Credit: Original article can be found here
We are witnessing what we’d hoped would “never again” happen after the Second World War: There is compelling evidence that over a million Uyghurs are being detained in Xinjiang, China.
While the Chinese government claims the detention camps are in fact vocational or training camps, the detainees are subjected to propaganda sessions, forced labour, and physical abuse, including gang rapes, according to credible news reports.
There’s also evidence that the Chinese government is trying to reduce the numbers of this ethnic and religious group through enforced birth control.
I agree with former Justice minister Irwin Cotler that we should join the U.S. and other countries in imposing targeted sanctions against key planners of the mass detention of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
I have suggested in Canadian Parliament that sanctions should target the architects of the suppression and detention of the Uyghurs. Such sanctions could target governor Shohrat Zakir of Xinjiang, and the region’s party chief, Chen Quanguo, who’s a member of the politburo of the party in the highest ranks of the Chinese government. Both have asserted that these allegations, of what amount to serious international crimes against the Uyghurs, are fabricated lies and absurd. Zakir goes further by describing the camps as boarding schools where the rights of the “students” are protected.
In 2017, Parliament passed the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, which implements the Magnitsky targeted sanctions that allow Canada to freeze the assets and ban the travel of human-rights abusers and corrupt officials around the world. Similar laws have been adopted by the U.S., the U.K., and many European countries, and the European Union is considering adopting a law for the whole region. The law was championed by Bill Browder, the global human-rights and anti-corruption campaigner whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered by Russian officials.
In an interview in the Globe and Mail, Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, said the federal government must consider the consequences, including possible retaliation, before imposing sanctions on senior Chinese officials for violating the human rights of minority groups. I agree with him that a government can never afford to engage in non-consequential thinking or actions that could threaten our two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, or engage in further trade actions that could threaten our agricultural and lumber exports.
However, Canadian society can’t bend its foundational commitments to the rule of law to the laws practised by China and other dictatorships. We can’t ignore our oft-stated commitments to the promotion and protection of universal human rights embodied in the promise of “never again.” We can’t just stand by while, yet again, crimes against humanity are committed, including genocide, torture, and brutal violence and rape against women detainees.
When we stay silent or don’t act in the face of these atrocities, we forfeit our right to be regarded as champions of the equal dignity and rights of all peoples on the world stage. History has shown that silence is the complicit partner to genocide. Canada can’t stand by while genocidal acts and crimes against humanity take place in Myanmar, China, or elsewhere. By forcing birth control on the Uyghurs, the Chinese government is committing both crimes against humanity and genocide.
The officials who I suggest we target for their involvement in the detention, subjugation, and forced birth control in Xinjiang may not want to travel to Canada or have any assets here to be frozen, but the signal we send with the targeted sanctions to, not just China, but the entire world, is that we’re acting on behalf of humanity. They’re meant to bestow pariah status on those at the highest levels of the Chinese government.
Our traditional allies should be urged to follow suit, and even consider doing it jointly with us. As for China’s possible retaliation, “the two Michaels” are already paying the price with their detention and imminent trial. Their fate is sealed as long as Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou isn’t freed.
Canada must develop a longer-term strategy and policy for China that addresses both the country’s “hostage diplomacy” and the use of trade punishments that are substantially in violation of global trade rules under the World Trade Organization.
As China breaches international norms and laws, Canada and its government must develop a long-term strategy with our traditional democratic allies, especially the European Union and the new Biden administration in the U.S. The goal of such a coalition would be the economic, social, and multilateral deterrence of, not only the use of hostage diplomacy by China and other countries, but also China’s ability to target democratic countries that are bound by their values, principles, and constitutions to adhere to the rule of law and the promotion and protection of universal human rights.
U.S. President Joe Biden has already promised to hold a global democracy summit to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world. Yet again, the risk is high that authoritarian China will collude with similar powers to make the entire democratic world cower in fear of them.
Canada could urge such a summit, where measures can be agreed on to subject Chinese global companies to national-security, human-rights, and anti-corruption scrutiny, and to penalize them for complicity in their state’s serious international crimes.
We need government, private-sector, and civil-society partnerships to oppose hostage diplomacy and impunity for the most serious international crimes. Such coalitions could build on the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, comprised of Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, which functions well already. The commitment to the rule of law — and respect for the equal dignity and rights of all peoples, which underlies the alliance of truly democratic nations — is under attack from authoritarian leaders around the world. Canada can’t acquiesce or stand by in this assault on democracy around the world.
Errol P. Mendes is editor-in-chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law, and president of the International Commission of Jurists, Canadian section. He teaches law at the University of Ottawa.
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