This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Lawmakers in New Zealand on Wednesday unanimously agreed that “severe human rights abuses” are taking place in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and called on the government to “work with all relevant instruments of international law to being these abuses to an end.”
The motion, put through the House of Representatives following a debate, follows the U.S. State Department’s designation in January of the situation in the XUAR as genocide—a term that has since been applied by parliaments in Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.K. A recent vote to adopt a similar resolution failed in Australia’s parliament.
While the vote represents the strongest move to date condemning rights abuses in the XUAR by New Zealand, whose economy and regional influence is dwarfed by nearby China, it fell short of labeling them part of a policy of genocide by Beijing. Members of the ruling Labour Party sought to have the term removed from the motion, which was initially proposed by the right-wing minority ACT party.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the passage of the motion, calling it “a statement that is strong and that is clear.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, ACT Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Brooke van Velden told members of the House that evidence of a genocide in the XUAR—where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since 2017—is “voluminous, from multiple sources, and credible.”
“It is also true that the Uyghur people have been engaged in terrorism across China,” she said.
“This should not be without consequence, but genocide is not a justifiable consequence for anything. It is certainly not justifiable to show ‘absolutely no mercy’ as [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] called for in the ‘People’s War on Terror’ centered on Xinjiang.”
Van Velden warned lawmakers that 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,” she said.
She noted that China must be recognized as a perpetrator of genocide under the 1949 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, citing a state-sponsored “intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Specifically, she pointed to acts carried out by authorities that include killings, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions calculated to bring about the destruction of a group, preventing births, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
She also stressed that the vote should not suggest that New Zealand was seeking to punish China as a nation or its people, but rather to hold China’s ruling Communist Party government accountable for its actions in the XUAR.
A day earlier, she had expressed concern that the label was removed from Wednesday’s motion, calling it “a sad state of affairs that we need to soften our language to debate the hard issues.”
“New Zealand must assert ourselves and our values and not be picked on by one country,” she said.
“We cannot sit by as a democratic nation as a genocide is happening in one of our largest trading partners. It’s a matter of human rights.”
‘Watered down’ motion
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) welcomed the unanimous vote, but said he was troubled by the decision to omit the label of genocide from the motion.
“This is still a positive step in the right direction because all members of the New Zealand Parliament from across all parties have voted unanimously to recognize China’s severe human rights abuses of Uyghurs,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“We’re deeply grateful for the strong support of New Zealand. At the same time, we call on other democratic governments to break their silence and recognize China’s Uyghur genocide.”
Luke John de Pulford, a human rights campaigner who founded the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China along with political representatives from seven other democracies, told RFA that the originally proposed wording for the motion had mirrored what was passed by the U.K. parliament last month.
He said the approved version had been “watered down,” ostensibly because New Zealand either isn’t in “a comfortable enough place in their bilateral relationship to speak freely about what’s happening in China” or that “they’re not comfortable with declaring these things as genocide and crimes against humanity without having had some kind of international investigation.”
“It is a step in the right direction, but New Zealand should not prioritize their bilateral relationship with China over speaking up their values,” he said, adding that the government should quickly move to take “corresponding actions” over the motion.