UN Human Rights Council Votes Against Debate Over China’s Xinjiang Policies After Releasing Report Detailing Human Rights Violation of Uyghur Muslims

China’s hardline policies in the Xinjiang region have caused a rift within the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over the detention of more than one million Muslim Uyghurs in reeducation camps. These camps are aimed at dismantling indigenous cultures and religions for those detained. A human rights commission within the United Nations -responsible for promoting the protection of human rights throughout the world and addressing violations of human rights voted on June 10th of 2022 over a Western-backed proposal. This proposal was an opportunity to hold a debate, essentially without any monitoring of the rights situation, and it was the least intrusive measures the council could take. Member states such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany proposed holding the debate. However, 19 members of the council voted against the motion, 17 members of the council voted in support, and 11 members abstained from voting. Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International states, “Today’s vote protects the perpetrators of human rights violations rather than the victims – 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.”

 

Women wearing mask in solidarity with Uyghur Muslims
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Council Facing Backlash

Days of diplomatic arm-twisting ensued in the UNHRC, and many national capitals in the weeks leading up to the vote as leading Western countries tried to get momentum behind a report from the former UN chief. The report, released on August 31st by the office of UN Human Rights, detailed serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that may amount to crimes against humanity. It documented a catalog of human rights violations including torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and mistreatment. According to the OHCHR report, the “extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute … crimes against humanity.” Despite their findings, the council still voted against addressing the conditions of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Members of UNHRC gathered for debate
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Background

Under China’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism, Chinese authorities have violated the rights of a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims by arbitrary detention, harassment, and cultural persecution since 2017. Forced sterilization and forced separation of children are some of the harshest elements of the government’s oppression. Extremist, repressive laws are put in place to target these communities for nothing more than the personal choice of practicing Islam. The disproportionate and discriminatory application towards ethnic and religious minorities is concerning. Omer Kanat of the Uyghur Human Rights Project states, “The Chinese government’s singular goal has been to silence even a discussion of the issue — we cannot allow this to happen.”

Protesters carrying signs at a demonstartion
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China’s Response

Beijing, strategically employing its political and economic clout, sent a report from ambassadors in predominantly Muslim regions such as Africa, Middle East, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia positively evaluating the human rights developments to the president of the. As China continues to influence the UNHRC, people will doubt if the council can remain impartial in its proceedings. By reaching this decision, the council has planted seeds of bias and crushed the Uyghurs’ hopes that the council will stand up to China to fight for justice. Many Muslim-majority states in support of the pro-Beijing statement have effectively turned their backs on the country’s oppression of the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang. Before the vote, Chinese ambassador Chen Xu accused Western countries of seeking to turn a “blind eye” to their own issues on human rights and point a finger at others. No country has a perfect history of human rights; therefore, all countries are subject to scrutiny despite how much power they may wield.

China’s Economic Lure

The more pertinent question to be asked is, how vast is China’s economic pull that other countries factor into their decision-making? The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) consists of 47 countries and is regarded as the UN’s top human rights body. Annually, council members rotate among each other. However, a prominent country like China, with a permanent seat on the council, has never been the subject of a country-specific resolution from the council since it was established in 2006. It is a vicious cycle for other countries, including the largely Muslim-populated countries that voted against the debate, as their human rights record has been attacked frequently abroad; defending China becomes a way of defending themselves. Many Muslim-populated countries sided with Beijing due to their oppression by western imperialism. For example, various military interventions by the United States in these countries under the premise to widen their influence and democratic values has resulted in a distrust of the West. Nevertheless, this decision conveys a dreadful message: China is untouchable. This should not be the case. It is up to the citizens of these UN countries to hold these countries accountable for their actions. Human Rights violations continue to run rampant in the Xinjiang region, and despite the mounting evidence and international attention, China has failed to acknowledge or address these violations. Therefore, the duty falls to us to ensure the Uyghur Muslims are heard and their issues are addressed on a global stage. To help, contact these organizations:

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights

Uyghur Human Rights Project

World Uyghur Congress

The Dynamics of Member States

Photo by Joseph Abua

The United Nations held its 12th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, CRPD, between 11th to 13th June 2019. I recently got a graduate assistantship position with the Institute of Human Rights UAB and I was selected as one of the rapporteurs from the institute to attend this prestigious event. Despite being new to the institute, I could not have asked for a better start than going to the United Nations Headquarters, not as a visitor, but a note taker in one of the round table discussions of member states. Although on several occasions, I have always dreamed of visiting the UN Headquarters, yet, I never imagined I would be graced with such an opportunity to experience the spectacle and majesty of the UN as a rapporteur. This has made me realize there is never a dream too big to achieve as all we need to make it a reality lies in our will. 

