DrThe Canadian Parliament voted by a large majority in favor of describing human rights violations in Xinjiang as a “genocide”. However, the decision has no binding effect on government affairs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shied away from the vote. And his cabinet, represented by the foreign minister, abstained from voting. Dozens of members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party voted in favor of the proposal. There were no votes against.
In their proposal, the House of Representatives referred to the United Nations Genocide Convention, in which the concept of genocide is not limited to “killing members of a group.” Thus the crime of genocide also includes “imposing measures aimed at preventing births within a group (in this case Uyghurs)” or “the forcible transfer of children in a group to another group”. China has been accused by both human rights activists and former camp inmates.
Are receipts enough?
From a legal standpoint, however, the charge of genocide assumes that there is “intent” to “totally or partially destroy” a group. According to international lawyers, this would be difficult to prove in the case of Xinjiang, also because outside observers have very limited access to the region.
In January, on his last day in office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to the Canadian Parliament about the genocide in Xinjiang. His successor, Anthony Blinken, agreed with this assessment. But legal advisers at the State Department came to a different assessment, according to a report published in Foreign Policy: The arrest of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and the use of forced labor should be classified as crimes against humanity.
However, the evidence was insufficient to claim genocide. The report in Foreign Policy refers to three employees of the former and current government. Accordingly, Pompeo received a report that contained the lawyers’ concerns, but also received arguments from employees who spoke in favor of talking about genocide.
Observers fear that the legal debate over whether genocide can be verified in China may detract from human rights violations in Xinjiang. Politically, however, the charge of genocide puts the Biden government under pressure to maintain a hard-line stance toward China. The Canadian Parliament vote also gives international impetus to those politicians who are calling for punitive action against China. The Belgian Parliament has now also received a proposal from two members of the Green Party to classify China’s actions against the Uyghurs as genocide.
The debate is likely to gain momentum regarding calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Canada’s House of Commons brought the two together by passing a non-binding appeal Monday to the government in Ottawa to urge the International Olympic Committee to get the Games moving.
The Chinese party “Global Times” recently commented that any country that boycotted the Games would face Chinese sanctions. The Chinese ambassador to Ottawa had asked Parliament before the vote to withdraw the draft resolution so as not to “harm Sino-Canadian relations.” Trudeau had previously called for an independent investigation into the allegations by the United Nations.