Uyghur advocates welcomed the introduction in the U.S. House of Representatives of proposed legislation that would expand the use of sanctions targeting Chinese government officials responsible for human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur Genocide Accountability and Sanctions Act expands the imposition of sanctions under Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, or UHRPA, of 2020 by strengthening sanctions against individuals implicated in rights violations reported by Uyghur “re-education” camp survivors and witnesses outside China.

The UHRPA requires federal U.S. government bodies to report on human rights abuses by the Chinese government against Uyghurs in the far-western region of Xinjiang, including internment in the camps.

U.S. Reps. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, and Tom Suozzi, a New York Democrat, co-chairs of the Congressional Uyghur Caucus introduced the Uyghur Genocide Accountability and Sanctions Act, or UGASA, last week in the House.

U.S. Senate version of the Uyghur Genocide Accountability and Sanctions Act was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, on May 31, 2023, to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for crimes in Xinjiang

Introducing a bill is only the first step in a long legislative process. A bill has to be approved by committees in both the House and Senate, and then passed by each full chamber and signed into law by the president.

More specific measures

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill come in response to calls by Uyghur advocates for specific measures to hold Chinese government officials to account for committing abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang. 

“This bill seeks to punish Chinese officials who are involved in the genocide and crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government in East Turkistan,” said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, using Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang.

“It expands the scope of punishment, so this bill is very important,” she told RFA.

Abbas also said the bill provides a stern warning to Western companies doing business with Chinese companies that use Uyghur forced labor. 

Elfidar Iltebir, president of the Uyghur American Association, said the introduction of the bill reaffirmed the commitment of the U.S. Congress to prioritize human dignity over economic and political gains. 

“It sends a powerful global message that officials linked to the Uyghur genocide must be held accountable, and these crimes against humanity must come to an end,” she said in a statement issued April 25.

Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, said the Chinese government has not faced enough consequences for the Uyghur genocide and forced labor.

“Enhanced sanctions and a stronger strategy of deterrence, as this legislation prescribes, are a vital piece of undergirding a commitment from the United States to hold malign actors accountable for human rights atrocities,” he said in the same statement. 

Uyghur Caucus re-established

The bill was announced just one week after the re-establishment of the Uyghur Caucus to lead efforts by the U.S. Congress to stop the Chinese government’s genocide of the Uyghurs  through concrete actions.

“If we are serious about the call to ‘never again’ allow genocide, a brighter light needs to be shone on the genocide occurring in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” Smith said in a statement.

Smith said he would continue to lead a bipartisan coalition that seeks to ensure that all Chinese Communist Party officials, from local police to the Politburo, complicit in genocide are held accountable and provide those subjected to atrocities with support they need to survive the trauma of genocide.  

The list of expanded sanctionable activities in the new bill includes systematic rape, coercive abortion, forced sterilization, involuntary contraceptive implantation policies and practices, human trafficking for organ harvesting, and forced deportation or the forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to China where they would likely be persecuted.

The bill also includes human rights abuses committed against individuals seeking asylum outside of China and applies secondary sanctions on foreign entities that provide support to entities sanctioned by the UHRPA.

In addition, it calls for providing medical and psychological care to survivors of atrocities and allocates funds for Uyghur cultural preservation initiatives. 

The bill also calls for strategies to counter Chinese government propaganda denying the genocide of Uyghurs, prohibits federal agencies from doing business with entities involved in forced labor, and mandates a plan to prevent and disrupt forced organ harvesting in China.

“It also important to counter Chinese Communist Party propaganda — which is telling the world a big lie that genocide never happened and that Uyghurs are happy with the Orwellian controls in place in [Xinjiang],” Smith said. 

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