Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has warned that the U.S. risks losing its moral authority to speak out against violations of religious freedom elsewhere in the world if it does not hold China accountable for its policies targeting Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
“The violations [in the XUAR] are of such scale, are so big, and the commercial interests are so significant that it sometimes tempers our values in terms of how we should act,” Pelosi said, while addressing the July 16-18 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on Tuesday.
“Unless we are willing to speak out against the violations of religious freedom in China we lose all moral authority to talk about it any other place in the world.”
Pelosi also urged lawmakers to sanction XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo under the Global Magnitsky Act for his role in China’s policies in the region, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in internment camps since April 2017.
She was joined by former Representative Frank Wolf on a panel moderated by Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
Wolf noted that Chen had tested many of the repressive policies he rolled out in the XUAR during his prior role as Party Secretary in Tibet.
“What he did in Tibet was basically cultural genocide,” Wolf said.
Earlier at the event, Jewher Tohti, the daughter of jailed Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, slammed China for its policies in the XUAR, and questioned whether Beijing is qualified to host the 2022 Winter Olympics when Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities remain held in the region’s vast network of internment camps.
An outspoken economics professor who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of Uyghurs in the XUAR, Tohti was charged with promoting ethnic separatism and was handed a life sentence by a Chinese court on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day trial.
The U.S. did not join nearly two dozen countries at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva who urged China to end mass arbitrary detentions, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR, in a letter to the U.N.’s human rights czar Michelle Bachelet last week. The U.S. quit the council in June 2018.
But while an increasing number of governments have spoken out against the persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR, little concrete action has been taken to hold China accountable.
Earlier in July, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, who is also the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced the third piece of legislation to Congress that includes provisions addressing the situation in the XUAR as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
In May, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would appoint a special State Department coordinator on Xinjiang and require regular reports on the camps, the surveillance network and the security threats posed by the crackdown—if endorsed by the full U.S. Senate and ratified by the House of Representatives.
A complimentary bill—HR 649—was proposed in January by U.S. Representatives Chris Smith of New Jersey and Tom Suozzi of New York, who warned in a statement at the time that the XUAR has “become nothing short of a police state” and urged fellow lawmakers to “take a stand against this violation of human rights and show the Chinese government that this is unacceptable.”
Last week, Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) chair and cochair U.S. Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Marco Rubio—who co-authored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act—issued a statement calling on U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to do more to address the situation in the XUAR.
“For the last year, we have urged the Administration, without success, to take actions to hold Chinese officials and businesses accountable for what may constitute crimes against humanity in the XUAR,” the statement said, adding that while “rhetoric has been tough … it’s not enough given the egregious scope of abuses.”
Also on Wednesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed a statement issued by more than a dozen member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressing support for China’s policies in the XUAR, which it said “ignored widespread repression of the region’s Muslims.”
The Chinese government-promoted letter was issued in response to the joint statement from the 22 countries at the Human Rights Council last week.
“The Chinese government garnered the support of a dozen Muslim-majority countries to help whitewash its abysmal human rights record in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, HRW’s China director.
“Instead of joining with the many governments denouncing abuses against Xinjiang’s Muslims, these countries have joined Beijing’s repugnant counter narrative.”
HRW noted that the 57-country OIC “has largely remained silent and at times applauded China’s efforts in recent months,” including by praising the government’s work in “providing care to its Muslim citizens,” and saying in March that it “look[ed] forward to further cooperation” with China.
Delegates from the Islamic body also took part in what HRW called a “highly controlled, state-managed” diplomatic visit to the XUAR without criticizing any of the government’s rights violations, although it has been vocal in condemning abuses and demanding accountability for the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
HRW urged OIC nations to sign the joint statement issued by the 22 nations at the Human Rights Council before the July 26 deadline.
“China’s repressive Xinjiang campaign has put the OIC’s credibility on the line,” Richardson said.
“If the OIC wants to be the global voice for the rights of oppressed Muslims everywhere, its members need to stop looking the other way and denounce China’s abusive policies in Xinjiang.”