Lawmakers, rights lawyer urge additional pressure on China to end Uyghur repression


The call comes as politicians and religious leaders attend a religious freedom summit in Washington.

Lawmakers, rights lawyer urge additional pressure on China to end Uyghur repression

Speakers take the stage to participate in a panel discussion at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, DC, Jan. 31, 2023.

The United States must ramp up pressure on the Chinese government to stop the severe repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and do more to enforce recent laws passed by U.S. lawmakers addressing the forced labor of the predominantly Muslim minority group, two U.S. congressmen and a human rights lawyer told RFA.

The comments were made Tuesday on the sidelines of the two-day International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., where politicians, religious leaders, and human rights advocates gathered to draw attention to global religious persecution.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States should “confront” Beijing over its human rights violations in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  

“We have to do everything in our power to try to confront the Chinese Communist Party,” he told RFA. “It’s not the people of China. It’s the government committing genocide.”

The U.S. government and the parliaments of nine Western countries have deemed China’s mistreatment of the Uyghurs a genocide and crimes against humanity. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said in an August 2022 report that “serious human rights violations” committed in Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity. 

“It’s unconscionable and it must be stopped, and the oppression, the torture, the slave labor,” McCaul added.

In 2021, McCaul introduced a resolution condemning the treatment of Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups by China. The measure was overwhelmingly adopted by lawmakers.

Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and followers of Christian sects have seen their right to worship eroded and controlled in recent years by Chinese authorities who say religious extremism threatens the country’s stability and national security. 

Though Chinese authorities have persecuted Uyghurs for decades, in 2017 they began detaining Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang in a network of “re-education” camps they said to prevent terrorism and religious extremism in the restive region. Other reported human rights violations included torture, sexual assault, forced abortions and the sterilization of Uyghur woman, and forced labor.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, said it was necessary for the U.S. to ensure the full implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which he introduced in the House in December 2021.

The act, which was signed into law that same month, strengthens an existing ban on the importation into the United States of goods made wholly or in part with Uyghur forced labor. It requires American companies that import goods from Xinjiang to prove that they have not been manufactured at any stage with Uyghur forced labor.

“First of all, we need to make sure that the bill is fully implemented, and we also need to encourage countries around the world to do the same thing,” he told RFA on Tuesday. “To the extent that there’s a global effort to hold China to account, it is more effective. We want the genocide to stop. 

Naomi Kikoler, human rights attorney and director Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, called for consistent action against China, given what she called Beijing’s deftness at sidestepping real international scrutiny.

“We need to be seen front and center in every conversation with the Chinese government so that the issue of the Uyghur people is being raised,” she told RFA.

In the meantime, U.S. lawmakers are passing additional legislation to hold China to account.

The Uyghur Policy Act of 2021, introduced by U.S. Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) and which passed the House in a 407-17 vote in December 2022, calls for the State Department to appoint a Special Coordinator for Uyghur Issues. It also requires Uyghur-language training for foreign service officers, and the appointment of a Uyghur-fluent officer assigned to a U.S. diplomatic and consular mission in China.

Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.

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