The motion for a debate on the issue was defeated 19 to 17, with 11 countries abstaining in a move hailed by China and others condemned as “shameful”.
Many of those who voted “no” were from Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Somalia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Among the 11 countries that abstained were India, Malaysia and Ukraine.
“This is a victory for developing countries and a victory for truth and justice,” tweeted Hua Chunying, China’s foreign affairs spokesperson. “Human rights should not be used as a pretext to invent lies and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, or to contain, coerce and humiliate others.”
The UN first revealed the existence of a network of detention centers in Xinjiang in 2018, saying at least a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were detained in the system. China later admitted there were camps in the area, but said they were vocational training centers needed to fight “extremism”.
Amid official leaks government documentsinvestigations by human rights groups and academics and testimony from Uyghurs themselves, China has lobbied to prevent any further investigation into the situation in Xinjiang.
Former UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who first called for “unfettered” access to the region in 2018, was only allowed to visit in May, in what appeared to be a well choreographed visit.
His report (PDF) on the situation was also pushed back and was not released until August 31, minutes before the end of her sentence.
Although he did not mention the word “genocide”, he concluded that “serious human rights violations” had been committed and said that the “extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghur members and other predominantly Muslim groups…may constitute international crimes, including certain crimes against humanity”.
The The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic people who differ in religion, language and culture from the majority Han ethnic group in China.
The United States, which called for debate, condemned the latest vote.
“Inaction shamefully suggests that some countries are immune from scrutiny and allowed to violate human rights with impunity,” Michele Taylor, the US representative to the Human Rights Council, said in a statement. a statement. “No country represented here today has a perfect human rights record. No country, no matter how powerful, should be excluded from the Council’s discussions – that includes my country, the United States, and that includes the People’s Republic of China.
Following the UN report, Uyghur groups urged the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry to independently examine the treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in China and called on the United Nations Office for the Prevention of Genocide to immediately conduct an assessment of the risks of atrocities, including genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
They expressed disappointment with Thursday’s result, with the Campaign for the Uyghurs noting that Beijing had “actively attempted to suppress” the report “at all levels”.
“Some member states have embraced China’s genocide denial,” the group’s executive director, Rushan Abbas, said in a statement. “They should consider the consequences of allowing a powerful country to effectively have impunity for committing genocide.”
Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, told Al Jazeera he was disappointed and angry at the decision.
“The fact that even a debate on the human rights situation is not allowed by a few countries that have economic ties with the Chinese regime clearly shows in the international arena that their moral obligation to uphold human rights is for sale, thereby corrupting the UN itself,” he said. “The UN needs urgent reform.”
Human rights groups also condemned the vote.
In a strong statement, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the decision protected perpetrators rather than victims of abuse.
“For Council member states to vote against even discussing a situation where the UN itself says crimes against humanity may have occurred is to mock whatever the Human Rights Council man is supposed to defend.” Callamard said in a statement.
“The silence of member states – or worse, the blockage of debate – in the face of atrocities committed by the Chinese government further tarnishes the reputation of the Human Rights Council.
“The UN Human Rights Council today failed the test of upholding its primary mission, which is to protect victims of human rights violations everywhere, including in places like Xinjiang.”