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'Genocide' label may be up for debate, but experts agree China's Uyghurs suffering 'crimes against humanity' — academic

Parliament is set to debate "possible severe human rights abuses" of Uyghur Muslims in China as genocide today, however one expert on the issue says at the very least it's a "crime against humanity".

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Adrian Zenz spoke to Breakfast as Parliament is set to debate if the treatment is genocide. Source: Breakfast

The ACT Party originally brought forward the motion, which gained support from the Greens and Māori Party.

However, ACT has said that Labour wanted the language softened, and instead Parliament will now debate possible human rights abuses rather than genocide.

ACT's David Seymour said yesterday that it "seems many political parties are prepared to sell out even the right to debate such a matter at the altar of trade".

"I'm the biggest free trader of this Parliament but I also know that our democratic principles aren't for sale," he added.

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Political parties mull motion to debate genocide declaration of Uyghur treatment

China denies any wrongdoing, saying if New Zealand was to proceed the country would face trade punishment.

According to Stats NZ, New Zealand's exports to China in the year to December 2020 were $18.6 billion (of the overall global exports of $78.2 billion), and imports from China were worth $12.9 billion. Of New Zealand's exports to China, $5.6 billion was dairy.

But leading Uyghur researcher Adrian Zenz this morning told Breakfast New Zealand's politicians "should absolutely speak truth to power".

He added New Zealand may be a small country, but the decision it makes matters.

"I believe New Zealand is a significant country because people look at it. It's part of the Five Eyes alliance — it's really part of a number of western countries who have potential to show some real moral leadership on major global issues. This is one of them," he said.

"If you have any value on human value would you not be able to say at least what an atrocity it is and call it by its name?

"The very least anybody can do without any problem or questions is to call it crimes against humanity. Any expert, regardless what their opinions on the genocide determination is, says very clearly it's a crime against humanity and that's a massive thing."

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The organisation says if New Zealand declared the deaths as genocide, it would help the persecuted community. Source: Breakfast

The main difference between a crime against humanity and genocide is a question of intent, Zenz said, discussing comparisons with the Holocaust.

"China has launched a full out attack on Uyghur identity, starting from language to religion or spirituality, and actually it's not just an attack on Islam. There are Uyghur atheists who are in camps, there are Uyghur Christians who are in camps, there are Buddhist minority groups who are affected.

"It's a crackdown on any identity, actually, that's not compatible with the Communist Party ideology, so it's a war on anybody who's ideology is distinct from the party.

"It's a battle for the heart of the next generation and it's about a hollowing out of Uyghurs."