Lawmakers in Australia and Turkey rejected motions on Monday to recognize human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as genocide, disappointing hopes by Uyghurs and other XUAR natives that they would follow similar designations by the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands.
In Ankara, an opposition-sponsored motion calling the Chinese treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in XUAR genocide was rejected by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), while the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) abstained from voting in parliament.
Earlier in Canberra, the governing Liberal Party-led Coalition and main opposition Labor Party united to block a formal vote in the Senate on a motion by independent Senator Rex Patrick that the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang constitutes the crime of genocide.”
Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017. Reports suggest the camps are used as punishment for signs of “extremism” that authorities say include practicing basic forms of Islam, adhering to cultural traditions, and violating strict family-planning policies.
Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment—including systematic rape—and political indoctrination.
Amid increasing international scrutiny, authorities in the region have begun to send detainees to work at factories as part of an effort to label internment camps “vocational centers,” although those held in the facilities regularly toil under forced or coerced labor conditions.
“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,” Patrick was quoted by Australian media as saying after the vote.
“This 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,” said the senator, according to SBS News.
‘The current situation of the Uyghurs is dire’
The report quoted Liberal Senator Jonathan Duniam as saying the government did not believe the motion was the right way to address human rights concerns.
“Australia remains deeply concerned by reports of enforced disappearances, mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive surveillance of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” he told the Senate.
Australia and China have seen relations plummet from disputes over the Covid-19 pandemic, allegations of Chinese political interference in Australian politics and deteriorating rights conditions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. China recently detained an Australian journalist in what is widely seen as a way to gain leverage.
Before the Turkish vote failed, Lutfu Türkkan of the Iyi Party, which sponsored the motion, told fellow lawmakers: “We call on those who call themselves nationalists to support the Uyghurs.”
Another backer of the motion, Peoples’ Democratic Party (CHP) member Ali Kenanoğlu, said the bill should be supported because “human rights abuses are so severe that Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained, tortured and systematically attacked. All this is leading to a decline in the Uyghur population.”
“Today, anyone who claims to be a Muslim or a Turkish, and most importantly a human being, cannot turn a blind eye at the plight of Uyghurs, added CHP member Burcu Köksal, who called for setting up a committee in parliament to investigate human rights abuses in the XUR.
“The current situation of the Uyghurs is dire.”
Ruling AK Party member Atay Uslu, defending the inaction, said the government is “meeting with the Chinese government to guarantee the rights, religious beliefs and cultural rights of Uyghurs, with whom we have historically and culturally close ties.”
“We are trying to resolve this issue through talks with the Chinese government. We are considering sending a delegation to the Uyghur region soon,” he added.
‘The exact wrong message’
The decision in Turkey caused particular dismay among Uyghurs, who are both fellow Muslims and also make up the fifth largest group of Turkic peoples in the world, sharing linguistic, artistic and cultural links to Turkey across Central Asia to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and several other former Soviet republics.
“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,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, an advocacy group.
“This move sends China the exact wrong message,” he said.
“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,” added Isa, who called for a rethink of the motion and the scrapping of a Turkish-China extradition treaty that would put Uyghurs in jeopardy.
The United States on Friday reiterated the genocide designation first made by the Trump administration in January in an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Canada and the Netherlands both passed parliamentary votes in favor of the genocide designation following the Washington move.
“We condemn China’s abuse of members of ethnic and religious minority groups including crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang and severe restrictions in Tibet,” U.S. charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre told the U.N. rights body.
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff and Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.