Canada and other nations are considering labelling China’s treatment of its Uighur minority a genocide, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
This comes after Donald Trump’s outgoing administration last month said Beijing’s incarceration of mostly Muslim minorities in its far western Xinjiang region amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity.
“It’s a word that is extremely loaded and is certainly something that we should be looking at in the case of the Uighurs,” Trudeau told a news conference.
“I know the international community is looking very carefully at that and we are certainly among them, and we will not hesitate from being part of the determinations around these sorts of things.”
He said there was “no question” there had been significant human rights abuses reported coming out of Xinjiang.
“We are extremely concerned about that and have highlighted our concerns many times. But 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 the T’s are crossed in the processes before a determination like that is made,” Trudeau added.
Rights groups say at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
Independent access to the sensitive area is highly restricted, making reporting and verification of the allegations near impossible.
But witnesses and activists say China is seeking to forcibly integrate the Uighurs into the majority Han culture by eradicating Islamic customs, including by forcing Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol — both forbidden by their faith — while imposing a regime of effective forced labour.
In January, then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said: “We are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”
His successor, Antony Blinken, has said he agreed with the label, and vowed to stay tough on China.
China has denied wrongdoing and contends that its camps are vocational training centers meant to reduce the allure of Islamic extremism in the wake of attacks.
Canada-China relations soured in late 2018 over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and China’s detention of two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in what Ottawa has called retaliation.