The United Nations serves as an international framework where the world comes together to identify various challenges, share resolutive ideas, discuss developmental strategies and initiatives, and form stronger alliances. The Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability serves as one of the platforms that ensure the needs of Persons with Disability (PWD) are adequately met and catered for. This year’s theme focused on improving and increasing accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities into all spheres of the society by ensuring utmost respect to the rights of PWD at all levels. Recent evidence suggests that by developing new and improving existing technological, digitized and ICT oriented innovations, it will better aid and assist PWD and increase their accessibility. Another fundamental area involves promoting social inclusion for PWD, by ensuring their access to the highest level of healthcare services and extensive participation in the cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sporting activities within the society.

Coming from a third-world region, Africa remains in constant need of evidence-based initiatives and mechanisms that will aid her in achieving sustainable growth and development at all levels. Over the years, the continent has continuously experienced several cases of inefficiencies at all levels, with little or no evidence of improvement being recorded. One issue that constitutes a major area of concern is the rights of Persons with Disability. PWD are faced with the worst situations you can ever imagine in most African communities. Despite the strong traditional and cultural heritage Africa possesses which constitutes part of the continent’s beauty and charm, it also serves as a curse especially to PWD. There exist different myths, beliefs, customs and misconceptions that negatively affect PWD till date because some traditions and beliefs cannot be abolished. In some cultures, families with PWD (blind, deaf, dumb and cripple most especially) often use their disability as an avenue to beg for alms, while in other cultures, families with PWD are believed to be cursed by the gods or unfortunate which often leads to the entire family being discriminated and treated as outcasts in the community. Other cultures consider specific disabilities such as cripples and hunchbacks, as items for rituals and sacrifices of all sorts.

Photo by Joseph Abua

Although several steps have been taken by various African governments to eradicate these ridiculous myths and beliefs, more needs to be done in ensuring PWD live normal and meaningful lives like others. One major area of concern that limits PWD in Africa is the poor social and political accessibility and inclusion. During the 3rd round table discussion, several member states discussed anticipated and already existing initiatives and programs that will/already include PWDs, and how they plan to sustain such developments. A few that caught my attention was the discussion by the representative of Zambia, Honorable Olipa Makiloni Phiri Mwansa, who spoke about new legislation known as the Zambia Disability Act which assists the nation to develop in-depth demographic characteristics of PWD. The Sri Lanka representative, His Excellence, Dr. Rohan Perera, spoke about the level the nation has gone in ensuring the successful implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan for PWD by embedding the “Foundation for Inclusion of PWD” into the nation’s constitution. Morocco’s representative, Ambassador Omar Hilale on the other hand, discussed a framework already being implemented, which strictly focuses on providing vocational training for PWD in vulnerable communities to increase their social inclusion. One nation that has fundamentally developed its accessibility and inclusion rate in Mexico. Her representative discussed the 2018 general elections which were considered the most inclusive election in the country’s history as it ensured PWD had easy access to polling units and were also among the electoral officials during the entire election process. 

In terms of challenges faced by some member states, the Republic of Ireland representative gave an extensive remark about how several nation-states government and public sector is not adequately and structurally designed to meet the needs and demands of PWD and such inefficiency issues need to be addressed by the UN. Also, the first panelist, Ms. Tytti Matsinen (Disability Inclusion Adviser, Finland), spoke about how several communities presently have poor access to standard technologies which further increases the marginalization of PWD. She advocates that individuals, agencies, and organizations who are outside the job market be integrated into making assistive technological innovations for PWD more available and accessible. Finally, the Association for Deaf People (NGO) elaborated the need for parties and agencies to collaborate with PWD when developing technological and ICT programs and products because they possess a good degree of knowledge of their condition. 

This Conference made me understand how much effort the United Nation renders in ensuring member states achieve their desired growth at all levels, but more needs to be done in ensuring certain developmental policies, initiatives, and action plans are efficiently carried out by her members. The CRPD Committee representative spoke about how several member states failed to adopt the Public Procurement Policy which was structured at all levels to achieve greater accessibility standard for PWD. Although he condemned the attitudes of such states, he advised the UN to put in biding sanctions to member states that fail in this regard. At the close of the session, there was a resounding echo of relief by representatives of all member states, each having given meaningful insights and recommendations to various challenges faced at national and international levels. 

I am fortunate to have been selected to attend the conference, especially as a rapporteur in one of the round table sessions alongside several other side events which I may write about in subsequent blogs. Based on my love for policy and advocacy, it truly was a learning process and a developmental experience for me and I would like to appreciate the wonderful Dr. Tina Reuter and the Institute of Human Rights, UAB, for giving me this opportunity to see the world at large. I really had a wonderful experience and I am looking forward to many more field trips as this, and I will always be open in assisting and representing the institute at all levels.