News Analysis

Canadian ambassador to the UN calls for investigation into Chinese Uyghur genocide

"There's no question that there's aspects of what the Chinese are doing that fits into the definition of genocide in the genocide convention," Bob Rae said in an interview.

Noah David Alter Toronto
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Canadian UN Ambassador Bob Rae has called upon the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs in northwestern China, CBC reports.

"There's no question that there's aspects of what the Chinese are doing that fits into the definition of genocide in the genocide convention," Bob Rae said in an exclusive interview with the public broadcaster.

"But that then requires you to go through a process of gathering information and of making sure that we've got the evidence that would support that kind of an allegation."

Rae's concern follows a report released in October by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights. Documenting vast human rights abuses within China's Xinjiang region including mass detention, sexual abuse, slavery, forced abortions, and more, the subcommittee declared China's actions against their Uyghur minority to be a genocide, and even directly compared it to the Holocaust.

Rae stopped short of affirming the subcommittee's conclusion, however. When asked if he would use the word 'genocide' to describe the situation in East Turkestan, Rae responded "I think we need to begin to understand what it means to do that."

His lack of definitiveness on the matter echoes comments by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who described the subcommittee's conclusion as mere "allegations" which require further investigation by "an independent body."

The comments received immediate backlash from Beijing, with China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian calling the allegations "ridiculous."

"Canada's population growth rate in 2019 was 1.42 percent, and most of the increase came from immigrants," Lijian said in a press conference on Monday. "From 2010 to 2018, the population of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang rose from 10.17 million to 12.72 million, an increase of 2.55 million or 25 percent."

"I would like to ask this ambassador, if his logic is plausible in finding out who best fits the label of genocide, it seems that it is not the Uyghurs who are persecuted, but rather the people of Canada, am I right?" the spokesman finished.

The figures offered by the Lijian are incomplete, however. China's own government figures show the growth rate in Xinjiang, the northwestern province home to the Uyghurs, has plummeted in recent years. Birth rates in the province as a whole have dropped by nearly one third since 2015, while the Uyghur population centres of Hotan and Kashgar have seen their birth rates plummet by almost 60 percent in the same period.

Rae, however, is not the only diplomat on the international stage to call for the investigation of China's human rights abuses. A letter drafted by the German government and signed by 38 other nations, including Canada, expressed grave concern over the "human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong."

The letter calls on the Chinese government to allow the UN access to China's network of "'political re-education' camps" and other parts of Xinjiang to investigate claims of genocide.

"There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uyghur culture," the statement reads. "Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labour and forced birth control including sterilization."

Questions arise as to whether the UN Human Rights Council would be effective in investigating China's human rights situation. The UNHRC has a long history of electing human rights abusers to oversee the council, with China having been elected this year. Approximately 60 percent of UNHRC members are not democracies, and the United States left the council in 2018 due to allegations of political bias against democracies such as Israel.

The Chinese government took to the UNHRC earlier in November to attack the human rights situation in the United States, where they were joined by other human rights abusers such as North Korea, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

The same countries used the same meeting to praise the human rights situation in Libya, where chattel slavery has returned in recent years. Belarus received praise at the UNHRC only a week earlier from countries such as China, Russia, Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela, even as the government has engaged in the killing of protesters in the wake of the nation's most recent election.

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