Analysis of Whistleblower Emma Reilly on UN's Complicit Behaviour Over Uyghurs

Updated: May 26

Tanmay Dhiman,

Research Intern,

Internationalism Research.

It is a shocking revelation that a Human Rights Lawyer namely Emma Reilly and an employee of the UN has come forward to expose the alleged dirty politics of the UN. The world knows about how the media is stringently controlled in China. If a comparison was to be drawn, just like in Nazi Germany, many non-Jew Germans were not aware of the fact that their Government was executing their fellow Germans in masses. Likewise, many Chinese citizens are not aware of the Uyghur Muslims’ detention, persecution and exploitation. In this analysis, Reilly is interviewed by Maajid Nawaz from LBC, the UK.

Emma Reilly Interview with Maajid Nawaz

China has been accused of putting up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in labour camps in the northwest of the country for "re-education ( Ben Evansky, 2020)."

China is referred to as being an atheist state. But it does not mean it is a secular one. It has persecuted religious sections of the country previously, such as the Buddhists of Tibet, or the Muslims of Inner Mongolia. The situation around the Uyghur Muslims also raises questions about the atheist ideology of the CCP.

The land from which the ancient traditions and religions of Taoism and Confucianism originate, which CCP claims could help curb China’s “moral decline (Eleanor Albert and Lindsay Maizland, 2020)” it is certainly disturbing to receive such information. The social disbalance in China does appear more ethnicity-based than religion-based. However, such instances do direct otherwise.

Coming back to Ms Reilly’s statements, there are following questions that are required to be addressed:

  • If the UN representatives at the internal court proceedings have claimed that they have a right to lie about the situation, is it a plausible defence?

  • If the UN representatives at the same proceedings have claimed to give the utmost importance to the relationship they share with China, neglecting their obligations to a potential human rights situation, is it correct on the UN’s part?

  • If the above-mentioned accusations are proved, will the UN be penalized and by whom? Further, should the UN be precedentially also monitored?

While all these questions will require a lot of dialogue and deliberations to answer, one of the key things to consider here is that China is the second-largest contributor to the UN, after the US. It contributed around US$ 370 million last year to the UN, amounting to about 12% of the total UN budget (China Power Team, 2020). That is a lot of money. The UN needs this money to operate its missions and aids. It also needs the money to maintain its various offices, bodies and employees. If there is a crunch to the finances to the UN, it could really challenge its operations. This could be the most viable reason behind the UN being unwilling to jeopardize its relationship with China. However, this prioritization action calls for other condemnations. The most prominent being the unethical ignorance of the UN of potential human rights situation.

There have been so many calls for investigations by various countries at various instances. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in a 2019 session, a representative for the UK issued a statement on behalf of 23 countries raising concerns over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. "(There are) credible reports of mass detention, efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the region," Karen Pierce said. The 23 countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, all called on China to "uphold its national and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights," as well as to provide access to Xinjiang for international monitors (Ben Westcott and Richard Roth, 2019).

A United Nations human rights panel said in Geneva in 2018 that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

“We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability (China) has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone.’ ” (U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps, 2018) However, not a single open investigation has been allowed to take place around the same by China until recently. This year, China has invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Michelle Bachelet to visit the tightly controlled Muslim-majority Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Bachelet first asked Beijing in December 2018 for permission to carry out a fact-finding mission in Xinjiang. Beijing has previously said it would welcome UN officials to Xinjiang on the condition they stay out of the country’s internal affairs. (UN demands ‘unfettered access’ for China Uighur region visit, 2020) But China has been very selective in allowing external investigators in its territory. It has recently closed its doors to the WHO that had repeatedly requested to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 (Evans, 2020). Such selective take does raise questions. The allegations around the Uyghurs are rather concerning. Apart from detention, persecution and the rising toll of missing people, there are also the instances of mass-sterilization (China’s Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, 2020) and organ extraction reported. However, there has not been clarity on the truth of such reports, but China’s continual secrecy only makes the suspicion stronger.

What Ms Reilly has brought forward which has been (if done) suppressed is rather a matter of concern, since China has been appointed as a member of UNHRC’s Influential Consultative Group panel; where Mr Jiang Duan, who holds the rank of Minister at China’s mission to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, will play a key role in selecting the worlds body’s monitors on health, freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances. China will thus be able to influence the selection of at least 17 UN human rights mandate-holders who investigate, monitor and publicly report issues, on either specific country situations, or on thematic issues in all parts of the world, such as freedom of speech and religion. (2020)

China will help vet candidates for the critical UN human rights posts — serving as Chair of the interview processes for at least five of the mandates — and help decide whom to recommend for appointment. In most cases, the council president appoints the experts selected by the 5-nation panel. (China joins U.N. human rights panel, will help pick experts on free speech, health, arbitrary detention, 2020)

There has to be a more transparent and multilateral investigation into the current matter, where not only the states (favouring or condemning China) are amongst the participants, but also the independent NGOs, investigators and activists. There are a lot of things at a stake for the UN. But more than finances, it is its credibility and reason for existence. The threat is a subjective term in international politics; since one’s security concern is another’s threat. If China is allegedly taking measures in Xinjiang to safeguard its national security from seditious and extremist radical elements at the cost of the rights of its own citizens, then the dignity of UN becomes highly jeopardized, placing China in such a determinant position for human rights position worldwide.

