9 UK MPs Call Out Hikvision Over Human Rights Violations

By: Charles Rollet, Published on Mar 26, 2019

A group of nine MPs in the UK has released a letter calling out Hikvision for its surveillance deals in Xinjiang and Tibet, alleging Hikvision technology is being used for "sinister" purposes by the Chinese government and urging the UK government to investigate.

The move adds pressure on Hikvision over its deep Xinjiang ties, where it has won huge deals that include advanced cameras for hundreds of mosques and at least two of the notorious 're-education' camps where an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being detained.

Hikvision (and Dahua) have also come under recent scrutiny over Xinjiang from a lawmaker in Norway, indicating that the political movement against the firms which began when US Congress members urged sanctions last year is spreading.

In this post, we examine the UK letter and its supporters/potential implications, along with the recent Norway development, chiefly:

  • UK Letter Summary
  • Supporters/Background
  • Norway Lawmaker Scrutiny
  • Overall Impact

UK Letter Summary

The letter, dated March 19, asks what the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the UK's equivalent of the State Department) plans to do to "tackle the issues raised" regarding the situation in Xinjiang.

The letter was tweeted out by Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, the letter's main backer and one of the UK Parliament's main voices when it comes to Xinjiang, having published several op-eds about the issue. The letter is addressed to MP Mark Field, the Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific.

Along with asking whether the FCO would support calls for an "independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate human rights abuses in [Xinjiang]," the letter states [emphasis added]:

Furthermore, we share the concerns raised by Karen Lee MP about the role of Hikvision in the UK. Hikvision has been used in Tibet to develop an intrusive police and security apparatus. The system uses facial recognition technology which can distinguish minority groups from 'ethnic' Han Chinese populations. The sophistication of this technology and its sinister use is a serious cause for concern when considering Tibetans and Uyghurs' safety and security.

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What assessment has the FCO made of these security concerns, particularly in light of the fact that Hikvision was the biggest supplier of CCTV equipment to the UK in 2016?

Letter Supporters

Aside from Alistair Carmichael, 8 other MPs signed the letter:

The letter references comments made by another MP (Labour Party member Karen Lee) earlier this year, who called out Hikvision for providing "equipment for the massive prison camps in Xinjiang". (See 3 UK MPs Call for Investigating Hikvision Over Xinjiang.)

However, Karen Lee is not listed as a signatory to the letter.

The letter's chief backer, Alistair Carmichael, was one of the 3 MPs previously calling for a UK government Hikvision investigation. At the time, he told IPVM that if concerns about Hikvision were "found to be well grounded then we would expect [Hikvision] to clean up their act at home before competing for contracts in the UK."

No Conservative MPs signed the letter, something noteworthy since the Conservative Party is the ruling party of the UK i.e. the party that actually has the power to shape government policy towrds Xinjiang.

Letter Analysis

The letter calls out Hikvision for developing "facial recognition technology which can distinguish minority groups from 'ethnic' Han Chinese populations." IPVM has covered this topic before, breaking the story that Hikvision inadvertently showcased "minority analytics" software in a promotional video during a conference last year. (See Hikvision's Minority Analytics.)

Also worth noting is that the letter does not focus entirely on Xinjiang, claiming that Hikvision has also helped develop an "intrusive police and security apparatus" in Tibet. IPVM has not fully investigated Hikvision's Tibet activities and cannot currently comment as to the accuracy of such a statement.

Possible Impact

It remains unclear how MP Mark Field, the FCO Minister, will respond to the letter. Previously, when MP Karen Lee raised such concerns, he acknowledged the issue but made no policy commitments, stating:

We are obviously aware of the reports of Hikvision’s specific role in providing facial recognition cameras for use in Xinjiang.

If and when Field responds to the MPs' concerns, IPVM will publish an update. Were the UK government to take action against Hikvision over its Xinjiang ties, the effect would be substantial, since the UK is one of Hikvision's largest overseas markets.

The UK parliament passed a “Magnitsky amendment” last year which allows sanctions against persons or entities for “gross human rights abuse”; this can result in a freeze on a company's UK assets and/or total import/export bans.

Norway Update

Earlier this month, a Norwegian lawmaker in Norway's Parliament, Audun Lysbakken, who is also the leader of the Socialist Left Party (a relatively minor party), questioned Norway's finance minister Siv Jensen about the Norwegian oil fund's Hikivision/Dahua investments.

Norway's trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund, which is made up largely of profits from Norway's huge oil industry and has a huge portfolio of stocks from around the world, has about $41m worth of investments in Dahua and Hikvision each as of 2017.

On March 20, Lysbakken asked:

Is it true that the [oil fund] is invested in the companies Hikvision and Dahua that produce surveillance cameras that are used to control the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and what will the minister do to prevent Norway from making money from human rights violations?

Jensen answered that the answer to this question was "not yet available". IPVM is closely monitoring the latest disclosures from Norway's oil fund to see whether they divest from Hikvision/Daha; such information should be available next month.

Conclusion

These developments in the UK and Norway clearly indicate that Hikvision's Xinjiang government deals are creating long-term problems for their ambitious overseas expansion plans.

Eventually, the company may face a clear choice: do business in the West or Xinjiang, but not both. Given that Hikvision has never publicly addressed its Xinjiang activities in the slightest, it remains unclear how the company will cope with such a growing problem.

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