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China is accused of a string of abuses against minority groups in the far-western region. Photo: AP

UN rights body rejects call to debate Xinjiang abuse claims

  • China narrowly sees off a bid by the US, Britain and Türkiye to discuss alleged mistreatment of the Uygurs and other minority groups
  • A report from the former UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet found that possible ‘crimes against humanity’ had taken place in the western region of China
In a close diplomatic victory for China, the UN’s top human rights body on Thursday voted down a proposal from Britain, Türkiye, the United States and other mostly Western countries to hold a debate on alleged rights abuses against Muslim Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region.

At the 47-member Human Rights Council, 17 countries voted in favour, 19 were against and 11 abstained in a vote to hold a debate on Xinjiang at its next session in March.

The vote amounted to a test of political and diplomatic clout between the West and Beijing, and would have marked the first time that China’s record on human rights would merit a specific agenda item at the council.

Xinjiang exports to EU more than double despite forced labour concerns

The result, prompting a smattering of applause in the chamber, followed days of diplomatic arm-twisting in Geneva and in many national capitals as leading Western countries tried to build momentum on a report from former UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office, released August 31, which found that possible “crimes against humanity” had occurred in Xinjiang.

A simple majority of voting countries was required.

The make-up of the council rotates among UN member states each year, and China – a powerful country with a permanent seat on the Security Council – has never been the subject of a country-specific resolution at the council since it was founded more than 16 years ago.

“It’s always difficult for countries to vote against a permanent member of the Security Council,” said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.


UN human rights body says China may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang

UN human rights body says China may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang

He acknowledged it was a “genuinely difficult call” for some countries – notably those with economic or political ties to China – to sign on to the measure.

The proposal was just to hold a debate, with no consistent monitoring of the rights situation, and amounted to just about the least intrusive form of scrutiny that the council could seek.

The call stopped short of creating a team of investigators to look into possible crimes in Xinjiang, or appointing a special rapporteur – a tacit acknowledgement by the Western countries that going after increasingly influential China would be a tall order.

On Friday, as part of dozens of proposals before the council, member states are also to consider a proposal from 26 European Union countries to appoint a “special rapporteur” on Russia.

China’s actions in Xinjiang merit special human rights session: UN experts

It cites a string of concerns about mass arrests and detentions; harassment of journalists, opposition politicians, activists and rights defenders; and crackdowns – at times violent – on protesters against President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

It is part of a rare push against two permanent members of the Security Council: China and Russia. Some Western diplomats have insisted the two-pronged effort needs attention now.


China claims improved living standards and ethnic equality in Xinjiang while ignoring allegations

China claims improved living standards and ethnic equality in Xinjiang while ignoring allegations

The council has already commissioned a team of investigators who are looking into human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine following Putin’s order for a military invasion of Ukraine in late February.