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SDIR Committee News Release

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Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons / Chambre des communes
Sous-comité des droits internationaux de la personne du Comité permanent des affaires étrangères et du développement international

For immediate release


NEWS RELEASE


STATEMENT BY THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNING THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION OF UYGHURS AND OTHER TURKIC MUSLIMS IN XINJIANG, CHINA

Ottawa, October 21, 2020 -

In a news release following its study on the human rights situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China (East Turkestan/Xinjiang) in 2018, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (the Subcommittee) warned that:

if the international community does not condemn the human rights abuses in Xinjiang province by the Government of China, a precedent will be set, and these methods will be adopted by other regimes. Complacency is entrenched by a lack of access to Xinjiang; by the lack of free press; and through the silencing and harassment of Uyghurs living abroad.

Building on the important testimony of seven witnesses over five sessions before the Subcommittee in 2018, on 20–21 July 2020 the Subcommittee convened urgent meetings to understand the latest developments in the plight of the Uyghurs. Over two days and 12 hours of testimony, the Subcommittee heard from academics, civil society as well as many survivors of the Government of China’s atrocities in the region. The subcommittee wishes to make clear that the condemnations in this statement are directed towards the Government of China, as represented by the Chinese Communist Party, and not the Chinese people, who the Subcommittee support wholeheartedly and hope that one day will benefit from the peace, freedom and security enjoyed by many others in this world.

The Subcommittee was profoundly disturbed by what it heard and is convinced of the need for a strong response. The Subcommittee heard that the Government of China has been employing various strategies to persecute Muslim groups living in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive state surveillance and population control. Witnesses were clear that the Government of China’s actions are a clear attempt to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion. Some witnesses stated that the Government of China’s actions meet the definition of genocide as set out in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).

The Subcommittee unequivocally condemns the persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang by the Government of China. Based on the evidence put forward during the Subcommittee hearings, both in 2018 and 2020, the Subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention.

A. MASS DETENTION AND INHUMANE TREATMENT

In spite of international criticism, the Government of China has continued its mass detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in what witnesses referred to as concentration camps. In fact, witnesses stated that its efforts have intensified in recent years. Nearly 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being detained, including men, women, and children as young as 13 years old. Witnesses noted that this is the largest mass detention of a minority community since the Holocaust.

Survivors of the concentration camps described deplorable conditions. The Subcommittee heard that detainees are abused psychologically, physically and sexually. They are forbidden from speaking the Uyghur language or practising their religion. In an effort to assimilate and indoctrinate them, they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, Chinese culture and traditions, as well as sing praises to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. Witnesses stated that punishment for breaking rules can be swift and violent and that women and girls are regularly subjected to sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.

The Subcommittee heard that Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims detained in the camps have not been criminally charged. As there are no legal proceedings, they do not receive a sentence and, consequently, it is not clear how or when they are to be released. Witnesses explained that this indefinite detention, with only the slightest chance of release, leads to a fading hope among detainees for a return to normal life. They further explained that being completely cut off from the outside world and prevented from communicating with their families added to their despair.

One concentration camp survivor also raised the troubling prospect that the Government of China is collecting DNA information from detainees, without their consent, to determine the compatibility of their organs for later harvesting. As another witness explained, the Government of China has been involved in the practice of organ trafficking for years, predominately harvesting human organs from Falun Gong prisoners to support a lucrative international organ transplant program. One witness urged Parliament to adopt Bill S-204, a bill that would create new offences in relation to trafficking in human organs. The witness noted that the previous version of the bill, despite having the unanimous support of both Houses, died at the end of the last Parliament.

The Government of Canada should work with its international allies and multilateral organizations to condemn the Government of China’s use of concentration camps to unlawfully and unjustly detain Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

The Subcommittee also heard testimony specifically about Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen of Uyghur origin detained by the Government of China since 2006, and his ongoing arbitrary and illegal detention. The Government of Canada should use all of the tools at its disposal to secure the release of Mr. Celil, including but not limited to the creation of a special envoy specifically tasked with seeking his release and return.

