A report revealing human rights abuses in Xinjiang by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime was published a few hours before the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet’s tenure in the position ended. The abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group caused international outrage and anger, with several governments and officials expressing their rejection. However, on October 6, the UN Commission on Human Rights rescinded the call for debate by Britain, the United States, and other countries at its next meeting in March 2023.
The debate proposal was submitted by the United States and was rejected by 19 countries, including Cuba, China, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
On August 31, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on the Uyghurs of the Xinjiang region of China. The report stated that it is very “likely” that the CCP is committing human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group and other Muslim minorities.
Several human rights organizations criticized Bachelet’s trip for the report, including the executive director of Amnesty International (HRW), who told a press conference that the High Commissioner’s visit was “an absolute disaster.”
Bachelet’s office reported that the High Commissioner did not interview any Uyghurs in Xinjiang and only held talks and meetings with Chinese authorities during her fact-finding trip.
A group of UN experts and rapporteurs submitted a request for the international organization to address the issue in a special session.
“We urge UN member states and UN agencies and business enterprises to demand that China comply with its human rights obligations, including during its ongoing dialogues with the government,” said the statement signed by 45 UN-appointed independent experts.
In late September, some member countries, including the United States, submitted the Draft Decision to establish a meeting to discuss human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region openly.
Diplomatic discussions between the countries have been intense, even before the report was published. However, in the face of allegations of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China’s position has been to deny the reports completely.
The UN Commission on Human Rights comprises 47 countries, several of which have close ties with China, especially developing countries.
The draft decision submitted by the U.S. stipulated a discussion among member countries, which is considered a less controversial action and less pressure on China than an official resolution by the body.
Uyghur human rights activists demanded that the UN Human Rights Commission issue a resolution to investigate abuses in the Xinjiang region officially.
“For the past six years, these bodies have ignored the issue, as there was no indication from the High Commissioner. But now, with the release of this report, there is no excuse anymore,” they said.
At an event organized by Human Rights Watch and the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, the president of the World Uyghur Congress, said, “I publicly called on the UN Human Rights Council to immediately schedule an urgent debate on the Uyghur issue and on the General Assembly to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the Uyghurs and establish an independent investigation mechanism to deal with the issue.”
Will China’s mild diplomatic victory last?
Some countries supporting the U.S. motion were Britain, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Australia, and Lithuania.
The Draft Decision provided for a debate among the member countries of the Commission to be held within the following year. Nineteen countries rejected the proposal, while 11 others abstained, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and India.
China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. A Western diplomat commented, “It is always difficult for countries to vote against a permanent member of the Security Council. … It’s really very difficult” for countries with close economic or political ties with the Asian country, he added.
If the motion had passed, this would have been embarrassing for China, and it would be the first time a UN Commission had openly debated the human rights situation in the CCP-ruled country. It is the second time in the Commission’s 16 years of existence that debate among member countries has been rejected.
The session, where the approval or not of the project was debated, was led by Argentine Ambassador Federico Villegas. The division within the Commission became more defined after the vote. On the one hand, most Latin American countries supported China, with votes of rejection or abstention, while European countries and Australia shared the position of the United States.
Michèle Taylor, the U.S. envoy to the UN Human Rights Council, said, “no country should be immune from a debate in the Council.”
“We will continue to work closely with our partners to seek justice and accountability for the victims of human rights abuses and violations, including the Uyghurs of Xinjiang,” she added.
Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa said, “This is a disaster. It is really disappointing. … We will never give up, but we are really disappointed by the reaction of Muslim countries,” he added.
Muslim countries that rejected the debate included Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan.
By pressuring countries allied with China to vote in its favor, the CCP could avoid an international debate on Uyghur human rights violations this time and also achieve a slight diplomatic victory. Still, the crimes committed by the CCP are not limited to ethnic minorities. The world’s governments have long been aware of the CCP’s political and religious persecution and the removal of organs from Falun Gong practitioners. How long will this diplomatic “victory” of the CCP last?