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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.