TOAfter the Christchurch terror attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern donned a hijab as she comforted the families of the 51 Muslims who were killed simply for practicing their faith. The image spread around the world and received international praise.
However, its apparent departure from actively erasing China’s Uighur Muslim minority population may undo that reputation. On Wednesday, New Zealand’s parliament refrained from calling what is happening in Xinjiang a “genocide”, opting instead for the watered-down language of “human rights violations.”
But the evidence is clear. A genocide against the Uyghurs is taking place in Xinjiang.
We have seen reports of forced sterilization, forced labor, and reports of rape and mass torture in China against the Uighur people. In March, an in-depth independent legal analysis by international human rights and law experts found that China’s activities in Xinjiang violated almost every aspect of the UN Genocide Convention. Last year, a white paper from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) revealed clues to the scale of its forced labor camps: An average of 1.29 million workers a year went through “vocational training” between 2014 and 2019.
As a Kiwi who was born in an armed conflict in Somalia and was forced to become a refugee, I know first-hand the impact of war and I don’t want that to happen. But it is not just the “Westerners” or lackeys of the United States who believe that the situation in Xinjiang is an atrocity. Even Palau, one of the smallest nations in the world, is among the growing number of states refusing to give in to China’s aggression.
New Zealanders have always taken public pride in taking on the giants when it matters most. And we have a long tradition, which the Ardern government has explicitly embraced, of a foreign policy based on values and morals.
When the Rainbow Warrior was bombed in Auckland in 1985, we took a firm stance against nuclear activities in the Pacific. We were free of nuclear weapons even when it hurt our relationship with the United States, a world superpower. Our strong position against apartheid in South Africa made us one of the world leaders in moral foreign policy.
Yes, we could be a small country and strong trade relationships mean that New Zealand is vulnerable to retaliation from China. But ultimately, it would be better for New Zealand to align itself with other like-minded states on this issue than to succumb to China’s economic might because it ultimately protects us from China’s growing aggression and disregard for an international system based on rules.
How New Zealand will maintain its “values-based” foreign policy in the face of massive pressure from the CCP is becoming one of the Labor government’s biggest political and moral challenges.
But other small nations around the world also feel vulnerable to China, and that hasn’t stopped them from speaking out. States such as Lithuania and Belgium have filed and debated motions using the language of “genocide”, even under threat of retaliation.
More than ten democratic nations have already passed parliamentary resolutions condemning the horrific human rights abuses committed by China in Xinjiang and have put forward a number of responses, including legislation against forced labor. In April, British MPs voted to declare that China was committing genocide against the Uighur people. Britain and the EU have also taken steps with the United States and Canada to impose sanctions.
The International Court of Justice has ruled that all states parties to the Genocide Convention are obliged to “Use all the means that are reasonably available to them, to prevent genocide as far as possible.”
Domestic and international the pressure has been mounting in New Zealand to take a stronger public position on China’s treatment of Uyghurs.
The Ardern government has voiced some concerns about China’s behavior in recent weeks, with speeches by Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta pointing to subtle reprimands of China for the CCP’s policy toward New Zealand and the Pacific. , their disrespect for rules-based rules. multilateral order, Hong Kong deal and Xinjiang situation. But the speeches may have been too subtle for many, and its importance drowned by the Foreign Minister speaking out of script about Five Eyes.
And, ultimately, his words are not enough; inaction, which seems to be what New Zealand has chosen, cannot be an option in the face of genocide.
Many people have pinned their hopes on this Labor government. But so far, our political leaders still seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
Desire for good trade relations and concern about China’s economic retaliation should not dictate New Zealand’s ability to publicly condemn human rights atrocities. Taking a firm stance against human rights violations in China is not a geopolitical question, it is a question of principles and values. It is a question of our common humanity.
Guled Mire is an award-winning creative, community advocate, policy advisor, Fulbright New Zealand scholar, and fellow at the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism