UN Judiciary Council blocks debate on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang

The UN Human Rights Council narrowly voted against a debate on China’s northeastern Xinjiang region, barring it from discussing a UN report stating that Beijing’s abuses of its Muslim Uyghur population could constitute “crimes against humanity”.

Thursday’s vote was a diplomatic victory for China, which dismissed criticism of its behavior in Xinjiang as unfounded. The US, Britain, Germany and other allies had proposed holding the debate, but 19 members of the council voted against the motion, 17 countries supported it and 11 abstained. The 47-strong council is the UN’s highest human rights body.

In August, then-UN law chief Michelle Bachelet released a report in which she concluded that the large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang constituted “grave human rights abuses.”

The report, released only after a protracted internal struggle, also said Beijing’s actions could amount to crimes against humanity. It detailed what she described as “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of detainees and “credible” allegations of sexual and gender-based violence.

Nations backing the debate motion and human rights groups said its defeat calls into question the UN’s ability to arbitrate human rights issues under increasing Chinese influence.

“We are disappointed that the Council was unable to agree on a discussion with a narrow majority. . . No country should be immune to discussion,” said Michèle Taylor, US Ambassador to the Council.

Amnesty International called the finding “a disturbing finding that puts the main UN human rights body in the absurd position of ignoring the findings of the UN Human Rights Office”.

“The UN Human Rights Council today failed the test of maintaining its core mission,” Amnesty said.

Raphaël Viana David of the International Service for Human Rights said: “Although in recent years the Council has been able to investigate international crimes in Palestine, Ukraine or Myanmar and investigate systemic racism and police violence in the United States, Council members say sent a terrible message today: China remains untouchable until now.”

Several Muslim-majority countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, voted against discussing Xinjiang. President Xi Jinping visited the latter two countries last month on his first overseas trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The abstentions included Ukraine, India, Brazil and Mexico. Council members rotate each year.

“Today China is under attack; Any other developing country could be targeted tomorrow,” Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN office in Geneva, told the council ahead of the vote.

Uyghur victim groups and human rights defenders are now considering alternative courses of action within the UN system.

“I am confident that there will be diplomacy behind the scenes between a number of countries and China. Nothing in the Rules of Procedure prevents this issue from being raised again,” said Alice Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN.

“The road to justice is never easy,” said Omer Kanat of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. “The Chinese government’s sole aim was to silence even a discussion on the issue – we cannot allow that to happen.”

https://www.ft.com/content/e00c7c4f-f28a-4d6e-b9a4-eb89df8d6d81 UN Judiciary Council blocks debate on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang

Adam Bradshaw

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