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Conservatives Urge House Of Commons To Declare China’s Treatment Of Uighurs A Genocide

“China is acting with the intent to destroy” Uighurs, Erin O’Toole says.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 16, 2021.
David Kawai/CP
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 16, 2021.

Federal Conservatives are calling on the House of Commons to recognize China’s treatment of its Uighur population as a genocide and for the Liberal government to formally adopt that position.

Tory Leader Erin O’Toole revealed Thursday that his party is tabling an opposition motion asking the House to declare that “a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.”

Though non-binding, the motion’s passage would increase pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been reluctant to use what he has called an “extremely loaded” term to describe reported human rights violations against minority Muslims in China.

Watch: O’Toole calls for 2022 Olympics to be moved out of Beijing

China has been accused of running detention camps to indoctrinate the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority group into mainstream society and of having used birth-control measures, including forced sterilization, to curb Uighur birth rates.

More than one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in the camps, according to United Nations experts, with former detainees saying they faced forced labour, systematic rape, abuse, and torture. Beijing has denied any wrongdoing, saying it is running a voluntary employment and language-training program.

O’Toole told reporters Thursday it is clear “destroying the Uighurs is a policy of the Communist government at the highest levels,” calling the project a massive, highly-organized undertaking involving mass surveillance in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province.

“How many doctors and nurses would you need to forcibly sterilize tens of thousands of women? How many police would you need to track the every move of civilians? China is acting with the intent to destroy and they are leveraging the full weight of the state to do so,” the Tory leader said.

O’Toole said the genocide label fits the definition spelled out in the UN Genocide Convention, which states “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” include not just killing but:

  • Causing “serious bodily or mental harm” to members of a group;
  • Deliberately inflicting “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction” in whole or in part;
  • “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;”
  • And “forcibly transferring children” to another group.

“They have taken the children. They are sterilizing the women. They are causing bodily harm. And they are deliberately inflicting conditions to destroy the Muslim Uighurs,” O’Toole said of China’s reported actions.

“And so, I ask Prime Minister Trudeau: how much more evidence of atrocities do you need?”

The Tory leader also noted U.S. Democrat and Republican officials “with virtually nothing in common” have agreed the term fits. Former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in January he believed a “genocide is ongoing” in China, and current secretary of state Antony Blinken has said he agrees with that position.

The solemn phrase “never again,” invoked in the wake of the Holocaust, must be backed up with action, O’Toole said. “‘Never again’ means a commitment to calling out conduct today, not just remembering atrocities in the past. It must fuel our leadership today.”

Though Canada is a small country in terms of its population, the country is a “towering giant” when it comes to defending human rights, O’Toole said. “And right now, over a million people half a world away, need us to do just that.”

O’Toole’s gambit comes days after he joined federal Greens in calling on Trudeau to push the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to relocate the 2022 Winter Games out of Beijing. The IOC has so far dismissed calls to boycott next year’s Olympics.

It also comes months after a Canadian parliamentary subcommittee, which heard directly from Uighur survivors, declared China’s actions constitute genocide as laid out in the UN convention. China dismissed the report as “baseless.”

Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, asked the UN Human Rights Council in November to investigate whether China is committing genocide. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman fired back by calling Rae’s words “ridiculous.”

The UN ratified the Genocide Convention, which outlines obligations countries must take to confirm that a genocide is taking or has taken place, 70 years ago. Article I of the convention states “contracting parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

Neither Trudeau nor Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau have so far been willing to use the designation, suggesting more evidence and further international investigations are needed.

“We will continue to work with the international community and move forward on making the right determinations based on facts and evidence as appropriate,” Trudeau said this week.

On Tuesday, the prime minister dodged a question from a reporter who asked if he feared using the term genocide because of what it could mean for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two Canadians have been detained by Beijing for more than 800 days in what is widely seen as retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Trudeau concedes ‘many partners’ have called situation a genocide

Trudeau wouldn’t say one way or the other, but said his government has long highlighted concern with reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“But when it comes to the application of the very specific word ‘genocide,’ we simply need to ensure that all of the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed in the processes before a determination like that is made,” he said.

Pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, Trudeau conceded that “many partners” have already identified the situation as a genocide and said Canada will “work with them and others as we move forward in the right way.”

Canada will work with the international community to push for “better answers,” follow up on reports of atrocities, and make “determinations around the seriousness of these acts,” Trudeau said.

The motion, sponsored by Tory foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, is set to be put to a vote as soon as Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press and Zi-Ann Lum

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