B. FORCED LABOUR

Witnesses noted that, starting in 2018, detainees from concentration camps began being transferred into different types of coercive labour, both in Xinjiang and to other regions of China, as part of a “poverty reduction” initiative. They warned that this forced labour is integrated into the supply chains of many large international corporations and contributes to the production of many products sold in Canada and other western nations. The United States of America recently issued a notice to companies warning that their supply chains potentially contain goods manufactured through the forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. The Government of Canada should issue to Canadian companies, whose supply chains are potentially exposed to the forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, a notice similar to the one issued by the Government of the United States of America for that reason. It is also important for the Government of Canada to investigate potentially problematic sources of consumer goods and to take a strong stand against the use of forced labour, particularly when it involves Canadian companies.

Some witnesses agreed on the importance of adopting a “reverse-onus” on products of companies whose supply chains pass through Xinjiang and other parts of China using forced or slave labour, requiring companies to proactively establish that such products were not made with forced labour. Adequate import control mechanisms are essential to ensuring that products made with forced labour do not enter the Canadian market. The Government of Canada should enhance its import control mechanisms, to prevent products made with forced labour from entering the Canadian market.

The Government of Canada should also impose sanctions on entities and individuals that benefit from the use of forced labour. Furthermore, recognizing the impact that government and corporate corruption play in allowing the practice of forced labour to continue throughout the world, the Government of Canada must condemn corruption in all its forms and take firm actions to combat it.

The Government of Canada should empower the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise with independence and the power to investigate human rights abuse allegations and enact a comprehensive human rights due diligence law that compels businesses to respect the most current international human rights standards across their global operations and supply chains and be held accountable for harms caused or on behalf of their operations.

The Government of Canada should conduct a review of its procurement practices to ensure it is not purchasing products manufactured through forced labour. It should also create legislation with respect to federal government procurement practices to strengthen transparency and oversight mechanisms, such as reporting to parliament, particularly as it relates to product origins, production and manufacturing.

C. PERVASIVE STATE SURVEILLANCE

Witnesses told the Subcommittee that the region has essentially become a police state. Surveillance permeates every aspect of the Government of China’s efforts to persecute Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. The Subcommittee heard that every corner of Xinjiang is under surveillance. Witnesses explained that mobile phone activity is intensely monitored and security technologies, such as closed-circuit televisions, artificial intelligence, facial recognition and biometric data, are deployed to track every movement and communication.

The Subcommittee was informed that these measures have had an intense chilling effect on Uyghur cultural and religious practices. Participating in Uyghur arts and cultural events, particularly those that take place in public spaces, is no longer safe. Some witnesses argued that this is a deliberate attempt by the Government of China to eradicate Uyghur cultural and religious identity from Xinjiang.

While most of these technologies are developed and manufactured in China, some witnesses suggested there is a risk of Canadians or Canadian companies investing and profiting from involvement with these technology companies. The Government of Canada must take the necessary steps and conduct a review to ensure Canadian individuals, companies and public bodies are not investing in technology companies involved in supporting or facilitating the abuse of fundamental human rights in China.

Witnesses warned that the Government of China also uses surveillance technologies extra-territorially to monitor the activities of its critics living abroad. Vocal Uyghur activists have been harassed and intimidated by the Government of China – even those living in Canada. In some instances, the Government of China has gone as far as threatening the lives of family members still living in Xinjiang. It is critical that the Government of Canada protect Uyghurs living in this country. The Subcommittee agrees that the Government of Canada should take proactive measures to protect Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims living in Canada, as well as individuals and groups advocating on their behalf, and respond decisively to attempts to repress freedom of expression.

To this end, the Subcommittee also notes the tremendous risk and sacrifice that Uyghurs face when they speak publicly about the horrors they and their families have endured. Many of those who have been fortunate enough to escape are stateless, unable to secure a permanent refuge. The Government of Canada should use existing refugee programs and create an exceptional refugee stream, to expedite refugee applications of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims fleeing persecution in Xinjiang and elsewhere, especially human rights defenders.

