The UN rights council on Thursday voted to halt a Western motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang as a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.
The defeat of 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstainings is only the second time in the council's 16 year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to accountability efforts, the West's moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.
The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that brought the motion.
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.
He said we will never give up but we are really disappointed by the reaction of Muslim countries.
The motion was rejected by Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, with the latter citing the risk of alienating China. Phil Lynch, director of the International Service for Human Rights, said the voting record was shameful on Twitter.
Before the vote, China s envoy had warned that the motion would create a precedent for examining human rights records in other countries.
Today, China is targeted. Xinjiang's UN rights office released a long-delayed report on August 31 that found serious human rights violations that may constitute crimes against humanity, ramping up pressure on China, said Chen Xu, who said that any other developing country would be targeted.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against the Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that is 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 denies any abuses.
The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, has been on the council's agenda. A diplomat said that the states were under enormous pressure from Beijing to back China, and that the item has stoked divisions.
Despite Thursday s outcome, countries like Britain, the United States and Germany vowed to work towards accountability.
The defeat of such a limited motion, which stopped short of seeking an investigation, would make it hard to put it back on the agenda, according to activists.
Universal Rights Group spokesman Marc Limon said that it was a serious miscalculation based on the timing, which coincides with a Western motion for action on Russia.
He said that it was a serious blow to the credibility of the council and a clear victory for China. Many developing countries will see it as an adjustment from Western predominance in the UN human rights system. Political dilemmas were raised by the event for many poor countries in the 47-member council who are loath to publicly defy China for fear of jeopardizing investment.