Member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) face a moment of truth as the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council nears its conclusion in Geneva: Will they support a discussion of the recent report by the former UN high commissioner for human rights exposing the Chinese government’s systematic targeting and repression of Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, or will they remain conspicuously silent?
The report details Chinese authorities’ religious profiling of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as “extremists,” based on criteria such as “wearing hijabs,” “‘abnormal’ beards,” “closing restaurants during Ramadan,” “giving one’s child a Muslim name,” and other conduct that the high commissioner described as “nothing more or less than personal choice in the practice of Islamic religious beliefs and/or legitimate expression of opinion.”
The report also highlights a broader program to suppress Uyghur language, culture, religion and identity, noting that “alongside the increasing restrictions on expressions of Muslim religious practice are recurring reports of the destruction of Islamic religious sites, such as mosques, shrines and cemeteries.” It concludes that the extent of these and other violations may constitute international crimes, “in particular crimes against humanity.”
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.” The OIC and its members have rightly defended the rights of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, condemned apartheid against Palestinians by Israeli authorities, and denounced acts of Islamophobia in Western countries.
During a racism debate at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan, as OIC coordinator, noted that “the OIC is gravely concerned over systematic targeting of individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, especially against Muslim individuals or communities.” Pakistan deplored anti-Islamic conduct in countries including France, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, but said nothing about the Chinese authorities’ targeting of Muslims in Xinjiang.
Some OIC countries, such as Turkey and Albania, have commendably cosponsored the draft decision calling for a debate on the high commissioner’s report. Others should follow their lead. Failure to support even a discussion of the report would severely undermine the credibility of the OIC to address Islamophobia elsewhere in the world.