U.S. lawmakers have reintroduced legislation that would hold China accountable for rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where more than 1 million people are believed to have been held in “political re-education camps” over the past two years.
The bipartisan “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act,” put forward Thursday by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would dedicate new resources from the U.S. State Department, FBI, and other intelligence agencies to documenting abuse of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in the XUAR, as well as Beijing’s intimidation of U.S. citizens and residents on American soil.
“The United States must hold Chinese government and Communist Party officials responsible for gross human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in ‘political reeducation’ camps of a million or more Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” said Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
“The State Department has indicated that it is leading an interagency effort within the Administration to develop policy options in response to this brutal campaign of repression. The time for action is now.”
Since April 2017, authorities have detained up to 1.1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of re-education camps throughout the XUAR.
These extrajudicial detentions have accompanied intrusive security measures that include ramped up surveillance techniques and the collection of DNA, as well as policies aimed at diluting ethnic identity, such as controls over the right to worship, use of language, and even personal appearance.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. The atmosphere is more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources say.
Rubio and immediate past CECC co-chair U.S. Representative Chris Smith recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
The “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act” would require the Director of National Intelligence to issue a report in coordination with the State Department on the security threat posed by China’s crackdown on the Uyghurs, as well as a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and the operation of re-education camps in the XUAR.
It also calls for the establishment of a new position at the State Department that would oversee developments in the region while the crackdown persists.