WASHINGTON – After the Canadian parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights concluded last week that China’s treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region amounts to genocide, some experts and international human rights activists say the international community could be entering a new phase of action to hold officials in Beijing accountable.
In its Oct. 21 statement, the committee said the detention of nearly 2 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims, forced labor, “pervasive” state surveillance and repressive control were “a clear attempt to eradicate Uighur culture and religion.”
“Based on the evidence put forward during the Subcommittee hearings, both in 2018 and 2020, the Subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention,” the committee said in a news release.
The U.N. Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said the committee’s move represents the first time a national legislative body has described the treatment of Uighurs in China as genocide.
“This will put pressure [on] the executive branch of government to follow suit and respond accordingly,” Matthews told VOA.
Approval by government
The committee called on the Canadian government to recognize the campaign as genocide, condemn China, and sanction officials involved in “grave human rights abuses.” It also asked the government to push for international access to the region and support organizations raising awareness on Uighurs.
Committee chair Peter Fonseca told VOA that the suggestions included in the statement were “a unanimous proclamation on the part of the multiparty members of the subcommittee.”
He said the committee report will be presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which can approve or reject its findings.
Some experts say the findings are likely to proceed further in the country’s legislative branch and be presented to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet for approval.
“The government has often followed the suggestions of the committee,” Ilan Orzy, director of operations at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, told VOA.
Orzy said the Canadian government followed such a proceeding with regard to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
Canada recognized the actions by Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya minority as genocide in September 2018.
The Canadian government has yet to announce whether it will act on the committee suggestions. In a statement shared with VOA, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said his government takes genocide allegations “very seriously.”
“We will continue to work in close collaboration with our allies to push for these to be investigated through an international independent body and for impartial experts to access the region so that they can see the situation firsthand and report back,” Champagne said.
‘‘We remain deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang and have publicly and consistently called on the Chinese government to end the repression of Uighurs,” he said.
China rejects the claim that it is running a repressive campaign against Turkic minorities in Xinjiang. Beijing officials say they have sent Uighurs who were “poisoned” by religious extremism or who lagged behind in society to “vocational training centers” to deradicalize them and teach them new work skills.
Last Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the committee’s statement “groundless” and called on Canada to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang-related matters.
“The so-called genocide in Xinjiang is a rumor and a farce fabricated by some anti-China forces to slander China,” Zhao said at a press conference.
Some observers charge that a possible move by the Canadian government to approve the committee findings and recognize the Uighur genocide could encourage other countries to follow suit.
Last Friday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Foreign Relations Committee member, urged the U.S. government to formerly recognize the issue as genocide.
Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution to declare the Uighur campaign genocide.
Peter Irwin, a senior program officer at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, told VOA that those resolutions show the international community is ready to go beyond condemnation of China’s policies in Xinjiang toward holding party officials accountable.
“The Canadian [parliamentary] subcommittee, to their credit, took the time to study the issue intensively, calling witnesses and analyzing reports, and concluded that what’s happening amounts to genocide,” Irwin said.
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that discussions of genocide-labeling means those countries understand the severity of the Uighur situation, and their policymakers are willing to adjust their responses to the crisis.
“There is growing momentum to recognize the situation as a genocide, and the decision of the subcommittee has greatly contributed to that. It is our hope that this move will be the start of a more meaningful and concrete push by the international community to demand that China stops the Uighur genocide,” Isa told VOA