The Dutch parliament on Thursday passed a non-binding motion saying the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China amounts to genocide, the first such move by a European country.
Activists and United Nations rights experts say at least one million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations.
China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
“A genocide on the Uyghur minority is occurring in China,” the Dutch motion said, stopping short of directly saying that the Chinese government was responsible.
The Chinese Embassy in The Hague said on Thursday any suggestion of a genocide in Xinjiang was an “outright lie” and the Dutch parliament had “deliberately smeared China and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Canada passed a non-binding resolution labeling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs genocide earlier this week.
The Dutch motion said that actions by the Chinese government such as “measures intended to prevent births” and “having punishment camps” fell under United Nations Resolution 260, generally known as the genocide convention.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party voted against the resolution.
Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the government did not want to use the term genocide, as the situation has not been declared as such by the United Nations or by an international court.
“The situation of the Uyghurs is a cause of great concern”, Blok told reporters after the motion was passed, adding that the Netherlands hoped to work with other nations on the matter.
The author of the motion, lawmaker Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of the centre-left D-66 Party, has separately proposed lobbying the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics away from Beijing.
“Recognizing the atrocities that are taking place against the Uyghurs in China for what they are, namely genocide, prevents the world from looking the other way and forces us into action,” he told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.
In a statement on its website, the Chinese Embassy in The Hague said the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has been growing in in recent years, enjoying a higher standard of living, and a longer life expectancy.
“How can you call this a genocide?” it said. “Xinjiang-related issues are never about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about combating violent terrorism and secession.”
China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva accused Western powers on Wednesday of using the Uyghur issue to meddle in his country’s internal affairs.