New Zealand MP breaks ranks with Ardern government to criticise China over human rights
A member of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party has denounced alleged human rights abuses by China, including illegal organ harvesting, saying Beijing has no regard for human rights.
The comments by MP Louisa Wall mark a relatively rare departure from the government’s typically cautious statements on alleged human rights violations in China.
Wall, who is co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, told the Guardian that Beijing’s actions were those of “a country and a political party that doesn’t have regard for any rights, whether they be indigenous or human rights.”
“It’s incumbent on me to speak up, to ensure that those atrocities are highlighted, so that we all fully understand what’s happening,” Wall said.
Wall said she had not “broken ranks” with the party. But her comments are some of the most outspoken to emerge from within the Labour government. The party under Ardern is known for running a tight ship, and leaks or outspoken comments from MPs are relatively rare.
“I’m not out of step with the government, they’re just choosing to do it in a certain way,” Wall said. “New Zealand must stand up for fundamental human rights. We stand on the history and the legacy of being the first country in the world to give women the vote, a legacy of trying to address how indigenous peoples were treated and try and make restitution for that … What I’m doing in this instance is absolutely congruent with that history.”
Wall’s statements were driven partly by her membership of Labour’s indigenous caucus, she said, and likened the current abuses of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang to the violent colonisation of Māori in New Zealand.
“All indigenous peoples have a history and experience of colonisation, an experience of the state perpetrating injustice against us. We live in a country that is still coming to terms with our colonial past,” she said. “I think that what’s happening to the Uyghur people, what’s happening to Tibetans is the same thing, but it’s happening now.”
As a member of IPAC, Wall said she saw credible evidence of human rights abuses including political prisoners being killed for organ harvesting, forced detention of Uyghur populations, and use of forced labour in Xinjiang. Wall told the Guardian there was credible evidence of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women – acts that over time, she said, would lead to “assimilation or non-existence for a group of people”. She said the independent tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, previously a prosecutor with the international criminal court, was persuasive.
Wall had initially made remarks raising concerns about China’s human rights record to an RNZ podcast on Chinese government influence in New Zealand.
She has called for “modern slavery” legislation, which would force importers or corporations to ensure goods or raw materials were not produced using forced labour, and told the Guardian she supported a new “autonomous sanctions” bill before parliament. “We don’t have a fit for purpose regulatory regime,” Wall said.
The sanctions bill would allow New Zealand to impose sanctions against other countries without action from the United Nations Security Council. The country does not currently have a clear legal framework to do so. In March, for example, New Zealand issued a statement welcoming new coordinated sanctions announced by the UK, US, the EU and Canada in response to Chinese abuses without announcing any sanctions of its own.
A previous bill to introduce autonomous sanctions in New Zealand was killed off by the government last year, and it is not yet clear whether the new bill will gain support from Labour, which it would need to pass.
Wall said New Zealand needed “a regime that allows us to stand up for issues such as fundamental human rights and to not allow that type of corruption into our economy. I think it’s becoming crucial.”
In recent years Chinese authorities have built a system of mass arbitrary detention in Xinjiang, with an estimated million or more Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims sent through detention or reeducation centres, where people have been allegedly tortured and subjected to political indoctrination and sexual abuse. Outside the facilities, communities are subjected to extreme surveillance and curtailment of religious, cultural and political freedoms, as well as forced labour programs.
Several world governments, including the US, have labeled the situation as genocide. Other governments and numerous human rights and legal groups say the evidence proves “unprecedented levels” of crimes against humanity.
China denies all accusations of wrongdoing, and says its policies are a vital part of the fight against extremism and terrorism, as well as poverty alleviation.