1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Canadian lawmakers seek Uighur 'genocide' declaration

February 23, 2021

A nonbinding measure by the Conservative Party could put pressure on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a tougher stand on human rights violations in China.

An ethnic Uighur woman carrying a baby and with a younger girl walk pass a line of soldiers patrolling a Uighur neighborhood
China has vehemently denied committing any human rights offenses in XinjiangImage: picture-alliance/dpa/epa/D. Azubel

Canadian lawmakers have passed a nonbinding motion to declare China's treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority "genocide."

The motion was introduced in the House of Commons on Monday by opposition Conservatives; Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with his Cabinet, abstained from the vote. The nonbinding motion passed 266-0. 

China's treatment of the Uighur minority in the northwestern Xinjiang province has drawn international condemnation, with human rights groups estimating that some 1 million Uighurs have been arbitrarily incarcerated in a network of prison camps. There have also been reports of forced sterilization.

Referring to Beijing's conduct as "genocide" has thorny political implications, which has opened up a rift in Canadian politics on the wider issue of relations with China.

Xinjiang: China's muslim minorities

What has Trudeau said about genocide?

Prime Minister Trudeau has been careful with using the word genocide in reference to Xinjiang, recently calling it an "extremely loaded term."

"When it comes to the application of the very specific word 'genocide,' we simply need to ensure that all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed before a determination like that is made,'' Trudeau said last week.

Following last week's G7 meeting, Trudeau said Canada was consulting with its allies on the use of the term "genocide" for the treatment of Uighurs.

"The government of Canada takes any allegations of genocide extremely seriously," Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement, adding that the Canadian government was "deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang."

Uighurs recruited as spies

The statement cited China's use of arbitrary detention, political reeducation, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization.

What have Canada's allies said?

So far, the United States is the only country to officially label China's treatment of Uighurs as genocide, albeit in the erratic last moments of Donald Trump's presidency last month.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said one day before leaving office that the world was "witnessing a systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state."

Pompeo cited "severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than 1 million civilians [and] forced sterilization," as evidence of genocide. His successor, Antony Blinken, has not walked back the designation. 

Last month, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to match the US designation of genocide saying it remained a "judicial matter," although he described the situation as "utterly abhorrent."

A UN convention on genocide defines it as including measures "intended to prevent births" or inflicting "serious bodily or mental harm," in "destroying in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."

China has vehemently denied committing any human rights offenses in Xinjiang, and describes its Uighur policy as combating Islamic extremism. 

Uighurs: Imprisoned for their faith and culture

wmr/msh (AP, AFP)