Trump signs Uighur Rights Act into law; calls for sanctions over Xinjiang abuses


President Donald Trump has signed into law the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, calling for sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the detention camps holding as many as 1.8 million members of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The law, which passed through Congress with near unanimous support, requires the US administration to identify Chinese officials responsible for the “arbitrary detention, torture and harassment” of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

The US would then move to freeze any assets held by those officials in its jurisdiction and ban their entry into the country.

In addition to condemning the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the three-year-old internment camp program, the new law requires regular monitoring of the situation in the region by U.S. government bodies for the application of sanctions. It also addresses Chinese government harassment of Uighurs living inside the United States.

“The Act holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labour, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uighurs and other minorities in China,” Trump said in a statement released by the Office of the White House Press Secretary after the signing.

The signing comes amid tense relations between the U.S. and China, with the Trump administration taking multiple jabs at Beijing in recent months for its lack of transparency in handling the coronavirus pandemic, trade policy, and expansive territorial claims.

The president has also said he would take steps to remove special trade status for Hong Kong and sanction both Mainland and Hong Kong officials, citing Beijing’s encroachment on the territory’s autonomy.

It also came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a closed-door meeting with China’s foreign policy chief, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii on Wednesday, marking the first high-level meeting between the two countries since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Moments before they entered talks, Pompeo and his counterparts from the other Group of Seven major industrial democracies put out a joint statement voicing “grave concerns” over China’s plans to proceed with a security law that would prohibit subversion and other perceived offenses in Hong Kong, and urging Beijing to “reconsider this decision.”

Trump’s signing of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act into law drew applause from the Uyghur exile community and others who have championed the rights of the Uyghur people.

Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress (WUC) exile group, welcomed the new law.

“This is the greatest gift and hope given to the Uighur people at a time when China is committing crimes against humanity in East Turkestan,” he told RFA’s Uighur Service, using the name preferred by Uighurs for their homeland.

While China’s government has yet to officially comment on Trump’s signing of the act, Beijing had earlier slammed Congress for approving the bill after the House of Representatives’ May 27 vote of 413-1 to pass it and send it to the president’s desk.

“The relevant act of the U.S. Congress criticizes Xinjiang’s human rights situation and China’s Xinjiang policy without cause, blatantly smears China’s counterterrorism and deradicalization measures and seriously interferes in China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing at the time.

“China deplores and firmly opposes this. Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.”

Beijing has previously warned of retaliation “in proportion” if Chen Quanguo were targeted as part of legislation in support of the Uyghurs.

Congress may also soon deliberate new legislation which would prohibit imports from the XUAR to the U.S. amid growing evidence that internment camps in the region have increasingly transitioned from political indoctrination to forced labour, with detainees being sent to work in cotton and textile factories.

The Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act, introduced in March, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labour. (Source: RFA)