The United Nations Human Rights Council rejected a Western-led move to seek a debate on alleged human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang region on Thursday, following a U.N. study that identified probable crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslims.
The loss (19 against, 17 in favor, 11 abstentions) is just the second in the council’s 16-year existence, and analysts regard it as a blow to both accountability efforts and the West’s moral authority.
The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that called for the motion.
There was a rare burst of applause after the result was announced in the packed Geneva-based council room.
“This is a disaster. This is really disappointing,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.
“We will never give up but we are really disappointed by the reaction of Muslim countries,” he added. Qatar, Indonesia and Pakistan all rejected the motion.
China’s ambassador had warned shortly before the vote that the motion would create a “dangerous shortcut” for examining other countries’ human rights records.
“Today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country will be targeted,” said Chen Xu.
The U.N. rights office on Aug. 31 released a long-delayed report that found serious human rights violations had been committed in Xinjiang, in a move that has increased pressure on China.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labor in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing vigorously denies any abuses and has said it is “ready for the fight” if action is taken against it.
The event raised political dilemmas for many developing countries in the 47-member council who are loath to publicly defy China for fear of jeapordizing Chinese investment.
Lobbying on the sidelines was intense in recent weeks, with China hosting a photo exhibition entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” where pictures of Xinjiang festivals and landscapes and Han and Uyghur schoolgirls helping each other with their studies. Outside the U.N. headquarters, Uyghurs held a protest and posted photos of people they say China is detaining.