Nanaia Mahuta asks for advice about 'processes, considerations' of determining genocide, Labour to consider ACT's proposed China motion next week

Labour will next week consider its position on an ACT Party-proposed motion asking MPs to debate whether China is committing acts of genocide against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has also told Newshub she's asked for advice about what the "processes and considerations" are which go into determining a genocide.

Brooke van Velden, ACT's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, on Wednesday revealed the party would file a motion asking for a debate in Parliament on "whether or not the atrocities occurring in China under the Chinese Communist Party's watch is acts of genocide".

She described it as an "act of solidarity" with Canadian and British Parliaments which earlier this year described China's oppression of the indigenous people as crimes against humanity.

However, due to Labour's majority in the House, the success of such a motion would require support from its members. Mahuta, a Labour MP, said on Wednesday night that it is something her party would consider next week.

"ACT has a Parliamentary right to do a notice of motion in Parliament on which the Labour Party will consider its position at Caucus next week once we have the final wording and meet as a collective group," she told Newshub.

Mahuta has also asked for more advice about determining a genocide.

"As a Government, we need to consider further information and the Minister of Foreign Affairs has asked for wider advice around what are the processes and considerations that go into determining a genocide," she said. "This requires complex legal and factual assessments and is not a process the Government could undertake lightly."

On Saturday, while appearing on Newshub Nation, the minister said New Zealand was carefully watching what the British Government proposed to do on the issue after the UK Parliament supported calling the Uighurs' oppression acts of genocide.

"The last time we designated an act of genocide prior to the Genocide Convention Act of 1948 was the Holocaust, then we labelled both Cambodia and Rwanda as acts of genocide," Mahuta said. "I'm willing to get information about what we could do. I'm open to getting advice about this issue."

The United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention, signed in 1948 in the wake of World War II and which has been ratified by New Zealand, defines genocide as committing any of several acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Those acts include killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group or imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group. 

A landmark report in March from the Washington DC-based think tank Newlines Institute of Strategy and Policy found China was breaching every prohibited act of the Convention. 

Mahuta has repeatedly called for China to allow UN officials access to Xinjiang to understand what is occurring in the Chinese province. In March, it was reported the UN had begun negotiating with Beijing about a visit to Xinjiang with "no restrictions". 

Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Getty.

In the meantime, Mahuta said the New Zealand Government has "continually, and publicly, raised grave concerns about human rights in China's Xinjiang region".

"As a Government, we continue to raise concerns with China about human rights violations, and will continue to do so," she told Newshub on Wednesday. "We have also engaged with the United Nations and through multilateral channels, including joining a statement with 38 other countries condemning the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in China in October 2020".

In March, Mahuta and her Australian counterpart released a statement saying "there is clear evidence of severe human rights abuses", while in a speech to the NZ China Council last week, Mahuta said there were some areas in which New Zealand and China "do not, cannot, and will not, agree", giving issues in Xinjiang as an example.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also raised human rights abuses with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019 and said in March that New Zealand will continue to express concern

Van Velden told Newshub ACT was proposing the motion "because we have a duty to care about the dignity and the human rights of all people".

"We have a responsibility as a country that is dedicated to the rule of law to stand up for the dignity and human rights of all people and we should be using our voice as representatives to raise our concern especially when it comes to acts of atrocities in one of our largest trading partners."

Gerry Brownlee, National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, hopes Mahuta shares any information she receives with other parliamentary parties. He's also pushing for an independent observer to be sent to Xinjiang. 

"I think that should be advanced as soon as possible as this isn't going to go away until there is greater certainty about it nor can there be a clarity of action until there is a greater certainty about it one way or another," he told Newshub.

He said if there are atrocities found to be taking place "on the scale we are told about, that might make the genocide test".

"But you have got to bear in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders at work today largely because of our trade with China. It is not a simple matter, it is not a straightforward matter, it is one the Government should definitely have a position on."

Gerry Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee. Photo credit: Reuters.

A large number of independent reports released over the last few years have painted a grim picture of activities within Xinjiang where more than 1 million Uighurs are thought to be confined to concentration camps. 

While China has always denied abusing the indigenous population, saying camps are for vocational education and counter-terrorism activities, testimonials suggest the Uighurs are subjected to torture, brainwashing, forced labour and sterilisation as authorities attempt to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates. 

In response to ACT's proposed motion on Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy told Newshub genocide was clearly defined by the UN Convention. 

"Therefore, a finding of genocide must result from the application of authoritative, stern and inflexible procedural rules," the embassy said. 

"It must survive a strict scrutiny of the facts and withstand the test of time. The accusation that the Chinese government has committed "genocide" against the Uygurs in Xinjiang is in total disregard of facts and common sense."

The embassy said the Uighur population in Xinjiang has grown steadily in recent years and people in the province enjoy "social stability" and live and work "in peace and contentment".