Canada’s parliament on Wednesday labeled China’s actions targeting Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) “genocide,” calling on Ottawa to adopt the designation and sanction Chinese government officials responsible for rights violations in the western region.
The resolution marked the strongest move to date by lawmakers from a foreign nation seeking to hold China accountable for abuses in the XUAR, where authorities 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.
The House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development said in a statement on Wednesday that after convening urgent meetings with experts in July to build upon the testimony of witnesses about developments in the region, its members were “profoundly disturbed” and “convinced of the need for a strong response.”
“The Subcommittee heard that the Government of China has been employing various strategies to persecute Muslim groups living in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive state surveillance and population control,” the statement said.
“Witnesses were clear that the Government of China’s actions are a clear attempt to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion.”
The subcommittee said that some witnesses stated that China’s actions meet the definition of genocide as set out in Article II of the United Nations’ 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“The Subcommittee unequivocally condemns the persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang by the Government of China,” the statement said.
“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 subcommittee urged the Canadian government to officially condemn China’s actions in the XUAR, work with allies and organizations to help international observers gain unfettered access to the region, and provide support to civil society groups raising awareness about the Uyghurs—especially in countries beholden to China because of their geopolitical importance to Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The U.S. $1.3 trillion BRI is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature geopolitical policy, which features major investments to build infrastructure supporting trade between China and countries across Asia, Europe and Africa. It has been dogged by controversy after countries in Asia and Africa piled up unsustainable debts.
The subcommittee also called on Canada’s government to recognize that the acts being committed in the XUAR against Uyghurs constitutes genocide and impose sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act on all Chinese officials responsible for the perpetration of rights abuses in the region.
“Canada has a responsibility to protect Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims under the international norm that it helped to establish, the Responsibility to Protect, of which the objective is to ensure the international community prevents mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” the statement said.
“The Subcommittee shares concerns raised by witnesses and agrees that the Government of Canada needs to take immediate action and live up to the values it espouses at home and abroad. Canada must act now to address China’s aggression against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.”
The subcommittee said it will be tabling a report shortly with recommendations for the government.
Growing global criticism
The designation by Canadian lawmakers comes less than a week after China’s Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu warned of a “strong reaction” if the country’s parliament were to condemn Beijing’s policies in the XUAR as part of a campaign of genocide.
It also follows a June report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs. Author Adrian Zenz believes the campaign may amount to government-led genocide under United Nations definitions.
At the end of July, the Trump administration leveled sanctions against the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC) and two of its current and former officials over rights violations in the XUAR, as well as several top Chinese officials, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo—marking the first time Washington targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.
U.S. officials, including Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have also publicly discussed whether the situation in the XUAR merits being labeled genocide.
Last week, China narrowly won a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, prompting a rights group to call the vote “embarrassing” for a country that has worked overtime to whitewash its image and used its growing power to stifle criticism of its persecution of ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans.
Earlier this month, the U.K. and Germany led a group of 39 member states at the U.N. General Assembly in condemning China’s policies in the XUAR, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and several members of the European Union.
The condemnation marked a significant increase in the number of countries willing to stand up to China’s threats of cutting off trade with nations that support such statements. A similar resolution last year received only 23 backers.
Responding to lawmakers’ designation Wednesday, the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) called the move “an important step to acknowledge the severity and urgency of the Uyghur crisis.”
“We thank the Canadian Subcommittee recognizing that the atrocities against Uyghurs constitute genocide and for proposing concrete and meaningful action for Canada to take to address this crisis,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa.
“We urge R.Hon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government to adopt and implement the conclusions of the committee and to demonstrate that Canada will not sit idly by while a genocide takes place.”
Washington-based Campaign For Uyghurs (CFU) also welcomed Wednesday’s decision.
“It is grimly satisfying to see these crimes against humanity labeled for what they are specific to the suffering Uyghurs: genocide,” CFU Executive Director Rushan Abbas said in a statement.
“This label must carry forth to result in consequences for those responsible.”
CFU urged Ottawa to swiftly enact the subcommittee’s recommendations and called on other global government bodies to follow the lead of Canadian lawmakers.