Senate approves Uyghur human rights bill

shutterstock 364194983 Sen. Marco Rubio. | Rich Koele / Shutterstock

The Senate approved a bill on Thursday to sanction Chinese leaders complicit in the persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, authored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday; would authorize the identification and sanctioning of Chinese officials identified as complicit in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China.

"The Chinese Government and Communist Party's systematic, ongoing efforts to wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is horrific and will be a stain on humanity should we refuse to act," Rubio stated.

More than a million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The years-long crackdown in the region by the Chinese authorities has been implemented supposedly as an anti-terrorism, anti-extremism measure.

There have been reports of torture, beatings, forced sterilizations, and other abuses committed in "re-education" camps, with detainees sometimes sent to work in factories after their time in the camps. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China concluded in 2019 that the abuses may constitute "crimes against humanity."

The legislation mandates sanctions of Chinese officials and others who are complicit in acts of torture, prolonged detention, disappearances, and other abuses in the region.

It requires the Secretary of State to report to Congress on the scope of internment camps in the region, methods of detention and mass surveillance, conditions in the camps, the situation of forced labor.

The bill also calls for the President to condemn the abuses in the region and urge China to close the camps.

If signed into law, it would be Congress' "first legislative response to the Uyghur human rights crisis," said the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Versions of the legislation have previously passed the Senate, in September of 2019, and the House, in December. The House version of the legislation was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

Advocacy groups applauded the bill, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which said it "marks an important milestone in protecting #religiousfreedom for #Uighur Muslims in #China."

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