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How to Stop China Killing Human Rights at the U.N.

The Uyghur people and the human rights system depend on principled states taking action.

By Kelley E. Currie

An International human rights lawyer and former U.S. State Department official

November 9, 2022

Uyghurs demonstrate against China outside of United Nations offices during the Universal Periodic Review of China by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Nov. 6, 2018. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

On Oct. 6, the United Nations Human Rights Council rejected a resolution to hold a debate on China’s violations of human rights in Xinjiang. The vote was spurred by a meticulous report published five weeks earlier by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

(OHCHR), which detailed Chinese state-directed persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic

Muslim minorities that “may constitute … crimes against humanity.”

The resolution—which failed by 19 votes to 17, with 11 abstentions—represented the first formal attempt to hold China accountable for its massive and ongoing human rights abuses at the Human Rights Council since the body’s inception in 2006. According to the OHCHR report, these violations include mass arbitrary detention, widespread torture, sexual violence, coercive birth suppression, family separation, forced labor, and repression of religious and cultural practices in Xinjiang.

The council’s failure to carry out its most basic function as the U.N.’s premier venue for the

promotion and protection of human rights stands as an indictment of the council itself—and the human rights system it purports to anchor. It also demonstrates the deep success of China’s decadeslong project to rewire the normative framework of international human rights and replace it with the idea that human rights are negotiable and subject to the prerogatives of states.

The Xinjiang resolution’s rejection should be a wake-up call to concerned states on the need to redouble efforts at the U.N. to preserve the foundational principle that every individual around the world is entitled to fundamental rights.


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