May 29, 2020 – The United States House of Representatives passes the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act by a vote of 413-1, which was approved unanimously by the Senate two weeks prior. The act is now pending Presidential approval..
The Act essentially allows the U.S. to amend its foreign policy towards China based on concerns regarding the persecution of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. This could include actions such as imposing financial sanctions and limiting the approval of visas for Chinese government officials.
Further, the President has approximately six months to submit reports to Congress which identifies the names of all Chinese officials that are directly responsible for denying the “right to life, liberty, or the security” of people in Xinjiang.
Nury Turkel, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedoms Commissioner, welcomed the Act, stating: “The world has stood by for too long as the Chinese government detained millions of Muslims in concentration camps. […] The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act would be the first major legislation focused on promoting the rights of Uyghur and other Muslims. Hopefully, other countries will follow the U.S. government’s lead and take action on this issue.”
Turkel’s reference to “concentration camps” highlights the many human rights violations committed by China against this population, including torture, detention without charge or trial, abduction, and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of Muslim minority groups. Mihrigul Tursun, who is of Uyghur ethnicity, testified regarding her experience at a 2018 congressional hearing: “When I was 12 years old, I was taken to Guangzhou for middle school, under the Chinese government’s program to move Uyghur children to inner China at a young age. This ‘Xinjian Classrooms’ policy takes thousands of children away from their families and immerses them in Han Chinese institutions, far from their native language and cultural environment.”
In addition to detailing the forced cultural assimilation, she spoke of her own experience in detention centers: “Over the last three years, I was taken to Chinese government detention centers three times. I spent 10 months in the camps in total, and experienced physical and psychological torture at the hands of government officials.” Tursun was eventually brought to safety by the U.S. government.
China continues to cite the camps as centers for “vocational training” with the intention of “preventing terrorism.” The Islamophobic decision by China to target Muslims for mass internment of “potential terrorists” was defended by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, who responded to the newly passed U.S. Human Rights Act stating that it “smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy.”
The move signals the U.S. bipartisan approach in combating Islamophobia on an international level. The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. “For far too long, the Chinese Communist Party has tried to systemically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Rubio stated. “It’s long overdue to hold the perpetrators accountable and I urge the President to sign it into law without delay.”
The Act also comes during the increasingly strained relationship between the U.S. and China, after Trump continues to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic. Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, pleaded with Trump in a statement. “We urge President Trump to sign the [Act] into law as a matter of priority and take immediate steps to implement it” he said. “Our community needs the U.S. government and governments around the world to take real, meaningful action.”