ACT calls for NZ Parliament to recognise Uighur atrocities in China after Canada declares 'genocide'

There are fresh calls for New Zealand to label China's treatment of its Uighur minority as genocide, with the ACT Party now urging Labour to bring a motion in Parliament on the matter. 

After a contentious parliamentary vote on Tuesday, Canada became the second Five Eyes nation to declare the atrocities inflicted on the Uighur people as being acts of genocide. It follows a similar declaration from the United States in January on the last full day of the Trump administration. 

China has always denied human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province, but international reports have detailed how the Uighurs are subjected to torture, brainwashing, forced labour and sterilisation in concentration camps as authorities attempt to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates.

There's increasing pressure for New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of the US and Canada, with ACT now telling Newshub it would support a motion similar to Canada's "recognising the atrocities that more and more countries now acknowledge".

"However, as we have seen over the recent motion to remove Trevor Mallard as Speaker, only the Labour Party has the numbers to bring such a motion to the House. 

"ACT urges Labour to bring a motion on China's treatment of the Uighur people. ACT would certainly support it."

There may also be support for the move in the National Party, with Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee saying "this is something New Zealand should seriously consider."

Greens Human Rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says her party "absolutely condemns" the abuses "currently being committed by the Chinese Government".

"According to our Party's standing processes, any proposed motion to that effect must first be agreed to by our Caucus as it came up.

"Aotearoa New Zealand should have a truly independent foreign policy stance that upholds our country’s values and human rights commitments, including our obligation to raise our voice against abuses committed by our traditional allies or trading partners."

Advocacy group Uighur Solidarity Aotearoa NZ says New Zealand must make a "stand for human rights" and declare the Uighurs' treatment as "genocide".

Newshub asked Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta whether she or any other member of the Government would put forward a similar motion to Canada's, but her office transferred the request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

A spokesperson for MFAT didn't respond to the query about a genocide declaration, but said New Zealand would support a United Nations fact-finding mission to the region "to get to the bottom of what is happening there".

That comes after UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that "the situation in Xinjiang is beyond the pale" with "almost daily reports" highlighting "China's systematic human rights violations" against Uighurs and other minorities.

"UN mechanisms must respond. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, or another independent fact-finding expert, must – and I repeat must – be given urgent and unfettered access to Xinjiang," Raab said.

"If members of this Human Rights Council (HRC) are to live up to our responsibilities, there must be a resolution which secures this access."

New Zealand is not currently a member of the HRC.

MFAT said New Zealand has previously "made clear its significant concerns" about the situation in Xinjiang, calling recent reports "deeply disturbing"

While in China in 2019, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Aotearoa has also been party to several international statements on the abuses, including in October.

Although the Canadian Parliament supported the non-binding genocide motion on Tuesday, in an attempt to avoid hurting diplomatic relations with China, members of the country's Government abstained from voting on the motion. Other parliamentarians from the ruling Liberal party did vote in favour, however.

Reaction from China was swift, with the country's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin saying the Canadian House of Commons had "deliberately smeared China and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations".

"The Chinese side strongly condemns and firmly opposes that and has lodged solemn representations with the Canadian side," Wang said before giving Beijing' usual explanation of activities in Xinjiang, saying they are essential to "countering violent terrorism and deradicalisation".