U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week that she supported legislation that seeks accountability for China’s harsh crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs that has landed some 1.5 million residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in internment camps.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which requires endorsement by the full U.S. Senate and ratification by the House of Representatives, 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. It cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 22.
“I don’t know what the status is right now, but we’re moving in a positive direction,” Pelosi told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Tuesday on the sidelines of a congressional event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre.
Passage of the bill is “what we’re working for, because it’s a grave injustice,” she added.
Up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been held since April 2017. Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets has shown that those in the camps routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions.
“It’s very sad and I call upon the rest of the world to speak out (over) the arrest of the Muslim people in China,” said Pelosi.
“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.”
The bill provides a catalog of documented mistreatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims that precedes the detention camps.
The legislation requires U.S. intelligence agencies to report to Congress on the “regional security threat posed by the crackdown and the frequency with which Central Asian countries are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and asylum seekers,” as well as a list of Chinese companies involved in building and running the camps.
Global Magnitsky Act being discussed
It requires an FBI report on efforts to protect U.S. citizens and residents, including Uyghurs from “Chinese government harassment and intimidation on American soil” and a report from the U.S. Agency for Global Media on Chinese efforts to intimidate Radio Free Asia employees and the reach of U.S. broadcasting to Xinjiang.
Among those in custody in Xinjiang are dozens of family members of RFA Uyghur Service reporters.
A related effort by U.S. lawmakers, unveiled in April, calls for the imposition of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions on XUAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and other Chinese officials “complicit in gross human rights abuses” against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The Global Magnitsky Act is based on an earlier U.S. measure created to address human rights abuses by the Putin regime in Russia by imposing sanctions on officials involved in the abuses.
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told RFA on Wednesday that “there are discussions taking place on that right now, and the United States doesn’t announce its position until it’s taken.”
“I can’t announce a position one way or another what’s happening, but when the United States takes action, the world will know,” he said in an interview.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.5 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equivalent to just under 1 in 6 members of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR—after initially putting the number at 1.1 million.
Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department's human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, said in March that people "haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s" and called the internment of more than a million Uyghurs "one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today."
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Reported by Mamatjan Juma and Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written by Paul Eckert.