MPs 'gravely concerned about severe human rights abuses' against Uighur people in China's Xinjiang

Politicians have agreed to an ACT Party-backed motion on China's treatment of the Uighur minority in the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

A large number of reports have emerged in recent years suggesting the indigenous population is subject to torture, brainwashing and sterilisation. Despite China denying the abuses, some countries have declared acts of genocide are occuring.

New Zealand isn't going that far. Instead, MPs on Wednesday debated a motion filed by ACT saying MPs are "gravely concerned about the severe human rights abuses" and calling on the Government to work with its international partners to bring the abuses to an end. 

Read how that played out in Parliament below:

What you need to know:

  • ACT has filed a motion calling for a debate on China's treatment of the Uighur minority in the province of Xinjiang
  • The motion to be debated says MPs are "gravely concerned about the severe human rights abuses" and calling on the Government to work with its international partners to bring the abuses to an end. 
  • The wording originally contained the word 'genocide', but that was removed after a request from the Labour Party
  • Under international law, a genocide is any of several acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". 
  • The Government wants more information before declaring a genocide and has consistently called for China to allow independent observers into Xinjiang. The Foreign Affairs Minister has previously said there is evidence of "severe human rights abuses" occurring
  • China has been extremely sensitive to other Parliaments - like Canada and Britain - declaring a genocide and New Zealand's Trade Minister has previously warned a similar declaration here would have repercussions.

Newshub's live updates have now finished.

3:40pm - The motion has been agreed to with no objection. That brings the debate to an end. 

3:35pm - Debbie Ngarewa-Packer rises for the Maori Party. She says we need to call these atrocities out for what they are. She uses the word 'genocide' throughout the start of her speech.

"We will continue to advocate for indigenous peoples and fight racism and bigotry in all its forms," she says.

3:25pm - Golriz Ghahraman, from the Green Party, wants to include the words "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" in the motion.  The MP regrets that the final motion has been watered-down.

The original motion was: "That this House believe that Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, and call on the Government to act to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and all relevant instruments of international law to bring it to an end. "

She says the Greens condemn the "grave atrocities" being suffered by the Uighurs in China. The MP mentions conservative estimates from the UN suggest up to 1 million Uighurs face atrocities.

Ghahraman hopes the Government will stand with the victims of atrocity crimes, regardless of whether they are committed by our partners.

She says actions matter and was "deeply disappointed" to hear trade was a consideration among some MPs when discussing whether to let the debate go ahead.

"I do hope this is a matter that triggers action."

The MP wants to see the trade of products made through slave labour out of the region stopped. 

"We owe the victims action."

3:20pm - National's Todd Muller is now speaking. He attended the China Business Summit on Monday, he says. He was reminded of the two countries' long-standing relationship and how they can have frank conversations. 

An ability to engage and discuss issues is important to our ongoing peace and prosperity, Muller says. 

"It has meant we can have a frank discussion as two peoples who do not always agree, but who have respect for each other and a willingness to listen, and where necessary, to be criticised."

He says the conversation between the two countries on this issue will be difficult. New Zealand walks its own path with its own voice, Muller says. 

"We do not seek to grandstand, but neither do we shirk from uncomfortable conversations and today, this House speaks in one voice with our concerns about severe human rights abuses in China." 

Muller says it is a basic human right to feel safe in ones' home and express the culture they wish.

The National Party urges China works with international partners to address concerns, he says.

3:15pm - Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta is now speaking. 

She says the New Zealand Government has made its concerns clear about activities underway in Xinjiang. Aotearoa has consistently called on China to respect the Uighur people's rights.

However, Mahuta says New Zealand hasn't declared a genocide. This isn't due to a lack of concern she says. A formal legal determination should only be reached following a rigourous assessment under international law.

With our international partners, NZ will continue to call for independent access to Xinjiang, Mahuta tells the House.

The Government welcomes Parliament forming a view on the abuses, she says. 

3:10pm - Van Velden doesn't want to see the Parliament oppose the motion out of fear.

"We know that a genocide is taking place. The evidence is voluminous from multiple sources and credible," she says.

Some Uighur people have engaged in terrorism, but she says genocide isn't the answer.

Van Velden says both China and New Zealand have ratified the UN Genocide Convention. She says acts in that Convention are occuring, according to reports.

The Convention defines genocide as 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.

The MP is now mentioning that other Parliaments have declared a genocide, such as in Canada and the United Kingdom.

She says a perpetrator of a genocide will not submit to a court hearing.

New Zealand's best hope of security is collective defence and must make sure the standards of the world are as high as possible.

3:05pm - The debate is now underway. Brooke van Velden begins by moving her motion. 

She says it is important to have the debate and thanks all parties for agreeing for it to go ahead. The MP calls Parliament the ultimate sanctuary of free speech. The debate isn't a criticism of the country of China, its people or Chinese-Kiwis, she says.

Van Velden says that last group is often the most strident about warning others about the CCP.

The ACT MP says she wanted to have a debate similar to the UK Parliament's. That specifically mentioned genocide and crimes against humanity. Van Velden tells the House that other parties with the power of veto wouldn't allow the debate to occur if it mentioned genocide.

2:55pm - We are on the final question of Question Time now, so the debate isn't too far off. You will be able to watch above.

2:10pm - We are now in Question Time. The motion will be debated afterwards.

2:05pm - ACT's Brooke Van Velden has moved a motion asking for the word "possible" to be deleted from her motion. There is no objection.

It now reads:

"That this House is gravely concerned about the severe human rights abuses taking place against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that it call on the Government to work with the United Nations, international partners, and to work with all relevant instruments of international law to bring these abuses to an end."