By Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) -The United States, Britain and other countries are calling for a debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council to discuss China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang, a document showed and diplomats said on Monday.
The move, which needs a majority vote to pass in the deeply divided Geneva council, would be the first time that alleged abuses by China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, feature on the U.N. rights body’s agenda in its 16-year history.
Intense diplomatic discussions have been continuing on the sidelines of the council meeting since a much-anticipated U.N. report last month stipulated that “serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang that may amount to crimes against humanity.
“We cannot ignore such severe and systematic breaches of human rights,” Britain’s ambassador Simon Manley told the U.N. body on Monday. “This council must not, cannot, stay silent.”
China vigorously denies any abuses and has sent a government delegation to Geneva to counter what it claims are erroneous findings by the U.N. rights office and says it is “ready for the fight” if action is taken against it.
A spokesperson at China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment.
The so-called “draft decision” reviewed by Reuters is so far backed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Norway, diplomats said. It seeks a debate during the council’s next session that begins in February.
China might seek to dismiss it with a no action motion.
The 47-member council is split over the allegations against China, which has deep economic ties with many developing countries and is seeking their support.
The Western-led call for a debate falls short of a resolution which could have sought a Xinjiang probe, although this could be raised later.
Uyghurs held protests outside the U.N. Geneva office last week calling for action next to the photographs of those they say are being detained.
“My ask is clear to the international community – I ask you to intervene,” said Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a former Uyghur detainee who spent three years in internment camps. “I implore you to save us from this tyranny.”
China has been seeking to rally support against any Western-led action, although initial efforts fell short of expectations, with so far fewer than 10 voting members of the council backing a statement criticising the UN rights report.
(Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by Rachel More, Christian Schmollinger, William Maclean)