Australia, Turkey to Join Nations Debating Label of Genocide Over Xinjiang Abuses

The parliamentary motions will follow two adopted by The Netherlands and Canada last month.
Australia, Turkey to Join Nations Debating Label of Genocide Over Xinjiang Abuses Uyghurs protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Melbourne, in a file photo.

Australia and Turkey are moving to investigate whether to label human rights violations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as genocide, following a similar designation by the White House and recent parliamentary motions in Canada and the Netherlands.

South Australian independent Senator Rex Patrick has proposed a motion for consideration by fellow upper house members that the Senate “agrees that the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang constitutes the crime of genocide,” according to a report by the Guardian Australia.

Set to be introduced on March 15, the motion also calls on China “to immediately end torture and abuse in detention centers; abolish its system of mass internment camps, house arrest and forced labor; cease all coercive population control measures; and end the persecution of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.”

Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017. Reports suggest the camps are used as punishment for signs of “extremism” that authorities say include practicing basic forms of Islam, adhering to cultural traditions, and violating strict family-planning policies.

Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment—including systematic rape—and political indoctrination.

Amid increasing international scrutiny, authorities in the region have begun to send detainees to work at factories as part of an effort to label internment camps “vocational centers,” although those held in the facilities regularly toil under forced or coerced labor conditions.

While Canberra has yet to refer to such abuses as crimes against humanity or genocide, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called reports of the situation in the region “horrific” and acknowledged an internationally recognized “set of facts … that have caused other governments to respond in the way they have.”

She has also cited the need for a multilateral approach to the issue because of China’s vast diplomatic and economic influence, and reiterated Australia’s calls for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to gain access to the region to investigate the reports.

Over the weekend, Turkey’s Opposition Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener said her party will request that the country’s parliament recognize the situation in the XUAR as genocide, according to a report by the Daily Sabah.

Last week, the Dutch House of Representatives voted to recognize China’s abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR as genocide, becoming the first parliament in Europe to do so.

The non-binding motion, approved by a cross-party majority—including the DENK Party, which was founded by Turkish lawmakers—followed a similar resolution passed by Canada’s House of Commons last month and an official designation of the situation in the region as genocide by the U.S. in January.

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is shown at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Feb. 6, 2020. AP Photo

House speaker updated

In addition to the U.S. State Department’s designation under former President Donald Trump, which the new administration of President Joe Biden has endorsed, Washington has taken several steps to address rights abuses in the XUAR.

Trump slapped sanctions on several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for the situation, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington had sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA). The legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress, and highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them.

Another proposed bill—Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—was reintroduced in February in the House of Representatives. The act, which was passed by the House last year but never brought to the floor by the Senate, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.

On Monday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held a virtual meeting with representatives of the Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs advocacy group and other experts for what she said via Twitter was an “update on the appalling human rights abuses in XUAR.”

“If we don’t speak out clearly for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights any place in the world,” she wrote following the meeting.

Rushan Abbas, founder and director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, said she discussed several issues of importance, including the likelihood of Congress passing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the possibility of U.S. pressure on the International Olympic Committee to relocate the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to a different country, and asylum for Uyghur refugees.

“We were encouraged by Speaker Pelosi’s commitment to reaffirm the responsibility that the U.S. administration has to stop these atrocities,” she told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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