Indonesia warns against ‘politicizing’ UN rights body after blocking China-Uyghur debate

Tria Dianti
Indonesia warns against ‘politicizing’ UN rights body after blocking China-Uyghur debate Indonesian activists in Jakarta carry a banner protesting against China’s treatment of ethnic Uyghur people and calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Jan. 4, 2022.
[Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

The U.N.’s human rights body should not be “used for purposes of political rivalry,” Indonesia said Friday after it voted against a U.S.-led proposal to debate China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority.

The 19-17 vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday drew an angry response from Uyghur and other human rights advocates, who accused governments in the voting majority of pandering to China.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic-majority country, was among council members that voted to block discussion of a United Nations report, which found Beijing’s abuses against the Uyghur community could constitute “crimes against humanity.”

Other nations rejecting the proposal included Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The Gambia, Libya and Malaysia were among 11 countries abstaining.

Achsanul Habib, director of human rights and humanitarian affairs at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the council should be “an inclusive forum for countries to have impartial dialogue” and “not [be] selective” in its approach to human rights issues.

“We voted ‘no’ because we don’t want the politicization of the Human Rights Council, [for it] to be used for the purpose of political rivalry,” he told a news conference.

“In this regard, Indonesia also cooperates, coordinates and consults with all parties, including with the countries that support [the proposal], with western countries and China.”

The call for discussion followed an August United Nations report that said China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

The report said “serious human rights violations” had been committed in XUAR in the context of the Chinese government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies.

Chinese regional authorities are believed to have held close to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

Febrian Ruddyard, Indonesia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, explained the “no” vote by saying the human rights council should focus on building an environment that encourages all countries to fulfill their human rights obligations.

“We believe the approach taken by the council today will not yield meaningful progress … especially because it does not enjoy the consent and support of the concerned country,” he told council members.

“Based on these reasons … we are therefore not in a position to support the draft decision … regarding the convening of a debate on the situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

Meanwhile, China accused Western countries of propagating “falsehoods,” insisting that issues related to Xinjiang “are about countering violent terrorism, radicalization and separatism.”

“For some time now, the U.S. and some other Western countries have been misinforming the public about Xinjiang and seeking political manipulation in the name of human rights simply to smear China’s image and contain China’s development,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement posted Thursday on its website. 

Refusing to stand on the right side of history’

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, alleged that China was using the pretext of religious extremism to carry out atrocities against the Uyghur minority.

“China has carried out its genocide against Uyghurs largely because of Uyghurs’ belief in Islam. … Basically, China has declared war on Islam and has been attacking Islamic beliefs and values,” he told Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“For Muslim countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar and UAE to vote at the U.N. in support of China’s ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims is not only an assault on Uyghur Muslims, but also an assault on Islam itself. To stand together with a regime that is committing genocide against a Muslim people is to be complicit in the same genocide.”

Human rights are universal, said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs.

“By refusing to stand on the right side of history and justice, governments that voted no or abstained have made it easier for China to carry out the ongoing genocide against Uyghurs, and hindered the progress toward real justice and accountability for the victims,” he told RFA.

Meanwhile, Greg Barton, an Indonesia scholar at Australia’s Deakin University, said Jakarta’s move was “disappointing, but not surprising.”

“It would have been good to see Indonesia being more bold, but at least, unlike a number of other countries, Indonesia did not simply rehash the propaganda of the Chinese government and deny that there is a problem of human rights abuses on a massive scale occurring in Xinjiang,” Barton told BenarNews.

Domestic political considerations also influenced the Indonesian position, he said.

“A ‘yes’ vote would have been used to argue that President [Joko Widodo] Jokowi was capitulating to pressure from his hardline Islamist critics,” he said.

It seems likely that a major factor was that Jakarta was facing intense pressure from Beijing and did not want to trigger a major falling out with the Chinese government, he said.

However, Taiwanese scholar Si Jianyu believes the lure of investment from Beijing is the reason Indonesia and some other Central Asian republics voted against discussing the Uyghur situation at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“The real reason for Indonesia to be against the motion is that China’s Belt and Road Initiative has big investment in Indonesia, and they won’t forget about the investments and focus on the human rights issues in Xinjiang,” Si, a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, told RFA.

“Xinjiang’s human rights situations are not important to them. The human rights records in their own countries are not so good either.”

Rene Pattiradjawane, a scholar at the Center for China Studies in Jakarta, said Indonesia’s vote was in line with its non-alignment foreign policy.

“Indonesia should not be lured into a campaign to vilify China for the interests of other countries,” he told BenarNews.

“Indonesia in any context will not want to join anti-China bullying.”

Alim Seytoff of Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service and Gao Feng of its Mandarin Service contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.