The U.S. and allied nations are pressing for a debate at the UN Human Rights Council to investigate China's treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the far western province of Xinjiang.
On the margins of the council meeting, intense diplomatic conversations have been ongoing since a much-anticipated UN report last month stated that "serious human rights violations have been committed" in Xinjiang, which may amount to crimes against humanity.
The move, which requires a majority vote in the sharply split Geneva council, would be the first time in the UN rights body's 16-year history that alleged abuses by China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, have been on the agenda.
"We cannot ignore such grave and systematic violations of human rights," Britain's ambassador, Simon Manley, told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday. "This council must not, cannot, stay silent."
Rights groups and the U.S. government accuse Beijing of serious human rights violations against Uyghurs, including torture, forced sterilization, sexual violence, and child separation. According to previously published findings by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, ethnic minorities have been subjected to widespread surveillance, and over a million primarily Muslim Uyghurs have been taken to detention centers, which critics believe are designed to eradicate their Uyghur identity.
China has dispatched a government delegation to Geneva to contest what it believes are incorrect conclusions by the UN rights office, and it has vowed to fight back if any action is taken against it. China vehemently denies any violations have occurred. With a no-action move, China can attempt to have it dismissed.
The claims against China, which has close economic ties to numerous developing nations and is requesting their backing, have divided the 47-member council. The Western-led call for a debate falls short of a resolution that might have demanded an investigation into the situation in Xinjiang, but this could be brought up later.
Although initial attempts fell short of expectations, China has been trying to mobilize opposition to any Western-led action. To date, less than 10 voting members of the council have supported a statement criticizing the UN rights report.
Last week, Uyghurs demonstrated in front of the UN building in Geneva, appealing for action next to pictures of people they claim are being held captive. A former Uyghur prisoner who spent three years in detention camps, Gulbahar Haitiwaji said, "my ask is clear to the international community - I ask you to intervene. I implore you to save us from this tyranny."