The UN Rights Council on Thursday rejected a Western-led motion to hold a debate over alleged human rights violations by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a win for Beijing, as it seeks to avoid further investigation.
The defeat – 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions – is only the second time in the council’s 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts and the moral authority of the West on human rights. and the credibility of the United Nations itself.
The United States, Canada and Great Britain were among the countries that filed the motion.
“This is a disaster. This is really disappointing,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.
“We will never give up, but we are very disappointed by the response from Muslim countries,” he added.
Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion, with the latter citing the risk of alienation from China. Phil Lynch, director of the International Service for Human Rights, called the voting record “shameful” on Twitter.
The Chinese envoy had warned before the vote that the motion would set a precedent for examining the human rights situation in other countries.
“Today, China is the target. Tomorrow every other developing country will be targeted,” Chen Xu said, adding that a debate would lead to “new confrontations”.
The UN rights agency released a long-delayed report on Aug. 31 identifying serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that could constitute crimes against humanity, increasing pressure on China.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abusing Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority of about 10 million people in the western region of Xinjiang, including the massive use of forced labor in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide. Beijing strongly denies any abuse.
The motion marks the first time the record of China, a powerful permanent member of the Security Council, has been on the council’s agenda. The item has sparked divisions and a diplomat said states were under “enormous pressure” from Beijing to support China.
Countries such as Britain, the United States and Germany have pledged to continue working on accountability despite Thursday’s outcome.
But activists said the defeat of such a limited motion, which stopped seeking an investigation, would make it difficult to get it back on the agenda.
Marc Limon of Universal Rights Group said it was a “serious miscalculation”, citing the timing that coincides with a Western-led motion for action against Russia.
“It is a serious blow to the credibility of the council and a clear victory for China,” he said. “Many developing countries will see it as an adjustment away from Western domination in the UN human rights system.”
The event raised political dilemmas for many poor countries on the 47-member council who are not openly defying China for fear of jeopardizing investment.
Others probably wanted to avoid future scrutiny themselves.