrination, extrajudicial detention, invasive surveillance, forced labour, and the destruction of Uyghur cultural sites. While these measures point towards a cultural attack on the Uyghurs by the Chinese State, a widespread sterilisation campaign could qualify as an act of genocide under the conditions laid out in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

We ask for a UN investigation into this as soon as possible. China has stalled investigations in the past, but international pressure should be brought on China to stop their extermination of the Uyghur population.

-Hena Zuberi, Director of Justice For All

Calls for an independent UN investigation by human rights groups and The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China are welcome, however they may not be forthcoming as a result of the international support that China has received. In August 2019, over 50 countries signed a letter to the UN praising China for their internment practices as “counter-terrorism and deradicalisation” in response to “terrorism, seperatism and religious extremism”. 

This support also puts into question the likelihood for a UN General Assembly Resolution (requiring a majority of all UN member states) on the issue, while China or Russia could veto any UN Security Council resolution.

| QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED OVER UK SANCTIONS

Today, UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab is expected to announce a new unilateral sanctions regime targeting a number of individuals and/or organisations accused of human rights abuses around the world.

Previously, the UK imposed sanctions collectively as part of the United Nations or the European Union, but after the country’s exit from the EU, the UK is putting in place its own sanctions framework, initially designed to freeze assets held in the UK and ban entry into the country.

However, there are a number of concerns around the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions and how they will be applied. Carrying out sanctions regimes independent of multilateral institutions such as the UN or EU is generally considered less effective in stimulating behaviour change than sanctions as part of a multilateral bloc. Sanctions carried out through the UN also have significantly stronger global legitimacy than those from the UK as there is a democratic and accountable process deciding their allocation. 

And how and to who will these sanctions be applied? For example, the UK provides financial and military support for some of the most flagrant human rights abusers in the world. In just the last five years, the UK has sold arms to 35 of the 48 countries deemed ‘not free’ by human rights watchdog Freedom House, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, UAE, and Turkey. Will UK sanctions reflect the US model, where human rights abusers are only sanctioned if they are deemed a state adversary? Or will sanctions also be applied to the UK’s international partners and allies? If so, will military and financial assistance also be paused as a commitment to human rights? 

| THE THREAT OF US NATIONALISM IN TACKLING THE PANDEMIC

Last week, the United States announced that it had bought out all of the stocks for a key Covid-19 drug made by pharmaceutical manufacturer Gilead, for at least the next three months. 

The drug, called remdesivir, is the first drug approved by licensing authorities in the US to treat Covid-19 as it’s proven to help people recover faster from the disease.

The Trump administration has purchased around 500,000 doses, the equivalent of all of Gilead’s production for July, and most of August and September.

The drug is patented by Gilead, meaning no other company can make it. So by buying up virtually all of the stock, America has shown an ‘America first’ approach to dealing with the pandemic. This type of unilateral action is already affecting geopolitics: Canadian prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned against the US continuing to outbid its allies.

Gilead has allowed generic manufacturers to make the drug without royalty payments for a specific list of developing countries, who are already facing significant health care hurdles. Yet, this still leaves around 70 countries unable to access the drug and without the ability to buy from Gilead for at least the next three months. In the context of the search for a vaccine, this is a risky strategy and could prove disastrous for the Trump administration as other countries may not be inclined to share their research and resources with the US, the global epicentre of the pandemic.

| HAS THE ARTS INDUSTRY JUST BEEN SAVED FROM COLLAPSE?

Today the government launched a £1.57 billion support package for British cultural institutions, which it is calling the biggest one-off investment in British culture ever.

For an industry that the Creative Industries Federation suggests will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy by the pandemic, it is a lifeline that will ensure bills are paid and venues remain open. 

This package isn’t a magic wand, however. National cultural institutions – those funded by DCMS such as our national museums and the British Library – and English Heritage will receive £100m, which will cover only half of their lost revenue. 

And whilst museums and galleries have blueprints for one-way flows and orchestrated visit times, the situation looks bleak for other spaces, like small music venues and cinemas, whilst social distancing rules remain in place.

The government also needs to give a serious answer to why airlines have continued to sit passengers in close proximity on long flights, but theatres and music venues face severe restrictions. The government’s commitment to the environment appears questionable when it is keeping a key polluting industry in the air but grounding one that enriches lives. The Secretary of State ignored this question repeatedly when asked on Radio 4 this morning.

Hopefully, the government’s rescue package will be enough to keep the industry afloat as it waits for further information. If that guidance doesn’t come soon, we may well be on the precipice of a cultural gutting as historic as this bailout.

NEXT IN THE GREAT ADAPTATION SERIES…

CAN THE ARTS SURVIVE AND THRIVE THE PANDEMIC?

Next week, we’re hosting a fireside discussion on how the arts industry is adapting in the world of Covid-19. 

We’ll be joined by the Olivier-winning playwright and TV writer James Graham, along with other industry leaders from sectors as diverse as literature festivals, art fairs and museums. In light of the government’s bailout package, we’ll be hearing about the innovations and challenges that Covid-19 has created, both over the last few months and into the future, and how our cultural institutions are faring in the most uncertain time since WWII. 

THIS DISCUSSION IS NOW CLOSED.

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