The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council has rejected a resolution to hold a debate next year on alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang by a narrow margin of 19 votes against, 17 in favor and 11 abstentions.
The vote was preceded by a vigorous debate in which several member states presented their positions for and against the draft resolution. The United States, one of 10 Western sponsors, introduced the resolution.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Michele Taylor noted that evidence of human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang province was recorded in a U.N. report published more than a month ago. She said it was important to hold a debate on the issue in a neutral forum.
“The evidence in this independent assessment was compiled over a three-year period," said Taylor. "It relied extensively on China’s own records. It corroborates several concerns raised by special procedures, independent media, academic researchers and most importantly, by Uyghurs themselves.”
The report was issued on August 31 by former U.N. high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet. It documents credible evidence of torture or other ill-treatment and sexual and gender-based violence against the Uyghur minority. The report says the violations may constitute crimes against humanity.
More than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim groups reportedly are incarcerated in so-called vocational centers in Xinjiang. China has consistently denied the allegations in the past and did so again at the council.
China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Chen Xu, said the draft proposal was not pro-human rights but was another example of politicization. He accused the United States and other Western countries of fabricating lies and spreading rumors to smear China.
He warned the draft decision will not promote dialogue but only lead to new confrontations. He spoke through an interpreter.
“If China is targeted, tomorrow, any other developing country is going to be targeted," said Chen. "To allow the adoption of such a draft decision is tantamount to supporting Western countries’ interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang-related issues and will damage the work of the council and the international human rights cause in the long run.”
This is the first time the council has considered a proposal to debate the human rights situation in Xinjiang. China has always been seen as too powerful to take on.
Pressure exerted on the 13 African member countries has paid off. Eight voted no, four abstained and Somalia cast the only vote in favor of the draft resolution. Four important Muslim states voted against the resolution. One abstained.
Human Rights Watch has called the council’s failure to adopt the proposal an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of Uyghur victims. Another leading rights organization, Amnesty International, said the vote protects the perpetrators of human rights violations rather than the victims and makes a mockery of everything the Human Rights Council is supposed to stand for.