The idea of radicalization roots from the instances of dimming the radiance of basic freedom.

Documents presented by Ms Reilly

It is clear on the face of the documents that various different documents have been compiled together. The piece has been marked “strictly confidential.” However, the material contains widely the rules and regulations contained under the UN Staff Rules, favouring Ms Reilly’s stance (United Nations). The deponent’s purpose might have been to highlight the justification and add to the credibility of their action.

The complainant demands protection from retaliation directly from the United Nations Secretary-General. Here are the developments of the Judgment of UN Disputes Tribunal in the case of Reilly v. Secretary-General of the United Nations (2020):

5. On 7 October 2016, the Director, UNEO, released a memorandum finding that only some of the Applicant’s reports constituted a protected activity and that the facts and evidence of her case did not raise a prima facie case of retaliation.
11. By email of 24 January 2017, the Director, UNEO, reiterated her proposal to contact OHCHR and offered the Applicant a choice between continuing the reopened case with the UNEO or requesting a review of the finding of 7 October 2016 by the Alternate Chair of the Ethics Panel of the United Nations (“EPUN”) under the then recently issued Secretary-General bulletin, namely ST/SGB/2017/2 (Protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations) (“new policy”) that entered into force on 20 January 2017.
12. The Director, UNEO, further noted in her email that “[n]ow that [the Applicant’s complaints] are known to OHCHR and potentially beyond, [she was] particularly concerned about how this may be impacting on [the Applicant]”. The Applicant agreed to the Director, UNEO, contacting OHCHR.
19. By email of 11 April 2017, the Alternate Chair of the EPUN communicated her findings to the Applicant. She inter alia agreed with the previous decision of 7 October 2016 from the Director, UNEO, (see para. 5 above). On the information sharing with a Member State, she concluded that the Applicant’s allegations against the Chief, HRCB, did not constitute reports of misconduct as the conduct “was within the authority of the staff member, well-known to senior leaders in OHCHR” and did not lead to any investigation.
20. On 27 April 2017, the Applicant requested a second review of her case as foreseen under the new policy.
23. By email of 7 August 2017, the Second Alternate Chair of the EPUN, namely the Principal Ethics Advisor, United Nations International Children’s Fund, informed the Applicant that her case had been referred to her for additional review.
35. In her report dated 27 February 2018 on the Applicant’s request for protection against retaliation, issued on 2 March 2018, the Second Alternate Chair of the EPUN found no case of retaliation.
56. The evidence on file shows that, on 15 July 2016, the Applicant made a request for protection from retaliation to the UNEO under the old policy.
57. The Director, UNEO, issued a first memorandum on the Applicant’s request for protection on 7 October 2016, finding that there was no prima facie case of retaliation. The case was reopened under the old policy and following the recusal of the Director, UNEO, it was reassigned to the Alternate Chair of the EPUN under the mechanism for dealing with conflicts of interest set forth in sec. 7.7 of the new policy.
58. The Alternate Chair of the EPUN reviewed the Applicant’s request for protection applying, on the one hand, the procedure set forth in the new policy but, on the other hand, the substantive elements and standards of the old policy.
59. On 11 April 2017, the Alternate Chair of the EPUN endorsed the initial UNEO’s determination of 7 October 2016. A second review was conducted by the Second Alternate Chair of the EPUN, under the procedure set forth in sec. 9 of the new policy.
60. In her decision of 2 March 2018, the Second Alternate Chair of the EPUN found that there was no prima facie case of retaliation under the old or the new policy and thus declined to refer the matter to OIOS for further investigation.

All these excerpts from the judgment indicate that there was no retaliatory conduct against her for complaining against the DHC and other officials regarding the provision of information to a Member State, from which the protection is demanded.

However, for maintaining the sanctity of the UN and verify the credibility of the allegations of Ms Reilly, it is of no harm to conduct an OIOS investigation. It will clear out a lot of things for all the parties concerned.


Ben Evansky. 2020. UN Human Rights Office accused of helping China keep an eye on dissidents. Fox News. 2020.

Ben Westcott and Richard Roth. 2019. UN members issue dueling statements over China's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. CNN. 2019.

2020. China extends its UN Human Rights role. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation. 2020.

China joins U.N. human rights panel, will help pick experts on free speech, health, arbitrary detention. 2020. Geneva : s.n., 2020.

China Power Team. 2020. Is China Contributing to the United Nations’ Mission? China Power. 2020.

China’s Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Lindsay Maizland. 2020. s.l. : Council on Foreign Relations, 2020.

Eleanor Albert and Lindsay Maizland. 2020. Religion in China. Council on Foreign Relations. 2020.

Evans, Zachary. 2020. Beijing Has Blocked WHO from Investigating COVID Origins. s.l. : National Review, 2020.

2020. Judgement Reilly v. Secretary General of the United Nations (UNDT/2020/097). Geneva : s.n., 2020.

Staff Rules. s.l. : HR Portal of the UN.

U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps. Stephanie Nebehay. 2018. Geneva : Thomas Reuters, 2018.

UN demands ‘unfettered access’ for China Uighur region visit. 2020. Geneva : AlJazeera, 2020.

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