Australia parliament debates motion on Uighur abuses in Xinjiang

The motion calls for a UN inquiry into Uighur internment and urges Australia not to profit from forced labour in Xinjiang.

A Uighur demonstrator takes part in a gathering on the occasion of International Women's Day to protest China's treatment of Uighurs, in Istanbul, Turkey March 8, 2021 [Murad Sezer/ Turkey]

Australia’s parliament has debated a motion to condemn China for “serious and systematic breaches” of Uighur rights in the province of Xinjiang, a week after the government blocked a resolution branding Beijing’s treatment of the Muslim minority as genocide.

Monday’s motion, which drew support from members of all major parties, urges the United Nations to investigate China’s detention of more than a million Uighurs in what it describes as “vocational training centres” and calls on the Australian government to ensure the country does not profit from forced labour in Xinjiang.

It also acknowledges that other parliaments and governments, including those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Canada, have labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide.

In a statement, the Chinese embassy flatly rejected “the ridiculous and absurd rhetoric on Xinjiang by a handful of MPs in today’s House session”.

It added, “Their allegations, based on disinformation and lies and out of political motive, were deliberately made to smear China.”

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Kevin Andrews, from Australia’s ruling Liberal party, said the “the most egregious, systematic abuse of human rights in the world is occurring in Xinjiang”.

He said some of those practices extend beyond the far-western region, but “the sheer scale of restrictions on freedom, the mass internments and the programmes of mass sterilisation and enforced labour elevate the activities in the region to new levels of human rights abuse”.

Andrews cited large-scale internment camps and accusations of forced labour among the reasons for the condemnation from the Dutch and Canadian parliaments, as well as Britain’s upper house and Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken, the former and current US Secretary of State respectively.

Many have said, or questioned if, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s programme contravenes the United Nations’ genocide convention of 1948, he added.

Andrews’ motion urges Australia to enforce laws against modern slavery and identify supply chains that use forced labour.

It was not immediately clear when the motion would be put to a vote.

Bahtiya Bora, a member of the Australian Uyghur Association, urged legislators to support the new motion and called on the government to “take much stronger action on what many believe is genocide taking place in plan sight”.

“At least one million innocent civilians have been locked up for no reason in a network of several hundred prisons,” he was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “This is beyond the usual left-right divide – this is about basic human dignity and the future of the entire Uighur population.”

A Labor legislator said in Parliament that many of the 3,000 Uighurs in Australia lived in her electorate, and were desperate and anxious.

“Most Australian Uighurs know someone who has disappeared or not been heard of for many years,” Anne Stanley, who represents Werriwa in western Sydney, told Parliament.

“Those here don’t know whether they are alive or dead.”

China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational skills training centres and are designed to combat “extremism”.

Late in 2019, it said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies