Senate Passes Bill to Sanction China for Muslim Concentration Camps

A Muslim ethnic Uighur woman begs with her baby on a street in Urumqi, capital of China's Xinjiang region on July 2, 2010 ahead of the first anniversary of bloody violence that erupted between the region's Uighurs and members of China's majority Han ethnicity. The government says nearly 200 people …
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty

The U.S. Senate passed a bill Wednesday to condemn China’s human rights atrocities against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities in its western territories, raising national awareness on Beijing’s construction of concentration camps to house millions of its citizens.

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 would, among other things, require the U.S. government to actively pressure the United Nations and other international venues to act against China’s human rights abuses and urge the Secretary of Commerce to consider ending U.S. trade with government officials in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province. The bill would also encourage the application of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions on individuals responsible for creating and maintaining the camps.

Pentagon officials estimated this year that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has imprisoned and enslaved as many as three million Muslims in Xinjiang, most members of the Uighur (or Uyghur) minority. Eyewitnesses who escaped the Xinjiang camps say they saw evidence of forced labor, torture, and organ harvesting.

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act must now pass the House of Representatives and go through a standardizing process with the Senate version before reaching President Donald Trump’s desk.

The bill is a product of a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress against China’s human rights abuses. The bill that passed Wednesday was the work of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), both vocal critics of the Communist Party’s atrocities against its people. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY) introduced the House of Representatives version, which has strong support from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“What they’re doing to the Uyghurs is outside the circle of civilized human behavior to have millions of people in prison for what they believe,” Pelosi said at an event in June.

The text of the bill serves to “condemn gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang” and calls “for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.”

“The Secretary of Commerce should review and consider the prohibition on the sale or provision of any United States-made goods or services to any state agent in Xinjiang,” the bill reads in part, “and add the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Communist Party, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and the Xinjiang Office of the United Front Work Department, or any entity acting on their behalf to facilitate the mass internment or forced labor of Turkic Muslims, to the ‘Entity List’ administered by the Department of Commerce.”

Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Central Asia ethnicities are largely considered Turkic, though Chinese state propaganda has sought to falsely portray them as descendants of Han Chinese in response to pressure from the government of Turkey to stop abusing them.

The bill would also require the Secretary of State to issue an annual assessment of the size and conditions of the Xinjiang camps to help officials decide how severely to implement sanctions or condemn Beijing.

Rubio called the bill’s passing in the Senate “long overdue” in a statement Wednesday.

“It’s long overdue for the United States to hold Chinese government and Communist Party officials accountable for the systemic and egregious human rights abuses and probable crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including the internment in ‘political re-education’ camps of more than one million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities,” Rubio said. “I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk.”

Menendez used his remarks to attack President Trump for allegedly not “mak[ing] the tragic situation in Xinjiang a priority,” despite the Trump administration’s status as the first major world power, and still one of the only ones, to condemn the camps.

“While the Trump Administration has not seen fit to make the tragic situation in Xinjiang a priority, I am happy to see Congress is taking the necessary steps to hold accountable officials in the Chinese government and Communist Party responsible for gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity,” Menendez said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry attacked the Trump administration yet again on Monday, and specifically Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for speaking out against the existence of concentration camps in the 21st century.

“It is not the first time that US officials wantonly criticized China’s Xinjiang policy in total disregard of facts. That is flagrant interference in China’s internal affairs. We deplore and firmly oppose that,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “By lawfully establishing those centers, the local government in Xinjiang aims to save the people who are deceived by or even have joined terrorist forces and committed minor offenses to help them get rid of extremist ideologies.”

In a speech in his home state of Kansas last week, Pompeo accused China of trying “to brainwash coming on one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps.”

“The Chinese Communist Party claims that the camps are meant to educate and to save people that have been influenced by religious extremism, and thus they make the claim that they’re trying to protect those individuals’ human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Hua issued another incensed attack on America on Thursday in response to the passing of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate.

“In total disregard of facts, this bill smeared and criticized the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policies. Such flagrant interference in China’s internal affairs will only make the Chinese people more indignant,” Hua said. “We urge the U.S. side to respect facts, return to reason, discard the Cold-War mentality, stop taking Xinjiang-related issues as a pretext to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, and stop pushing the bill to become law so as to prevent damages to the overall relationship between China and the US.”

In contrast, the bill received praise from the World Uyghur Congress, an international advocacy group that works to save Uyghurs from Chinese oppression.

The Chinese regime has falsely attempted to brand the World Uyghur Congress a terrorist organization and get Interpol to persecute its leader, Dolkun Isa. Some months after Interpol dropped China’s request for lack of evidence, the president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, disappeared in China. He has since resurfaced in China prison on dubious “corruption” charges.

Survivors of the Xinjiang camps say that Chinese officials force them to speak Mandarin (a foreign language in the region), memorize Communist Party propaganda, work long hours making clothes and petty items for no pay, and sing songs of worship to Communist Party dictator Xi Jinping. Some have suggested the youngest and healthiest among the prisoners are used for live organ harvesting, an illegal and horrifying practice which China engages in with other political prisoners for large profits.

The State Department estimated in May that the Xinjiang concentration camps house as many as three million people.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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