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UN Human Rights Council Blocks Debate on East Turkistan

Michelle Bachelet, the previous UN Human Rights Commissioner, published a report on violations against Uyghurs and other muslim communities in East Turkistan on the day her term ended on August 31, 2022. The report stated that China’s actions and abuses may constitute crimes against humanity.

The options for the Council and its members to follow up on the report included setting up a commission of inquiry; appointing a special expert to monitor China; and initiating a debate which represents the mildest of the three options. However, even the proposal for a debate put forward by a group of member states led by the US and the UK was defeated with 17 members supporting a debate, 19 opposing and 11 abstaining in a vote held on October 6 during the 51st regular session of the Human Rights Council held from September 12 to October 7, 2022.

Voting of Council Members:

Yes No Abstain
Czechia (Czech Republic) Bolivia Argentina
Finland Cameroon Armenia
France China Benin
Germany Cote d’Ivoire Brazil
Honduras Cuba Gambia
Japan Eritrea India
Lithuania Gabon Libya
Luxembourg Indonesia Malawi
Marshall Islands Kazakhstan Malaysia
Montenegro Mauritania Mexico
Netherlands Namibia Ukraine
Paraguay Nepal
Poland Pakistan
Republic of Korea Qatar
Somalia Senegal
United Kingdom Sudan
United States United Arab Emirates

China lobbied aggressively, especially with African countries many of whom are beholden to China for economic aid and investment. It again made the usual argument that the debate motion was an attempt to interfere in China’s internal affairs and contain China.

“We are disappointed that, by a narrow margin, the council was unable to agree to hold a discussion . . . No country should be immune from a discussion,” said Michèle Taylor, US ambassador to the council.

Amnesty International called the outcome a “dismaying result that puts the UN’s main human rights body in the farcical position of ignoring the findings of the UN’s own human rights office”. It said “The UN human rights council has today failed the test to uphold its core mission.”

“The Chinese government’s singular goal has been to silence even a discussion of the issue. We cannot allow this to happen,” said Omer Kanat of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“The failure of the Council to even debate the findings of its own report is hugely disappointing and reflects the impotence of the Council to fulfill its mission. China’s successful lobbying and coercion of smaller UN member states represents a long term campaign to co-opt UN institutions and shield itself from international scrutiny,” said Kelsang Aukatsang, President of the Asia Freedom Institute.