Xinjiang: UN rights council rejects debate on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims

The UN Judiciary Council on Thursday rejected a Western-led request to hold a debate over China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a bid to win over Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.

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 viewed by observers as a setback for both efforts at accountability, the West’s moral authority on human rights , respect and credibility of the United Nations itself.

The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom were among the countries that submitted the application.

“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.

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“We will never give up, but we are really disappointed with the response from Muslim countries,” he added.

Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan all rejected the request, with the latter citing the risk of angering China. Phil Lynch, director of the International Service for Human Rights, called the voting record “shameful” on Twitter.

China’s envoy had warned ahead of the vote that the motion would set a precedent for examining other countries’ human rights records.

“Today, China is being targeted. Tomorrow every other developing country will be targeted,” Chen Xu said, adding that a debate would lead to “new confrontations.”

The UN legal office released a long-delayed report on Aug. 31 that found gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang that could amount to crimes against humanity, increasing pressure on China.

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Human rights groups have accused Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority numbering around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced laborers in detention camps. The US accuses China of genocide. Beijing strenuously denies any abuse.

The motion is the first time the rights of China, a powerful permanent member of the Security Council, are on the Council’s agenda. The article has fueled divisions and one diplomat said states are under “enormous pressure” from Beijing to support China.

Countries including Britain, the United States and Germany pledged to keep working on accountability despite Thursday’s result.

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But activists said denying such a limited motion, which ended short of an inquiry being sought, would make it difficult to put it back on the agenda.

Universal Rights Group’s Marc Limon said it was a “serious miscalculation,” citing the timing to coincide with a Western-led request for action on Russia.

“This is a major 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 dominance in the UN human rights system.”

The event threw political dilemmas among many poor countries on the 47-member council, who are reluctant to publicly challenge China for fear of jeopardizing investment.

Others probably wanted to evade future scrutiny themselves.

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