By Ewelina U. Ochab
February 17, 2022
Uyghur women walk to work in Kashgar in 2011. Photo by John Hill/Creative Commons.
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(OPINION) In February, lawyers for the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, a nongovernmental organization, made an application for judicial review of the government of Canada’s acts and omissions in relation to the ongoing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. The application makes the case that by its acts and omissions, “the Government of Canada is violating its international obligations, by failing to prevent the ongoing genocide in that region, thereby contributing to the crimes committed against the Uyghur population, here and abroad.”
The application further states that “by failing to acknowledge the nature of the crimes committed against the Uyghur population, and by failing to take meaningful measures to prevent that genocide, the Government of Canada is not only in breach of its obligation to prevent genocide under Article I of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), but is also contributing to the harm suffered by members of the Uyghur population, here and abroad.”
As the application explains, in March 2021, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and its Subcommittee on International Human Rights (the Committee) published a report on the dire human rights situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, having compiled the evidence since 2018. The report commented upon the nature of the atrocities and identified several recommendations for the Canadian government in order for it to meet its legal obligations under the Genocide Convention, including for it to name the crimes for what they are, denounce the genocide, investigate the crimes, protect the victims, sanction the perpetrators, end any activities that may facilitate the genocide and prevent any benefit from the genocide. These have not been implemented to date.
The application identifies some of the positive steps taken by the U.S. Government to respond to the Uyghur genocide, including by officially recognizing the atrocities as genocide, imposing sanctions on some of those responsible for the atrocities and banning products tainted in forced labor. Indeed, the U.S. Government has been leading on the issue.
However, inaction with respect to the atrocities against the Uyghurs is not an issue in Canada only. Indeed, not many states have taken decisive steps. Across the pond, in the U.K., the government has been asked for its assessments of the situation in Xinjiang, including of the serious risk on genocide. In its response, the U.K. stated that it “monitors closely the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This includes regular discussion and sharing of information with international partners, close monitoring of open source research, extensive commissioning and funding of research from relevant international experts on issues of concern, and diplomatic reporting.” However, it refused to comment on the serious risk of genocide and claimed that “any determination of genocide is a matter for a competent court.”
Ewelina U. Ochab is a legal researcher and human rights advocate, doctoral candidate and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East” and more than 30 U.N. reports. She works on the topic of persecution of minorities around the world. This piece was re-published from Forbes with permission.