Uyghur Australians have condemned the Muslim-majority member states of the UN Human Rights Council for rejecting a debate on allegations of human rights abuses against minorities, including Muslims and Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.
The 19 members who voted against the debate included Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Australian-based Uyghur-in-exile Arslan Hidayat described it as another “stab in the back” – singling out votes from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both Turkic countries with historical ties to the Uyghur community.
“There are Kazakhs and Uzbeks in the camps themselves,” he told SBS News.
“We scream, but no one hears us”
Mr Hidayat says Chinese investment in Central Asian countries could fetch “billions of dollars”, which is why he believes Muslim countries have rejected the UN debate.
But he blames governments, not the countries’ citizens, and says he has received personal messages from Indonesians and Pakistanis apologizing for their government’s decision.
“Those who voted against us, be it the Indonesian government or the Pakistani government, are not part of the Muslim community, because if the situation was reversed, I would think we would protect them,” he said.
Mr. Hidayat said that Muslims believe in the concept of “umma”, meaning the global Muslim community as a single body.
“Wherever we are, we are all Muslims. We are part of one community,” said Mr. Hidayat, Program Manager of the Campaign for Uyghurs.
“But they (countries that voted against) are clearly choosing the dollar, or in this case the Chinese yuan, over us.
“We scream, but no one hears us.”
Why does it matter that Muslim countries voted against it?
Mr Hidayat says China will use the fact that Muslim-majority countries voted against the resolution to reinforce its narrative denying human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“China is using the inaction of Muslim-majority states as proof that Uyghurs are not being persecuted,” he said.
“China propagandists say that if Uyghurs are being persecuted, why aren’t Muslim-majority states condemning and calling for resolutions on the human rights crimes committed?”
Ramila Chanisheff, president of Australian Uyghur women’s association Tangritag, said the “so-called Muslim countries” that voted against the debate “were bribed by China”.
“Most of these Muslim countries are themselves run by dictators and commit serious human rights abuses, so they support a country that commits genocide against its own citizens,” she said.
“Uyghurs protest outside the US embassies of Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, demanding answers as to why they turned their backs on 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), which connects Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar with western China.
CPEC, which is part of Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, is estimated to have attracted at least $102 billion in investment to Pakistan.
Chinese investment has flowed into the infrastructure and transport sectors, job creation and into regions such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where foreign direct investment from Western countries has been limited due to waves of terrorism.
Economic relations between Beijing and Jakarta have also strengthened in recent years, with Chinese imports from Indonesia increasing by about a third in the first half of 2022 compared to the previous year.
China is Indonesia’s largest 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 deputy Asia director Phil Robertson says Indonesia “shamelessly abandoned the Uighurs” and voted against the resolution for political reasons.
“Shameless abandonment” of the Uyghurs
“They were worried that crossing the Chinese government could lead to serious problems with Beijing at the upcoming G-20 summit in Bali, which President Widodo has made such a priority,” Robertson told SBS News.
Mr Robertson said the Chinese government was a “single-minded, very large and powerful force” that used a mix of threats and rewards to get what it wanted, which he said had “absolute disregard for its monstrous rights”.
Why is it a “confrontation” when Muslim-majority countries vote against it
Mathrain Boersma, associate professor of modern slavery and human trafficking at the University of Notre Dame, says economic ties play a role in the geopolitical reasons some Muslim-majority countries voted against the debate.
He says the situation is comparable to African countries that have received foreign direct investment from China over the past two decades and, as a result, reversed their recognition of Taiwan as part of China (the one-China policy), such as Burkina. Faso who did it last.
“They want to make sure that foreign direct investment continues to flow into the country and continues to flow into the economy, and you don’t want to upset China by voting for a certain resolution,” Mr. Boersma said.
He says that while it is “confrontational” to see Muslim-majority countries vote against the debate, geopolitical and strategic interests may be more important to these governments than religious elements.
Statements about violations of human rights at home
Mr Boersma also says some countries may have voted against the debate on mitigating reports of human rights abuses in their own countries.
“The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which have been in the news for various types of human rights abuses, may fear that if China is caught up in this and subjected to this kind of scrutiny, then there will be similar requests from those countries. could be next,” he said.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, echoed the view that “non-intervention” principles are appropriate for some countries participating in the vote.
“Economic interests aside, the reality is that hiding behind the principle of ‘non-intervention’ suits governments like Indonesia and Pakistan, which also want to avoid international scrutiny for serious violations at home, such as in Papua and Baluchistan,” wrote Ms. Pearson in a Twitter thread.
The embassies of Pakistan and Indonesia in Australia have been contacted for comment.