Australia is Perhaps Next in Uyghur Genocide Determination (…Or Not)

Today, March 15th, 2021, the Australian Parliament will be voting whether to pass or reject a motion designating the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Uyghurs as genocide. Such a determination would follow suit after the United States, Canada, and The Netherlands have all made similar designations.

The motion, introduced by Australian Senator Rex Patrick, states the following:

To move – That the Senate

(a) notes:

  • (i) the finding of the United States Government on 19 January 2021 that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has committed and continues to commit genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang,
  • (ii) that official determination continues under the new United States Administration of President Joe Biden, and
  • (iii) the bipartisan judgement adopted by the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament on 22 February 2021 that the PRC has engaged in actions consistent with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the ‘Genocide Convention’:

(b) agrees that the PRC’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang constitutes the crime of genocide;

(c) calls on:

  • (i) the PRC to immediately end torture and abuse in detention centres; abolish its system of mass internment camps, house arrest and forced labour; cease all coercive population control measures; and end the persecution of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China,
  • (ii) the Australian government to urge the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, and
  • (iii) the Australian Government to undertake that no ministers or senior officials will attend the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In regards to his proposed motion, Senator Patrick made the following remarks:

“We are now seeing across the international spectrum countries coming out and declaring what is happening in Xinjiang is genocide, and Australia needs to play a part in this. The bottom line is that there are a set of facts which are internationally recognized that have caused other governments to respond in the way they have. We share values with nations that have stood up and said something. We need a multilateral response because of the diplomatic and economic power of China.”

At the same time, Uyghur diaspora organizations in Australia are similarly calling on their government to make the genocide determination. The East Turkistan Australian Association released a statement conveying that “this type of genocide is a crime against humanity. Australia should not be sleeping until all Western countries are recognising the Chinese genocide of Uyghurs.” Professor Michael Clarke of Australian National University explained that, while the term ‘genocide’ is quite loaded and has many implications, it would be a reasonable judgement to conclude based on the facts regarding China’s treatment of its Uyghur community. Ms. Ramila Chanisheff, president of Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, posed a question of morality: “how long are we going to be horrified for before we take action when millions of people are being disappeared, when the Holocaust is being repeated at a whole different level?”

With the upcoming vote on Senator Patrick’s motion, the result is unpredictable. The Australian Foreign Minister Ms. Marise Payne has implied that the government will not follow in the US and Canada’s steps, saying “We have a slightly different approach to that turn of phrase, and I don’t mean this in a pedantic or a semantic way. But both the UK and Canada have different mechanisms to make such a declaration.”

Update 16 March 2021:

In Canberra on March 15th, Senator Patrick’s motion was rejected by both the ruling Liberal Party-led Coalition and the Labor Party, allegedly on account of the fact that “the government did not believe the motion was the right way to address human rights concerns.” Despite the unanimous rejection of the motion, Senator Jonathan Duniam stressed that Australia is aware of and concerned about enforced disappearances, mass imprisonment, forced labor, and surveillance of Uyghur and Turkic minorities.

In response to the outright rejection of his motion, Senator Patrick stated:

“It is most regrettable that Coalition and Labor Senators combined to block a vote on a motion that recognises the incontrovertible fact that the Chinese Government is engaged in a campaign against the Uyghur people that constitutes an international crime within the scope of the 1948 Genocide Convention. The grim reality has been publicly recognised by the United States Administration of President Joe Biden, by the Canadian Parliament and the Parliament of the Netherlands.”

“While a number of Coalition and Labor members have self-styled themselves as ‘wolverines’ on the issue of China, today they proved to be all huff and puff and nothing more when it came to calling out what is an immense crime against humanity.

“The authorities in Beijing will no doubt take this craven performance as evidence that their trade coercion tactics will eventually deliver what they want, a browbeaten Australia that will pull its punches and won’t say a bad word about the Communist Party’s gross abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

On the same day that Australia stamped out Senator Patrick’s proposed motion, in Turkey’s capital of Ankara, the ruling Justice and Development Party similarly rejected a motion designating China’s genocide against Uyghurs, while the Nationalist Movement Party abstained from the vote altogether. Such a rejection angered Uyghurs, especially considering that Turkic individuals are the victims of such heinous crimes. Dolkun Isa, president of World Uyghur Congress, stated the following:

“Turkey should have been the first country to recognize China’s genocide of the Uyghur people due to our Turkic identity, historical connections common linguistic, cultural and religious affinity. This move sends China the exact wrong message. At a time when China is precisely extinguishing Uyghur people’s Turkic identity, language, culture and religious beliefs, Turkey bears inescapable historical responsibility to protect Uyghurs from Chinese genocide.”

Cover image by Roel Wijnants on Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)