This is one of many places in China that officials call a vocational skills education centre where an estimated one million Uighurs are forcibly held and re-educated. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Canada urged to help stop ‘cultural genocide’ of Uighurs

A former Canadian diplomat who served in China calls that country’s mass detention and indoctrination of Muslim Uighurs a cultural genocide. Charles Burton, now a university professor, agrees with Uighur activists who are asking Canada to do more to pressure China to stop its relentless oppression of this ethnic minority.

‘An outrage against humanity’

U.S. sources and satellite data add to credible reports that one million ethnic Uighurs are being held in internment camps whose purpose, says Burton, “is to take the Uighur out of the Uighur and cause them to abandon their belief in Islam and learn the Mandarin language and basically integrate into the Han Chinese mainstream…

“This is an outrage against humanity, a crime against humanity and I think…we cannot stand idly by and allow (it) to go on and see the decimation of an entire people.”

China has cracked down on dissent in Xinjiang region, saying it has arrested nearly 13,000 people it calls terrorists since 2014. The statement is seen as an effort to counter growing criticism over its internment of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups.(Ng Han Guan/AP Photo/Nov. 5, 2017)

Calls to sanction Chinese officials in Canada

Members of the World Uyghur Congress were in Ottawa this week asking parliamentarians and government officials to escalate international pressure on China over these mass detentions and to sanction Chinese officials under Canada’s Magnitsky Act. That law has allowed Canada to impose sanctions on serious human rights violators from countries such as Russia,  south Sudan and Venezuela.

“Up to now we don’t have any Chinese names on that Magnitsky list,” says Burton. “I think that would be at least a moral place to start to indicate that we just cannot welcome people who are complicit in cultural genocide to live and work and invest in our country.”

In what is seen as the latest retaliation against Canada, China has blocked shipments of canola. (Shutterstock)

Canada asked to overcome Chinese pressure

Canada did raise the issue of China’s treatment of minorities at the UN Human Rights Council and in meetings with high-level officials last year. But Uighur activists think it is now reluctant to step up pressure while two Canadians are imprisoned in China. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in December 2018 in what is seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou upon a request from the United States.

Subsequently, China has blocked Canadian shipments of canola which presents a major hardship for grain farmers in western Canada. Burton says China’s claims that the canola is contaminated are “spurious” and that Canada should compensate farmers for their losses and find other markets for its canola.

“This is purely dishonest and designed to pressure the Canadian government to release the Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou…It’s completely unacceptable how China is disobeying the normal rules of how nations relate to each other.

“That includes their economic tactics and it includes their gross violations of human rights.”

Canada should ‘develop a backbone,’ says former diplomat

Burton has written a newspaper editorial calling on Canada to “develop a backbone in its dealings with China.” He says it should crack down on Chinese agents in Canada who have been harassing Uighurs who have settled here. Most recently Chinese agents unsuccessfully tried to pressure a Montreal university to cancel an event featuring a Uighur activist. Burton says China has more diplomats in Canada than does the United States.

Burton also thinks Canada should start inspecting packages from China, many of which contain the powerful drug fentanyl which is sold on the black market and is responsible for thousands of deaths. He also is in favour of cracking down on Chinese money laundering activities conducted through Canadian casinos and the real estate market.

Canada can take many kinds of action to pressure China to respect human rights and international norms on trade and other matters. But Burton says concerted efforts by several national will be more effective. “I think we have to be working with other powers, comparable powers, and hopefully with the United States in concert to try and express to China that it would be better for all concerned if they ceased these unacceptable actions that bring great disrepute to their country’s national reputation.”

Prof. Charles Burton says Canada needs to work in concert with other countries to press China to conform to international norms on human rights and trade.

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