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Despite States' failure, Uyghurs and rights groups won't give up efforts to hold China accountable at the UN

A group of States at the United Nations Human Rights Council betrayed principles of human rights, non-discrimination and accountability today in opposing a historic resolution in response to a UN report finding possible crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.

The draft proposal, presented by the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, sought for the Council to hold  a formal debate on the human rights situation in Uyghur region (Xinjiang) at its upcoming 52nd session, in March 2023.

We welcome the leadership and commitment of States which supported this initiative to address international crimes against the Uyghur people. They did so despite the very significant political and economic pressure and threats of China. We deeply regret, however, that 19 other governments decided to oppose dialogue on the issue, while 11 States preferred to remain silent in light of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress

The initiative sought to provide a space for all governments – including China’s – to express their views, differences, concerns, and recommendations on human rights in the Uyghur region. Most importantly, it would have created a platform for the voices of victims and activists to be directly heard by the international community.

Yet, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, and other Muslim Council Members like Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Nepal opposed holding a discussion under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, while Brazil, Mexico and Argentina abstained from taking any position.

In an address to the Council, Indonesia and Qatar claimed a commitment to protecting Muslim minorities worldwide, before deciding to reject the holding of a debate on the situation of Uyghurs. Likewise, Mexico recalled its strong commitment to dialogue and multilateralism, while not being able to endorse a dialogue under UN auspices.

Still, Western countries and Council Members Korea, Honduras and Paraguay voted in favour despite significant Chinese pressure.

No government has a perfect record of sticking to principle when voting on UN resolutions. Yet, this resolution was a crucial test of the credibility of the Human Rights Council as a whole and, particularly, its ability to respond to atrocity crimes even at the hands of the most powerful governments.
Sarah Brooks, ISHR Programme Director
The Uyghur people are facing arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and systematic ethnic and religious discrimination on an industrial scale. It is shameful that Global South governments who profess their committment to dialogue, Muslim countries supposedly committed to religious rights and freedoms, and African governments who purport to oppose systemic discrimination have overwhelmingly failed to even support a UN discussion on rights abuses against Uyghurs. Only Somalia, Honduras and Paraguay stand out as principled.
Phil Lynch, ISHR Executive Director

For the past two years, over 300 NGOs from all regions of the world have called for a UN-mandated mechanism to monitor and report on human rights in China. Over 40 UN experts have issued a similar call on three occasions, signalling an unprecedented degree of concern across the UN’s human rights expert bodies.

While, in recent years, the Council has been able to scrutinise international crimes in Palestine, Ukraine or Myanmar, and to investigate systemic racism and police violence in the United States, Council members sent today a dreadful message: China remains so far untouchable.
Raphael Viana David, ISHR China and Latin America Advocate

The UN report points to acts of torture in internment camps and prisons, widespread restrictions on Uyghur culture and religion, and possible forced sterilisations, among other serious violations. The UN stressed that ‘the conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur.’

With this vote, the international community has failed to bring ‘urgent attention’ to the situation in  the Uyghur region, as recommended by the UN report, yet the report’s recommendations still stand. Governments should refrain from expelling Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims from their territories back to China, and instead provide them humanitarian assistance, including medical and psycho-social support. Businesses should do their utmost to respect human rights in operations abroad, including strictly complying with human rights due diligence.

The UN’s political bodies, driven by the interests of States, may have failed us. But the UN’s human rights experts and committees will continue to do their job: they will sustain their vital monitoring and analysis of the government’s rights abuses, regardless of what Beijing has to say about it.
Raphael Viana David, China and Latin America Advocate
Uyghurs and international rights groups won’t stop documenting, exposing, and seeking accountability for the gravest abuses committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs, but also Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and human rights defenders across the country.
Omer Kanat, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project

As new High Commissioner Volker Türk is set to take office, the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and the International Service for Human Rights urge him to ensure a principled approach to China throughout his mandate, firmly anchored in objective human rights considerations and the needs of victims and human rights defenders. High Commissioner Türk should publicly stand by his Office’s report, brief the Human Rights Council, and ensure that any engagement with China is coupled with strong public diplomacy.

See final vote record here. On October 7, a day after the vote and before the end of the HRC session, Ukraine requested its vote record to be changed from ‘Abstention’ to ‘Yes’; however, as per procedural rules, this does not change the effective vote record, which remains 17 ‘Yes’, 19 ‘No’ and 11 ‘Abstentions.’

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