GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday voted against holding a debate on alleged widespread abuses in China’s Xinjiang region after intense lobbying by Beijing, in a major setback for Western nations.

The United States and allies last month presented the first draft decision targeting China to the UN’s top rights body, seeking as a bare minimum a discussion on Xinjiang.

The move came after former UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed Xinjiang report, citing possible crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region.

Western countries thought that by going no further than simply seeking to talk about the findings, enough other nations would not block putting it on the agenda.

But in a moment of drama, countries on the 47-member council in Geneva voted 19-17 against holding a debate on human rights in Xinjiang, with 11 nations abstaining. Amnesty International branded the vote farcical, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it betrayed abuse victims.

“The United States condemns today’s vote preventing a discussion about Xinjiang,” US ambassador to the council Michele Taylor tweeted.

Inaction “shamefully suggests some countries are free from scrutiny and allowed to violate human rights with impunity”.

The nations voting against a debate were Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, Gambia, India, Libya, Malawi, Mala­ysia, Mexico and Ukraine abstained. China’s ambassador Chen Xu said the push to discuss the issue was “taking advantage” of the United Nations “to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

“The draft decision is not pro-human rights but for political manipulation,” he told the council.

“Today China is targeted; tomorrow any other developing country could be targeted.” The draft decision was put forward by the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Turkey, among others. One Western diplomat stressed that regardless of the outcome, “the number one objective has been fulfilled” in putting Xinjiang in the spotlight.

Bachelet’s report, published minutes before her term ended on August 31, highlighted “credible” allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.

It brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations that Beijing detained more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims and forcibly sterilised women.

Beijing vehemently rejected the charges, insisting it running vocational training centres in the region to counter extremism.

Amnesty secretary general Agnes Callamard said Thursday’s vote was 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”.

“For council member states to vote against even discussing a situation where the UN itself says crimes against humanity may have occurred makes a mockery of everything the Human Rights Council is supposed to stand for.” HRW’s China director Sophie Richardson called it an “abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of Uyghur victims”.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022

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