China and Genocide

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‘We need courage’: Bloc, NDP MPs push for House to recognize Uyghur genocide in face of Beijing pressure

By NEIL MOSS      
Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu told reporters on Oct. 15 a parliamentary recognition that the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs would be met with a ‘strong reaction.’

Following a recent subcommittee proclamation that the Chinese persecution of Uyghur Muslims amounts to genocide, Bloc and NDP MPs on the subcommittee are urging the House of Commons to formally recognize that genocide has taken place.

Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe (Lac-Saint-Jean, Que.), vice-chair of the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights, said a House recognition that genocide has taken place should happen swiftly.

“I hope it is going to happen as soon as possible—the fastest we can do,” he said.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said he doesn’t see why there wouldn’t be support for such a recognition, as the subcommittee’s Oct. 21 statement had the backing of all parties, but whether it will happen, he thinks, is a toss-up.

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s subcommittee member, said the issue is “pressing.”

“There are people being sexually assaulted. There are people being tortured. There are people dying. So we do have to go through the process, we do have to do our due diligence, we do have to do our work, but this is a genocide and we need to act,” she said.

The subcommittee held meetings last summer and in 2018 on the human rights situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In recent meetings, the committee heard from more than 20 witnesses and activists over 14 hours on July 20 and July 21. Many urged subcommittee members to recognize that genocide has taken place.

The subcommittee’s unanimous declaration proclaimed it is “important” for the Canadian government to “condemn” the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, “recognize” that the persecution constitutes “genocide and work within legal frameworks of international bodies to recognize that acts being committed against Uyghurs constitute genocide,” and impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese government officials “responsible for the perpetration of grave human rights abuses.”

Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu cast a warning to Canadian Parliamentarians against recognizing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

The proclamation came less than a week after Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu told reporters there would be a “strong reaction” if Parliament recognized the treatment of Uyghurs as a genocide. The Chinese government has consistently denied that genocide is taking place.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said Parliamentarians need to have “political courage.”

“That means we have to name things. If there wasn’t a genocide, we wouldn’t name it. Because it’s China, we’re not going to name it? I don’t think so,” he said.

He said if genocide was being committed by a smaller, less powerful nation, there would be no apprehension to recognize it.

“There is a genocide. We have proof of it. We [had] two emergency meetings on this [at the subcommittee], hearing from witnesses who have lived this genocide, witnessed this genocide, and been there when there was a genocide,” he said. “We can’t wait [any] more.”

Ms. McPherson said the “bullying” from China shows that Canada needs to work with its international allies.

She said Canada shouldn’t take the threat lightly, but it also can’t let a threat change the way the subcommittee, Parliament, and government operates.

“That would be absurd,” she said. “Let’s be reasonable, let’s not do this alone, let’s not come out swinging by ourselves. Let’s work with our allies.”

“Together that voice is strong enough, I think, that we can bring China back onto the side of international human rights law,” Ms. McPherson said.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the Chinese would protest if Parliament recognized there is a genocide against Uyghurs.

He said a likely response would be the Chinese government summoning Canadian ambassador Dominic Barton and a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry would also raise the issue. He said there’s also a possibility of economic ramifications.

It would be up to diplomats to explain the “stark differences” between the Canadian and Chinese systems of governance, and the independence of Parliamentarians from the government, said Mr. Robertson.

A parliamentary recognition of genocide can occur either through a motion or by the subcommittee submitting a report to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which, if approved, would be tabled in the House, which would then vote on its concurrence.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said he thinks the best path is through a motion.

In 2018, the House passed a unanimous motion recognizing the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar as a genocide.

Ms. McPherson said both options are on the table, and said the subcommittee is looking at composing a report to bring to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

It met in camera to discuss committee business on Oct. 27.

Ms. McPherson said in the meantime, the government should act.

“It takes time to get those reports created and to the committee and have the committee to have the time to actually look at them and make some recommendations, so I think it’s important that the Liberals do more now,” she said, adding the government should move forward with “some urgency.”

“We have legal and moral obligations to act when [a genocide] is apparent,” she said.

Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard, Que.), a member of the subcommittee, told The Hill Times that Parliament is “seized” by the issue.

“We have as a country … a responsibility to protect, which means that we have a responsibility as a country to halt the genocide to our most ability whenever we see it,” he said. “This is, right now, a live conversation within Parliament.”

Mr. Zuberi said he wants to see the recommendations in the subcommittee’s statement be “popularized throughout Canadian society.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne says Canada remains ‘deeply disturbed’ over ‘troubling reports’ of the persecution of Uyghurs. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“I still feel that there is a relatively low level of awareness around what is unfolding in Xinjiang,” he said.

He added the most important recommendation to come out of the committee’s proclamation is for Canada to work with other nations to have the international community investigate the genocide allegations, as well as for Canada to consider providing asylum to those at risk of being put in concentration camps, to have Canada disentangle itself from products and imports being produced from forced concentration camp labour, and to consider appointing a special envoy to Huseyin Celil—a Canadian citizen with Uyghur origin—who has been detained by Chinese authorities since 2006.

“These recommendations … are recommendations that if highlighted, if implemented, and focused upon, we can actually make real change,” Mr. Zuberi said.

Liberal subcommittee chair Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.) noted in an email to The Hill Times that the group works on a consensus basis.

“If there is consensus from the subcommittee members, the subcommittee will produce a report that will have recommendations,” he wrote.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), who was a member of the subcommittee in the last parliamentary session, has called for both Parliament and the Canadian government to recognize genocide is being committed against the Uyghurs.

Neither the Liberal nor Conservative House leaders addressed whether there’s been discussion between the parties over a motion on recognizing Uyghur genocide.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) said in a statement that Canada remains “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 Uyghurs.”

Mr. Champagne noted he raised the issue with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet while in Geneva earlier this month.

“Canada along with 37 other countries at the UN expressed its grave concerns regarding the situation in Xinjiang. Canada takes allegations of genocide 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,” he said.