Muslim countries vote down UN Human Rights Council Xinjiang debate

Uyghur Australians have condemned Muslim-majority member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council for voting down a debate on allegations of human rights abuses against minorities, including Muslims and Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.

Among the 19 members who voted against the debate were Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Australian resident and exiled Uyghur, Arslan Hidayat, described it as another “stab in the back” — singling out the votes from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both Turkic countries with historical connections to the Uyghur community.

‘We are screaming, but no one hears us’

Mr Hidayat says there are “billions of dollars to be had” from Chinese investment in central Asian countries, which is why he believes the Muslim countries voted down the UN debate.

But he blames the governments, not the citizens of the countries, and says he’s received private messages from Indonesians and Pakistanis apologising for their government’s decision.

“Those who voted against us, whether it be the Indonesian government or Pakistan government, are not part of the Muslim community because, if the tables were turned, I would think we would be sticking up for them,” he said.

Mr Hidayat said Muslims believe in the concept of an “ummah”, referring to the global Muslim community as one body.

“Wherever we are, we’re all Muslims. We’re part of one community,” said Mr Hidayat, a Program Manager at Campaign for Uyghurs.

“But they (the countries that voted no) are blatantly choosing the dollar, or in this case, the Chinese Yuan, over us.

“We are screaming, but no one hears us.”

Why is it important that Muslim countries voted no?

Mr Hidayat says China will use the fact that Muslim-majority countries voted against the resolution to reinforce their narrative that denies human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“China uses Muslim-majority states’ inaction as proof that the Uyghurs are not being persecuted,” he said.

“Those that propagate for China say that if Uyghurs were persecuted, then how come the Muslim-majority states don’t condemn or call for resolutions to the human rights atrocities being committed?”

Ramila Chanisheff, president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, said the “so-called Muslim countries” who voted against the debate “have been bought out by China”.

“Most of these Muslim countries themselves are run by dictators and commit grave human rights abuse, hence their support of a country that commits genocide against its own citizens,” she said.

“Uyghurs are protesting in front of the Indonesian, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan embassies in the US demanding answers as to why they have turned their backs against their Muslim brothers and sisters.”

China has poured billions into Muslim-majority countries

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar to western China.

Part of Mr Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC is estimated to have brought at least $102 billion of investment into Pakistan.

Chinese investment has flowed to the infrastructure and transport sectors, job creation, and to regions like the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which due to waves of terrorism, foreign direct investment from Western countries has been restricted.

Economic relations between Beijing and Jakarta have also surged over recent years, with Chinese imports from Indonesia increasing by around a third in the first half of 2022 compared to the previous year.

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner, and after meeting with Mr Xi earlier in 2022, Indonesian President Joko Widodo described China as a “comprehensive strategic partner”.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson says that Indonesia “shamelessly abandoned the Uyghurs” and voted ‘no’ on the resolution for political reasons.

‘Shameless abandonment’ of Uyghurs

“They worried that crossing the Chinese government could result in major problems with Beijing at the upcoming G-20 Summit in Bali that President Widodo has placed such a priority on,” Mr Robertson told SBS News.
Mr Robertson said the Chinese government is a “single-minded, very large and influential force” that uses a mixture of threats and rewards to get what it wants, which according to him, is “absolutely no scrutiny of its appalling rights record”.

Why it’s ‘confronting’ to see Muslim-majority countries vote no

Martijn Boersma, an associate professor in modern slavery and human trafficking at Notre Dame University, says economic ties play a part in the geopolitical reasons why some Muslim-majority countries voted against the debate.

He says the situation is comparable to African countries which have received foreign direct investment from China over the last two decades and, as a result, have changed their countries’ recognition of Taiwan to be part of China (One China Policy), such as Burkina Faso, which was the latest to do so.

“They want to make sure that the foreign direct investment keeps on coming into the country and keeps on coming into the economy, and you don’t want to upset China by voting in favour of a particular resolution,” Mr Boersma said.

He says while it’s “confronting” to see Muslim-majority countries vote against the debate, geopolitical and strategic interests can be more important to those governments than religious elements.

Claims of human rights abuses at home

Mr Boersma also says some countries may have voted against the debate to mitigate reports on human rights abuses within their own countries.

“The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who have both been in the news for different types of human rights abuses, might fear that if China is on the chopping block for this and is subjected to this type of scrutiny, then similar inquiries on these countries might be next,” he said.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Elaine Pearson shared the same view, saying that “non-interference” principles suit some of the voting countries.

“Besides the economic interests, the reality is that hiding in the “non-interference” principle suits governments like Indonesia & Pakistan who also want to avoid international scrutiny on serious abuses at home, for example in Papua and Balochistan,” Ms Pearson wrote in a Twitter thread.
The Pakistan and Indonesian embassies in Australia have been contacted for comment.

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