The UN Human Rights Council rejected a motion led by mostly western countries to hold a debate on China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims, sparking anger and discontent among rights groups.
The resolution seeking the bare minimum of holding a debate on the situation of human rights for Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang was presented to the UN’s top human rights body by the US, UK and others.
The motion was the first time China’s human rights record against Uyghurs was brought up for a vote at the council.
But the draft resolution failed from being adopted by a thin margin at the 47-member council in Geneva after 17 countries voted in favour, 19 were against and 11 abstained.
Many of those who voted down the resolution were Muslim-majority countries and African countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar and Namibia.
Somalia was the only African country, and the only member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to vote “yes.”
Those who abstained were: Argentina, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Mexico and Ukraine among others.
A rare burst of applause rang in the chamber as the results were displayed on the screen which came after days of diplomatic arm-twisting by both China and western countries that led the motion.
“This is a disaster. This is really disappointing,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, said. “We will never give up but we are really disappointed by the reaction of Muslim countries.”
He called it a “missed opportunity by council members to hold China to the same standard as other countries”.
“The international community cannot fail the victims of the Uyghur genocide,” he added.
Condemning the vote, the US’s representative Michele Taylor, called it “shameful”.
“The inaction shamefully suggests some countries are free from scrutiny and allowed to violate human rights with impunity,” she said.
“No country represented here today has a perfect human rights record. No country, no matter how powerful should be excluded from council discussions – this includes my country, the United States, and it includes the People’s Republic of China.”
The move came after Ms Bachelet, who was the UN’s human rights chief, released her detailed report on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China on 31 August, founding possible “crimes against humanity” on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region.
She had called for “unfettered” access to the region in 2018 and was allowed what appeared to be a tightly-choreographed visit in May this year.
The report brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations by rights groups who accuse China of sweeping a million or more members of minority groups into detention camps where they are allegedly tortured, sexually assaulted, and forcefully sterilised.
China has denied the allegations, calling the camps training and de-radicalisation centres.
The report did not refer to abuses against Uyghurs as genocide as some western countries have.
Shortly before the voting, Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN, said she told the member nations that “today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country could be targeted”.
China welcomed the decision. China’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying called it a victory for developing countries and truth.
“Human rights must not be used as a pretext to make up lies and interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, or to contain, coerce & humiliate others,” she said.
Issuing a strongly-worded rebuke, Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard said the “silence” of states further sullies the reputation of the Human Rights Council.
“Today’s vote protects the perpetrators of human rights violations rather than the victims — a dismaying result that puts the UN’s main human rights body in the farcical position of ignoring the findings of the UN’s own human rights office,” she said.
“Thirty member states’ silence — or worse, blocking of debate — in the face of the atrocities committed by the Chinese government further sullies the reputation of the Human Rights Council,” she added.