The House of Representatives this week passed legislation recognizing the mass detention of Uyghurs and other abuses committed by the Chinese government in the province of Xinjiang.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who sponsored the House version of the legislation, said on the House floor on Tuesday that “millions of stories” are “waiting to be told about the crimes against humanity being committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslims.”
“We cannot be silent. We must demand an end to these barbaric practices and accountability from the Chinese government. We must say “never again” to the cultural genocide and the atrocities suffered by Uyghurs and others in China,” Smith said.
The bill, the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act (UIGHUR Act), was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It passed the house overwhelmingly on Tuesday by a vote of 407 to one. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was the lone vote in opposition.
“The Chinese Government and Communist Party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” Rubio stated on Tuesday.
Now the amended legislation heads back to the Senate for consideration. The UIGHUR Act notes that the communist Chinese government “has a long history of repressing Turkic Muslims, particularly Uighurs, in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”
In 2014, the repression grew more intense as the government’s “Strike Hard against Violent Extremism” campaign began under the guise of an anti-terrorism campaign.
Between 800,000 and two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities are estimated to have been detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang since 2014, the bill finds.
There have been reports of forced labor, rape, forced abortions, re-education and torture in the camps, poor working conditions at factories once detainees have been released from camps, and mass surveillance by the government in the region. Families have been separated and Muslim religious practices have reportedly been forcefully curtailed.
Last month, leaked documents emerged offering insight into the organization and management of the camps.
One of the documents appears to be part of a manual or handbook for the operation of the internment camps, which are referred to as “vocational skills education and training centers.” The handbook is dated to 2017, when the internment camps first began operating, and is marked as “confidential.”
The manual includes details on how prison camp employees should work to prevent escapes of prisoners, prevent information about the camps themselves from being leaked, and how to indoctrinate prisoners. Additional guidelines in the document detail how to stop disease outbreaks, fires, and when those imprisoned in the camp are to be allowed to use the bathroom or see their relatives.
One former Uyghur camp detainee, Zumrat Dawit, testified at a side event of the United Nations General Assembly in September on “The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang” on Sept. 24. She reported being beaten, shackled, denied food, and sterilized, according to the Associated Press.
The Chinese government has defended the existence of the camps, previously calling them vocational training centers. After the New York Times in November published leaked Chinese government files ordering the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, China said that detentions were efforts to curb terrorism in the region.
The bill, S.178, directs the President to submit a list of senior Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and subject them to sanctions. It also calls on the President to condemn the abuses in Xinjiang and call for the camps to be closed; the Secretary of State should also consider sanctions under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the bill says.
It would direct various U.S. government entities to report to Congress on the Uighurs, on matters such as the scope of detention, forced labor, and government surveillance in the Xinjiang province of China, the eligibility of certain Chinese individuals for human rights sanctions, and the forcible return of Uighur refugees and asylum-seekers by foreign countries to China.
“We will not be silent. Justice is coming. We will demand accountability—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because U.S. interests are threatened by China’s high-tech authoritarianism,” Smith said.
Rep. Massie, who voted against the legislation, also opposed a bill to sanction human rights abusers in Hong Kong and express solidarity with pro-democracy protesters.
He explained his “No” vote on the bill on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that “When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”
“Before expressing righteous indignation re: my vote against these sanctions, please consider whether you committed enough to the issue that you would personally go a week without buying something made in China,” he stated.
On Nov. 27, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sponsored by Rubio, which provided for sanctions of human rights abusers in the region.
Smith, who first introduced a version of the legislation in 2014, said that “Xi Jinping should understand that the US is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount.”