Labour has 'genocide' term removed from debate over Uighur abuses

Credit: Original article can be found here

Act’s Brooke van Velden, who put forth the original motion, says she is ‘disappointed’ but happy to still debate human rights issues. Photo / File

Labour is being accused of “softening” language around treatment of the Uighur minority in China after having the term “genocide” removed from a Parliamentary debate tomorrow.

Act had originally requested Parliament debate whether human rights abuses in the Chinese region of Xinjiang amounted to genocide, and in turn call on the Government to fulfil its obligations under international law.

The motion, filed by deputy leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman Brooke van Velden last week, needed the support of each MP in the House in order to be debated.

Van Velden had sought support from the Business Committee on Tuesday, for it to be placed up the order paper to be raised in the House on Wednesday.

Speaking to the Herald after the committee meeting, van Velden said the motion had been approved but changes had to be made to get cross-party consensus.

She could not release the full wording until tomorrow morning at 9am, but confirmed the term “genocide” had been removed.

“The Government was opposed to the word genocide,” van Velden said.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that we need to soften our language to debate the hard issues.

“It is disappointing. I still believe acts of genocide are taking place but it is more important for us be able to have the debate on human rights abuses than not have a debate at all.”

Act would continue to use the term genocide, van Velden said.

“New Zealand must assert ourselves and our values and not be picked on by one country.

“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.

The debate will take place in Parliament tomorrow following Question Time.

This morning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated her concern over “grave human rights abuses”, but voiced caution over the specific term genocide.

“What will be discussed today is a response to a very particular issue of whether or not genocide should be declared.”

There were international laws and requirements around the definition, she said, but any decision would not undermine their current position on human rights abuses which was “very strong” and the need to investigate what is happening independently.

The 1948 United Nations genocide convention defines genocide as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group”, which can take place in times of war or peace.

“The international community and New Zealand have been calling for unfettered access for individuals to go in and establish if that is indeed happening,” Ardern said.

Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor acknowledged any declaration would have an impact on trade relations between the countries.

National leader Judith Collins also said the party needed to discuss the matter in caucus, while calling on the Government to provide MPs with all information it holds about the situation.

Asked if New Zealand should follow the lead of allies, including Britain, the United States and Canada, who have all accused China of committing genocide, Collins said New Zealand was a “sovereign nation and we should make our own decisions”.

Trade impacts would be the “elephant in the room” around any decision, she said.

“About 30 per cent [of trade] goes to China, it is the elephant in the room when we discuss issues like this.”

The Green party was the only other party to have come out in support of the original motion.

Foreign affairs spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said the caucus had decided to support the notice of motion to declare a genocide “in solidarity with the Uighur people”.

“We have long been raising concerns about human rights abuses accruing in the Xianjiang Uighur Region.

“We are calling for meaningful action to raise this issue internationally.”

Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie previously told the Herald while it was a good move to discuss the issue, he did not think politicians determining a genocide at this stage was the right way to address the situation.

It had risks for the Government politically both ways also, with a declaration likely to heavily impact dealings with China and invoke trade retaliation.

“Even Australia, which has received a lot of trade problems from China, has not walked into this space. If we went first, expect payback.”

Meanwhile, a Labour block vote against it could be a “bad look” unless they have some alternative option.

“At a time of New Zealand is being accused of being too cuddly to China, it would look terrible.

“What you want is the UN experts to make such a determination – not politicians.

“Apart from the experts having much more credibility in the process, it also would depoliticise it.”

If the UN experts continued to be denied, over a period of another six months or so, Gillespie said it could then be time for countries to make their own determinations.

A “midway point” would be to avoid a vote, but double down on the demands for UN expert access, and set a time limit.

Another option was offering a New Zealand-led team of independent experts to try to get to the bottom of it, he said.