Parliament condemns 'severe human rights abuses' against Uighur in China

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 May 2021, 7:54PM
(Photo / Getty)

Parliament condemns 'severe human rights abuses' against Uighur in China

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 May 2021, 7:54PM

Parliament has condemned "severe human rights abuses" against Uighur in China - but not "genocide", as had been originally proposed.

The original wording of the motion requested Parliament debate whether human rights abuses against the Muslim minority group Uighur in the Chinese region of Xinjiang amounted to genocide, and in turn called on the Government to fulfil its obligations under international law.

The motion, filed by Act deputy leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman Brooke van Velden last week, needed the support of each MP in the House in order to be debated.

But Labour only supported the motion if the term "genocide" was removed.

As the topic was debated in the House, Act, the Green Party and te Pāti Māori (Māori Party) all asserted their support for the original motion using the term "genocide".

What the parties said

Speaking on behalf of Labour, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta acknowledged unanimous support for the motion across the house.

She said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was not present during the debate, had raised the concerns directly with the Chinese government, and called on China to respect the rights of the Uighur and other ethnic minorities.

While the Government had not formally designated the situation as genocide, it was "not due to lack of concern".

"Genocide is the gravest of international crimes and a formal legal determination should only be reached following a rigorous assessment on the basis of international law.

"New Zealand has not previously made an independent determination of genocide, we relied upon judicial findings of genocide in the case of Cambodia, Rwanda and of course the Holocaust."

The Government would continue to work with international partners and the United Nations to push for an investigation and abuses to end, she said.

Van Velden said having to dilute and soften the motion to gain the acceptance of the governing party was "intolerable".

"Our conscience requires that we support this motion, we know that a genocide is taking place.

"Genocide does not require a war, it does not need to be sudden, it can be slow and deliberate and that is what is happening here.

The motion was not a criticism of the country of China or Chinese people, or of "Chinese Kiwis".

She also noted New Zealand must stand with its international allies on the matter.

There had been forced sterilisation on the Uighur population, she said, and noted the United States had declared there was a genocide occurring, under both former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

Parliaments in the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom had also voted to pass similar motions condemning the abuse as "genocide".

She would continue advocating for a proper investigation to determine if genocide was occurring, she said.

National's Todd Muller commented on the depth of the relationship with China, which meant criticising where necessary.

"Neither do we shirk from uncomfortable conversations and today this House speaks in one voice with our concerns about severe human rights abuses in China."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman called for a stronger wording of the motion, and criticised both major parties for bringing up trade when debating using the term genocide.

"I was deeply disappointed to hear leadership from both major political parties refer to trade as a consideration for them when they were discussing whether or not they would allow a motion using the word genocide when they were talking about the mass torture, extrajudicial detention, sterilisation and slavery of some one million people."

"That was stunningly callous, it was absolutely morally indefensible and it is a breach of new Zealand's legal obligations.

"The Green Party unequivocally condemns the grave atrocities being suffered by the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province and other cultural and linguistic minorities at the hands of the Chinese government."

She again called for a proper investigation to determine if New Zealand was involved in any trade involving slave labour from the region, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade thus far has been unable to confirm.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said they welcomed the Greens' motion to revise the wording.

"We will continue to advocate for indigenous peoples and fight racism and bigotry in all its forms.

"We stand in solidarity with all indigenous and oppressed peoples right around the world. Ethnic violence starts with racism.

"We should use this place to lead and stamp it out."

She said the party struggled to understand why Act had "suddenly developed a desire to support indigenous peoples in China", considering they pushed colonial agendas that oppressed indigenous people in Aotearoa, and had recently called for the abolition of New Zealand's Human Rights Commission.

"Nothing has changed"

Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie said "nothing has changed" as a result of the vote.

"Parliament created a perfect circle. It started with New Zealand's existing position, had lots of rhetoric, and then ended at exactly the same point that it started.

"Nothing has changed.

"While it was correct to not make a declaration of genocide without the existing independent UN experts, it would have been better if they set down some next steps: such as promising to revisit the topic in six months if there is no satisfactory change; or laying out some initiatives, or offers, to be explored and reported back on.

"China will be happy with the outcome. Our Five Eyes allies who use the word 'genocide', disappointed.

"Most importantly, for those impacted by the alleged crimes, nothing will change."

The motion agreed to by Parliament:

That this House is gravely concerned about the severe human rights abuses taking place against Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that it call on the Government to work with the United Nations, international partners, and to work with all relevant instruments of international law to bring these abuses to an end.