Western countries trying to pass an unprecedented resolution at the top UN judicial body targeting China for widespread abuses fought for votes on Thursday, bracing for possible defeat.
Washington last month submitted the first-ever draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council seeking a “debate” on Xinjiang following allegations of crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far western region.
It was co-sponsored by the UK, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Australia and Lithuania and is set to go to a Council vote in Geneva later on Thursday.
But after weeks of frenetic lobbying on both sides, Western diplomats seemed prepared that the resolution would not pass in the 47-member council.
“It will be a very close vote,” admitted a Western diplomat, but stressed that even if the resolution failed, the debate would have put Xinjiang in the spotlight.
“Goal number one has been achieved,” said the diplomat.
China has come under intense scrutiny after former UN chief justice Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed Xinjiang report last month, citing possible crimes against humanity.
– “The fight goes on” –
The report, released August 31 before Bachelet’s term expired, highlighted “credible” allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.
It brought UN endorsement to long-standing allegations by activists and others accusing Beijing of arresting more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims and forcibly sterilizing women.
Beijing vehemently denied the allegations and accused the UN of becoming a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West”.
She insists she runs vocational training centers in the region to combat extremism.
While the draft resolution may look lukewarm, observers say that simply working towards putting China on the Council’s agenda is of great importance.
“The issues aren’t getting any deeper,” Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson said in a tweet, urging countries to “vote yes today and make history.”
China has launched an all-out offensive in Geneva and country capitals to dismiss the report and hammer in the “truth” about the legal situation in Xinjiang.
African countries, where China is the leading creditor after massive infrastructure and other investments, are subject to particularly heavy lobbying, observers say.
An analysis of how the 13 African countries voted in the Council last month found that they traditionally abstain from voting on country-specific resolutions.
But lately they have been shown to be increasingly bowing to pressure from China and others to vote against the resolution, thereby torpedoing it.
“We know how much influence the Chinese have, especially in Africa,” the Western diplomat said, adding that many nations oppose voting against a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
“It’s really a difficult task for many countries,” admitted the diplomat.
“The fight goes on, whatever happens today.”