Congress passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act 

The House on Wednesday evening passed legislation to respond to the mass detention and other human rights violations against Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. (CNA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA) -- The House on Wednesday evening passed legislation to respond to the mass detention and other human rights violations against Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“We cannot be silent,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Wednesday before the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed the House. “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people. He is presiding over genocide.” Smith authored the House version of the legislation which had 136 cosponsors.

The bill (S. 3744) was passed by the Senate on May 14, where it was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It requires the administration to report on the scope and details of abuses committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities, and to sanction the officials complicit in the abuses through actions such as visa denial and blocking an individual’s financial transactions.

“Congress is sending a strong message of support to Uyghur Muslims worldwide that the United States stands with you and will not sit idly by as the Chinese government and Communist Party commit egregious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity,” Sen. Rubio, the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), stated.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 413-1, with Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) the lone vote against. In December, when Massie opposed the passage of the House version of the legislation, he tweeted that “[w]hen our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”

According to the CECC, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by Chinese authorities in camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Former detainees or their relatives have reported torture, beatings, forced sterilizations, and other abuses committed in the camps, with detainees sometimes sent to work in factories upon their release. The Chinese government denied the existence of the camps but later said they existed to provide vocational training.

There have also been reports of mass surveillance of residents in the region, forced labor in factories producing goods that end up in the supply chains of U.S. companies, and abuses of religious freedom with mosques and shrines being destroyed.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China concluded in 2019 that the abuses in the region may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

The Chinese government’s crackdown in the region has been conducted as part of its enforcement of a Counter-Terrorism law.

A report by UN human rights officials in November said that the application of the law “and related practices raises serious concerns regarding increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards and restrictions of the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to education and the right to freedom of movement within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs and Tibetans.”

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has now passed both the House and the Senate and heads to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“The world has stood by for too long as the Chinese government detained millions of Muslims in concentration camps,” Nury Turkel, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), stated. “Hopefully, other countries will follow the U.S. government’s lead and take action on this issue.”

“I call on the President to sign the legislation quickly and take swift action to sanction Chinese officials and businesses engaged in mass internment, surveillance, and forced labor,” stated Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).