Adopted resolution calls on Beijing to halt forced labour and mass forced sterilisation of Uygurs
Non-binding resolution is measure of the mood among members from each of the EU’s 27 member states
By Finbarr Bermingham
June 9, 2022
A detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. On Wednesday, members lined up in the European Parliamnet to condemn the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang and call for the EU to renew its focus on human rights and recalibrate its economic ties with China. Photo: AP Photo
By a landslide margin, the European Parliament has adopted a position stating that China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang hold a “serious risk of genocide”.
Lawmakers voted 513 in favour of the resolution on Thursday in Strasbourg, France. There were 14 abstentions and one vote against.
The language was part of a broader resolution condemning China’s treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic Muslims in the northwestern region.
Such resolutions are not binding and do not mean a shift in the official position of the European Union. Rather, they are a gauge of the mood in Parliament, which is made up of directly elected members from each of the EU’s 27 member states.
The text said “credible evidence about birth prevention measures and the separation of Uygur children from their families amount to crimes against humanity and serious risk of genocide”.
It called on Beijing to “cease all government-sponsored programmes of forced labour and mass forced sterilisation and put an immediate end to any measures aimed at preventing births in the Uygur population, including forced abortions or sanctions against birth control violations”.
However, it stopped short of categorising the behaviour as “genocide”, as some other parliaments in the West have done, despite pressure from influential parties to go further.
The remarks nonetheless remain the sharpest delivered yet by the chamber, which has a long history of criticising China’s human rights record.
Following the vote, the Chinese Mission to the EU said the resolution had misrepresented the facts and constituted a “malicious attack on the human rights situation of the Xinjiang people.”
“We call on the EU parliament to respect the objective truth, cease its journey down the wrong path, immediately halt its attacks and smears of the Xinjiang people’s human rights situation and China’s policies governing the region, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” the mission said.
The resolution was also critical of UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s recent trip to China, in which she visited Guangzhou and Xinjiang.
It claimed Beijing stopped her from gaining “full access to independent civil society organisations, human rights defenders and detention centres, which prevented her from witnessing the full scale of political re-education camps in Xinjiang”.
It accused Bachelet of “failing to clearly hold the Chinese government accountable for rights abuse against Uygurs during her visit”.
In contrast, Chinese authorities have celebrated Bachelet’s trip as a great success.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet speaks to journalists during a virtual press conference in Guangzhou on May 28. Photo: EPA-EFE
“All the activities and arrangements of High Commissioner Bachelet during her stay in China were decided in accordance with her will and based on full consultation of the two sides … the so-called limited access during the High Commissioner’s visit claimed by the EU is simply untrue,” a spokesperson for the embassy in Brussels said.
Bachelet earlier said she went to one of the vocational training centres, which closed in 2009 and had since become a school, and asked its former vice-president about human rights concerns.
She said while she could not assess the full scale of the “vocational education and training centres”, she told Beijing of her concern about the lack of independent judicial oversight of their operations, allegations of the use of force, and “unduly severe restriction on legitimate religious practices” inside them.
“In the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, I have raised questions and concerns about the application of counterterrorism and deradicalisation measures and their broad application, particularly the impact on the rights of Uygurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” Bachelet said as she wrapped up her trip last month.
She also appealed to Chinese authorities to – “as a matter of priority” – give information to Uygur families living outside China about relatives they had not been able to contact in the country.
Speaking at a debate in the parliament on Wednesday evening, the EU’s trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said it was “highly regrettable that the Chinese authorities did not provide full and unfettered access to High Commissioner Bachelet”, while urging her to accelerate the release of a long-awaited UN report into the rights situation in Xinjiang.
For its part, the EU would “not compromise on human rights” and would “continue to convey [its human rights] concerns to the Chinese leadership”, said Dombrovskis.
Wednesday’s parliamentary session saw member after member line up to condemn the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang and call for the EU to renew its focus on human rights and recalibrate its economic ties with China.
“‘Never again’ has failed,” said the European People’s Party’s David Lega, referring to the slogan often used in relation to the Holocaust to describe efforts to prevent future human rights atrocities.
“The European Parliament now demands the European Union and its member states to take all necessary steps in accordance with the UN Genocide Convention to end these atrocities, and ensure responsibility for the crimes committed,” said Lega, one of the co-authors of the resolution.
The motion was brought in response to the Xinjiang Police Files, a tranche of documents purported to have been leaked from police computers in the region to the German academic Adrian Zenz, who shared the content with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media outlets.
They comprised speeches, images, documents and spreadsheets demonstrating the scale and nature of China’s alleged persecution of Uygurs in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of detaining more than 1 million members of ethnic minority groups in detention camps, and subjecting them to forced labour, forced sterilisation and other forms of abuse.
Beijing denies all the allegations.