Several reports of the Uyghur genocide, including admissions in domestic media have served to confirm that ‘Crimes against Humanity’ may have committed in the Xinjiang province of China.
The much publicized fact-finding visit by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which as expected, was restricted and supervised by the PRC, resulted in a damp squib of a report released earlier this year. Broadly, the report concluded that “serious human rights violations have been committed,” including “arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups,” which it asserted “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” However, the report failed to satisfy anyone - neither the Uyghur activists who questioned why the term ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ weren’t used, nor the Chinese who defended their actions under vague umbrella terms such as “ani-terrorism” and “anti-extremism” policies.
Voting on a draft resolution at the 51st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council on holding a debate on the human rights situation in the Xinjiang region saw the motion being rejected 19-17 in China’s favour with 11 abstentions. India was among those that decided to abstain, in line with its long held policy of not voting on country-specific resolutions. No sooner had the news filtered out than celebrity news anchors decided to gleefully mock India’s neutral stance, terming it as ‘Tigers at Home, Lambs Abroad’. It is one thing to be ignorant, quite another to take pride in it.
India’s approach when it comes to human rights on international multilateral forums warrants a closer look, not just from an episodic viewpoint, if one is to comprehensively understand her position. India has always been skeptical of the human rights machinery at the United Nations. By and large, the Indian position stems from the fact that it is a system that is not just insular but also opaque, comprising arbitrary standards, led by self anointed experts. What should have been a consensus building organization has been reduced to an instrument to promote divisive interests amidst changing geopolitical calculations. The notion that the international human rights mechanism is unfairly and illegally used by the developed countries to potentially scuttle the credibility of developing countries is one that is gaining traction. It is a matter of record that a majority of the human rights related resolutions at the UN are directed at developing countries. Are we to assume that all is hunky dory when it comes to human rights in the West? The Indian stance has to be seen in this context. It rightly stems from the fact that a ‘naming and shaming’ exercise when it comes to human rights is a counter-productive approach with no tangible benefits on the ground. Rather, a system of direct dialogue, discussion and deliberations are the foundations of a holistic mechanism, if one is to address human rights concerns in a country. This strategy has served India well over the years, with the country acting as a voice of reason and balancing out the ‘hawks’ who would rather use the International human rights platform to further their primary interests. If India’s approach ain’t broke, why fix it?
Again, some may argue that given China’s increasing belligerence on the disputed borders with India, it was an opportunity lost by the Indian side to put the Dragon in the dock. It is no secret that China has acted contrary to Indian interests when one refers to the UNSC resolution 1267 or its support of Pakistan post the constitutional change in the status of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, what such critics fail to understand is that the world sees through such naked opportunism of the Chinese and their propensity to use human rights discussions as a transactional opportunity. They even claimed to be champions of human rights post abrogation of Article 370 but scaled back their chest beating when confronted with their own abysmal record in Tibet and Xinjiang. India, by refusing to play the game has leveled the playing field. Human Rights are of sacrosanct importance, central to the Indian ethos. They cannot be traded at the whims and fancies of contemporary realpolitik. The cache of goodwill that India has from the developing countries cannot be compromised for a tactical move, with no tangible changes or benefits for the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Another facet that the critics of the Indian position choose to conveniently skip over is the role of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation when it comes to the Uyghurs in China. Under the OIC Charter, all member states shall “safeguard the rights, dignity and religious and cultural identity of Muslim communities and minorities in non-Member States.” However, during the UNHRC vote at the 51st session, Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion. Further, Pakistan, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Tukey, Qatar, Egypt, and even Afghanistan have detained or extradited Uyghurs back to China. Since 2017, more than 682 Uyghurs have been detained by these Muslim countries silently and been sent back to China. Ukraine voted against too, failing to stand up for the very ideals that it appeals globally.
These are examples of the very transactional nature around the human rights dialogue that India rightly refuses to be drawn into. This obviously causes a lot of discomfort to those countries who think they have the monopoly of narrative and means of coercion. Neither of that can be applicable to India.
As the world’s largest democracy with a strong inclusive and secular fabric, India needs no lessons from countries that would do well to look within.