Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
54. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the initiatives that Ireland is pursuing unilaterally at European Union level and through Ireland's membership of the UN Security Council to protect the interests of the Uighur Muslim population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23991/21]
112. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the issue of correction camps for the Uighur minority in China with the Chinese authorities; if it is proposed to take a common EU position on the matter; the use that has been made of Ireland's current position within the UN systems to raise the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24204/21]
Tá sé sin ceart. Deputy Creed has asked me to take this question on his behalf and he sends his apologies for not being able to be here this evening.
Deputy Creed was interested in what initiatives Ireland is pursuing unilaterally, at European Union level and through Ireland's membership of the UN Security Council to protect the interests of the Uighur Muslim population. I ask the Minister to make a statement on that matter.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 112 together.
Ireland, along with our EU partners, remains deeply concerned about the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the province of Xinjiang. We are closely following the situation, including on reports of systemic abuse, torture, arbitrary detention, forced labour, forced sterilisations and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief.
In response to the situation and under the EU global human rights sanctions regime, the EU adopted sanctions on 22 March 2021 against one entity and four individuals in China due to their involvement in human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The EU global human rights sanctions regime allows the EU to target serious human rights violations and abuses by state and non-state actors worldwide. It enables the EU to respond rapidly and in a more tangible and direct way to human rights, one of the fundamental values of EU foreign policy.
Ireland and the EU raise our concerns with Chinese authorities in both bilateral and multilateral contexts. Over the course of 2020, the EU raised its concerns regarding the human rights situation in China with Chinese authorities during its high-level engagements at the EU-China summit and the EU-China leaders' meeting. More recently, Ireland raised concerns regarding the situation in Xinjiang in our national statement at the UN Human Rights Council in March this year. Prior to this, we also reiterated our concerns in our national statement at the UN Human Rights Council in September last year, which urged China to allow unrestricted access to the region for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ireland has also supported a number of joint initiatives in the UN system. We joined a statement at the UN third committee on 6 October 2020 that reiterates our grave concern regarding the situation in Xinjiang, and recalls the exceptional letter of concern issued by 50 UN special procedures mandate holders. This letter called on China to respect human rights and to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers.
Ireland’s approach on the UN Security Council is informed by our record as a country with a consistent, principled and independent foreign policy. We put forward our perspectives on all issues on the UN Security Council agenda, and engage with and listen carefully to the views of all UN Security Council members, including China.
Although the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang is not on the UN Security Council agenda, the Government will continue to monitor and assess the situation and engage with the Chinese authorities bilaterally and in multilateral fora, as we have been doing to date.
I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree with the US view that this is genocide? Does he further agree that the reports from the region are absolutely shocking, appalling and deplorable? Has unrestricted access been granted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights? Is there any sign of this happening? What further action can the State take in this regard?
I would also like to know whether the Minister would use the word "genocide" to describe what is happening in Xinjiang province. If not, would he at least use the phrase "cultural genocide"? This is what it appears to be. It is designed to wipe the Uighur culture of the face of the planet, or at least of the face of Chinese territory and thereby off the face of the planet. Has the Minister raised this bilaterally with the Chinese mission to the UN or with the Chinese representation in Ireland?
This has come up in engagements with the Chinese ambassador here. Obviously we have raised this, and I outlined a series of instances where we have raised it, in international fora, whether at the UN Human Rights Council or other fora.
The term "genocide" has a particular meaning in international law, and recognition of events defined as genocide involves an analysis of facts and law. Ireland follows the practice of recognising genocide where this has been established by a judgment of an international court where there is international consensus on the matter. Some parliaments have passed non-binding motions labelling the situation in Xinjiang as genocide. In my opinion, such resolutions have mainly served to harden attitudes on the Chinese side but have not improved the situation for the Uighur population. An approach whereby the EU, its member states and other like-minded states continue to press for better access to the region and to better establish the realities on the ground seems to me to be a more effective one to follow at this time.
Will the Minister respond on the comment about unrestricted access of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights? Is this likely to happen? Is there any reason it should not happen? If the Chinese say there is nothing to hide why not let the high commissioner visit and inspect the region, as happened in Wuhan and other cities where Covid-19 erupted.
If the Minister will not use the word "genocide" will he use the term "cultural genocide"? He spoke about the judgment of a court but that always follows many years after a genocide and consensus is developed years after the event. We can see what is happening before our eyes. There is considerable evidence from reputable media and other governments that have more advanced capabilities to monitor what is happening in China. We do know what is happening.
We know some of what is happening, and I have been very critical of it, as has the Dáil and Seanad. A very strong motion was tabled by Senator McDowell and others, which was supported by all parties, a number of months ago. Ireland has not been quiet on this issue. We have raised it. With regard to the issue of how we define it legally, certainly the advice I have from the Department is that we do not have sufficient legal certainty to be able to categorise it as genocide. I am not going to use emotive language for the sake of it. To call something genocide is a very serious accusation and we need to be able to back it up in terms of the legal consequences of the term. That is all I am saying.
To respond to what Deputy Stanton raised, my understanding is that access has not been granted. The EU has been raising the temperature on this issue. This is why it has applied targeted sanctions through the human rights system of sanctions now available to the EU. There were retaliatory sanctions, by the way, from China immediately once they were announced. A number of Members of the European Parliament are on the sanctions list. The decision to apply sanctions stung. There is no doubt this issue is a cause of tension between the EU and China. The challenge is for us to have a good relationship with China and, at the same time, to be able to raise real concerns when we have them in a way that is appropriate and in a way that is listened to and lands. Getting that balance right is an ongoing debate within the EU on China.