D. POPULATION CONTROL

The Subcommittee heard that the Government of China is employing inhuman measures against women and girls to reduce the birth rate of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. These measures include:

  • imposed use of intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) that can only be removed through surgery. According to government documents, approximately 80% of all new IUD placements in China took place in Xinjiang, despite Xinjiang representing less than 2% of the population of China;
  • forced and coerced sterilizations and abortions; and
  • imposed injections of an unknown substance that caused female detainees to lose their menstrual period.

Some witnesses stated that these invasive birth control methods indicate an intent by the Government of China to reduce the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Documents show that in 2019, officials in Xinjiang hoped to subject over 80% of women of childbearing age in the four Uyghur majority southern prefectures to birth control measures with long-term effectiveness (e.g. sterilization or the insertion of an IUD).

The Subcommittee is deeply disturbed by the use and apparent efficiency of these inhumane population control measures. The Subcommittee was told that between 2015 and 2018, population growth in predominantly Uyghur areas of Xinjiang fell by 84%, a trend that is expected to accelerate in the coming years. Witnesses explained that these actions must be understood to be part of a systemic effort by the Government of China to persecute and possibly eradicate Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. As such, some witnesses stated that, contrary to Article II(d) of the Genocide Convention, these population control methods amount to “imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group”; “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

E. CONTROL THROUGH REPRESSION

The Subcommittee was informed that the Government of China’s repressive measures against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang are part of a broader strategy to control the region. Xinjiang is a resource-rich area with important oil deposits. It also borders several Central Asian countries that the Government of China considers strategically important for its Belt and Road Initiative and its pursuit of expansionism. Because some Uyghurs desire more autonomy or independence from China, the Government of China considers them a threat to its economic development and prosperity. The Subcommittee was informed that its solution is the elimination of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the region.

To this end, many of the expert witnesses that appeared before the Subcommittee were adamant that the atrocities committed by the Government of China amount to genocide as well as crimes against humanity. Considering this evidence, the Subcommittee notes that the Government of Canada is not only responsible for punishing the crime of genocide, but for preventing one from occurring as well. The Subcommittee agrees, in particular, with the testimony of the Honourable Irwin Cotler:

“What we have here with respect to the Uighurs is a classic case study of such war crimes, crimes against humanity and, as I and others have mentioned, acts that are constitutive of genocide. That warrants our involvement, under the responsibility to protect doctrine, to initiate, undertake and implement the panoply of remedies that were heretofore recommended before your committee, some of which I recommended in my testimony, this being part of the responsibility to protect doctrine.”

It is important that the Government of Canada:

  • condemn the Government of China’s actions against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang;
  • work with allies and multilateral organizations to help international observers gain unfettered access to Xinjiang;
  • provide support through international overseas development assistance to civil society organizations especially in countries that are geopolitically important to China's Belt and Road Initiative who are raising awareness about the persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang;
  • recognize that the acts being committed in Xinjiang against Uyghurs constitute genocide and work within legal frameworks of international bodies to recognize that acts being committed against Uyghurs constitute genocide; and
  • impose sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act on all Government of China officials responsible for the perpetration of grave human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

CONCLUSION

Canada has a responsibility to protect Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims under the international norm that it helped to establish, the Responsibility to Protect, of which the objective is to ensure the international community prevents mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Subcommittee was reminded that protection can come in many forms. This includes the use of sanctions.

The Subcommittee shares concerns raised by witnesses and agrees that the Government of Canada needs to take immediate action and live up to the values it espouses at home and abroad. Canada must act now to address China’s aggression against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. As stated by Nobel Peace laureate, Elie Wiesel: “Silence in the face of evil ends up being complicity with evil itself.”

The Subcommittee wants to thank all the witnesses who appeared before it during these trying times. It is especially grateful to the courageous witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee at tremendous risk to themselves and their families. The Subcommittee will be tabling a report at the earliest possible opportunity with recommendations for the Government of Canada.

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For more information, please contact:
Erica Pereira, Clerk of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Tel: 613-992-9672
E-mail: SDIR@parl.gc.ca