In 2021, several reports produced by experts found that the Uyghurs are subjected to genocide in Xinjiang, China. This finding was followed by several determinations of the atrocities as genocide by Parliaments and the U.S. State Department and by calls for action to address the atrocities. However, no real action followed. On August 31, 2022, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its report concluding that “serious human rights violations” against the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities have been committed in Xinjiang. The report added that the atrocities may amount to international crimes, and in particular, crimes against humanity. However, also this report was not followed by any decisive steps to address the atrocities. China continues to deny the allegations and brands then propaganda.
However, the tables may turn after all as several States work on a resolution (so-called draft decision) to ensure that the U.N. debates the High Commissioner’s report. End of September 2022, the United States filed the draft decision with the U.N. If successful, the report and the situation of Uyghurs would be debated at the next U.N. Human Rights Council. The vote is expected just before the end of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, before October 7, 2022. A simple majority is needed for the draft decision to pass. The Chinese delegation is said to be exercising pressure on States to oppose the resolution to prevent further engagement with the critical report.
The debate would provide an opportunity to focus on pro-active measures to address the situation of the Uyghurs. Historically, such debates have been used to, among others, pass resolutions establishing mechanisms to collect and preserve evidence of atrocities.
In the case of the atrocities against the Uyghurs, it is crucial to establish a mechanism that would collect and preserve the evidence of the atrocities, analyze the evidence against the parameters of international crimes, and identify actions for States and international bodies. Such a mechanism could collect and preserve evidence even if not physically allowed into Xinjiang. Indeed, U.N. mechanisms of this sort, and especially, the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) have been able to collect the evidence without access to the countries.
While it is expected that China will move mountains to ensure that neither the debate takes place nor a special mechanism is established, recent years have seen creative approaches to get around blockages at the U.N. For example, as all action on Syria at the U.N. Security Council was blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes, States worked together to utilize the powers of the U.N. General Assembly and ultimately passed a resolution establishing the IIIM. IIIM is working with investigators in 12 countries to ensure that domestic courts can use the evidence collected by IIIM and bring the perpetrators to justice using the principle of universal jurisdiction. Where there is a will, there is a way.