The Lithuanian parliament on Thursday passed a motion condemning China for what it called China’s policy of genocide against Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, becoming the latest government or legislature to make the designation.
Passing in a vote of 86 to one with seven abstentions, the resolution strongly condemned “China’s massive, systematic and grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity” in the XUAR, where more than a million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been confined in a vast network of internment camps since 2017.
The resolution further called on the U.N. to begin “a legal inquiry into the Uyghur genocide in [the] Xinjiang detention camps,” the Lithuanian LRT English-language news service reported on Thursday.
China’s embassy in Vilnius quickly slammed the parliament’s resolution, calling it just “another shoddy political show based on lies and disinformation,” the news agency said.
Beginning in 2017, authorities launched a campaign of mass incarceration in the XUAR that has since seen an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities locked up in a vast network of internment camps.
Beijing says the facilities are residential training centers that provide vocational education for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that those held in China’s camps in the XUAR are detained against their will and are subjected to political indoctrination, face rough treatment at the hands of their oversees, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities.
Former detainees have also described being subjected to torture, rape, forced sterilization, and other abuses while in custody.
Amid increasing international scrutiny of China’s policies in the XUAR, the U.S. government in January designated abuses in the region as part of a campaign of genocide—a label that has similarly been applied by the parliaments of Canada, The Netherlands, and the U.K.
Speaking to RFA, Dolkun Isa—president of the Germany-based exile World Uyghur Congress—called the Lithuanian parliament’s resolution on Thursday a move “of historic significance” because the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people had once been an unwilling part of the Soviet Union.
“For a country and people that suffered a half-century long communist persecution itself to make this designation is an historic first step for other Eastern European countries that also suffered under communism to follow,” Isa said.
“At a time when China is attempting to cover up it atrocities by spewing lies and creating Potemkin stages at the UN and around the world, the determination made by the Lithuanian parliament has proven that China cannot escape from its crimes, and that democratic countries will not remain silent but will take real action.”
“The international community must stand on the right side of history,” added Nury Turkel, a commissioner at the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, adding, “The Uyghur genocide isn’t going to go away or be resolved on its own.”
“The international community must see that only concerted international action can stop this genocide, and the nations that have not yet joined the condemnation of China’s atrocities should understand that the sky isn’t going to fall on top of their heads if they do,” he added.
In another vote on Thursday, the European Parliament declared “frozen” a market-access treaty with China in a move passed with 599 votes in favor, with 30 votes against and 58 abstentions, signaling wide opposition in the EU lawmaking body to formally approve the deal after China sanctioned European parliamentarians and scholars who had criticized Beijing’s policies in the XUAR.
“Today’s vote by the European Union to suspend the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China is proof that Europe has lost patience with China over its atrocities against Uyghurs,” Isa told RFA.
“It’s clear that the European Union, consisting of 27 nations, has decided not to sacrifice human rights for financial gain. I see this as a victory of human rights and democracy over tyranny and as a sign that a genocidal regime like China will be held accountable for its crimes,” Isa said.
Call to boycott Olympics
In a May 18 statement, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the United States to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing if China fails to address the reports of genocide in the XUAR along with other rights abuses in Tibet and Hong Kong.
”It’s about our values, it’s about who we are as a country,” Pelosi told a joint hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
”If we don’t speak out against human rights [abuses] in China for commercial reasons, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights anywhere,” Pelosi said.
On May 12, Lithuania joined fellow Nordic and Baltic nations Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, and Sweden in a joint statement expressing grave concern at the human rights situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in the XUAR.
"We are gravely concerned about the reported existence of a large network of so-called 'political reeducation' camps, where a very high number of people are held in long-term arbitrary detention," said a statement issued at a United Nations "high-level virtual event" on Xinjiang.
“We are equally concerned by efforts to severely restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association and the freedoms of movement for Uyghurs and other persons belonging to minority groups,” said the statement, delivered by Denmark’s permanent representative of to the UN, Martin Bille Hermann.
Reported by Nuriman and Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.