By Jeremy NuttallVancouver BureauWed., Oct. 21, 2020timer3 min. readupdateArticle was updated Oct. 23, 2020
Actions by the Chinese Communist Party in the country’s far western Xinjiang autonomous region constitute genocide and Ottawa must take action, a Canadian parliamentary subcommittee said Wednesday.
The House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights said it came to its conclusion after hearing two days of testimony from witnesses that include “survivors of the government of China’s atrocities” in the region.
“Nearly two million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims are being detained, including men, women, and children as young as 13 years old,” the subcommittee said in a news release. “Witnesses noted that this is the largest mass detention of a minority community since the Holocaust.”
The subcommittee called on the federal government to recognize China’s actions in the region as genocide and to implement so-called Magnitsky legislation against officials responsible.
The news release stressed that the blame for the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a largely Muslim region of the country, lies with the Chinese government and not the people of China.
International concern about the treatment of Uighurs and other Turkic people in Xinjiang has grown in recent years, particularly after the discovery of what the subcommittee called “concentration camps” holding an estimated two million people.
The Chinese government insists the camps are “vocational training centres.” But those who have been in them describe deplorable conditions, including sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. Forced labour has also been reported.
“The subcommittee heard that detainees are abused psychologically, physically and sexually. They are forbidden from speaking the Uighur language or practising their religion,” the news release said.
“In an effort to assimilate and indoctrinate them, they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, Chinese culture and traditions, as well as sing praises to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.”
The statement said Uighur activists, including those living in Canada, have been subject to intimidation and harassment by China’s government.
For those reasons and more, the subcommittee said it was persuaded the “actions of the Communist Party of China constitute genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention.”
Human rights advocate and former attorney general Irwin Cotler told the Star that if Canada declares China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide, it would be the first Parliament to do so.
Cotler said the subcommittee’s conclusion is important not just to the Uighur community, but also to international justice, hearkening back to past genocides in Rwanda and Myanmar. In 2018 Canada was the first to declare the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Cotler said.
“What made these genocides so horrific was not only the horror of the genocides themselves but that they were preventable,” he said. “Nobody could say we did not know. We knew, but we did not act.”
Cotler has been vocal in the plight of the Uighur people, including via the new Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international organization made up of legislators from across the political spectrum that aims to counter Beijing’s influence worldwide.
The Uighur Rights Advocacy Project, which works to raise awareness of the plight of the Uighurs in Canada, applauded the decision by the subcommittee in its own statement.
Project executive director Mehmet Tohti said Canada must now act on the recommendation of the subcommittee.
Tohti said labelling the treatment of Uighurs a genocide will mean a great deal to the community in Canada.
Last week, China’s ambassador to Canada denied genocide was happening in the region, and said Western countries should “be careful” about using the term.
Cotler said if the Canadian government declares the actions a genocide it would be reflecting the will of the public in Canada who elected it.
The House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights is part of the standing committee on foreign affairs and international development.