US Senate set to vote bill targeting Chinese officials over Uyghur abuses

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A senior US senator have announced that the chamber is likely to vote for the approval of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would allow sanctions against officials deemed responsible for rights violations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday the bill would call on the Trump administration to toughen its response to China’s crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority groups.

McConnell said the bipartisan bill introduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio would sanction “those responsible for the repression,” such as XUAR Communist Party Chairman Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

“I expect the Senate will soon look to pass Senator Rubio’s Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act,” McConnell told the Senate.

The vote could come as soon as next week but might still be delayed. The Senate ended its weekly session on Thursday and reconvenes on Monday.

Since April 2017, authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harbouring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” in some 1,300 internment camps throughout the region.

While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China last year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities.

Among those who have called for Beijing to shut down its camp system and end other rights violations in the region are U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and several high-ranking lawmakers.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a version of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would also target entities involved in the construction and operation of the camps, in late 2019.

Amid pressure from the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the European Union and the United Nations, experts believe that China has begun sentencing those held in internment camps to prison as part of a bid to legitimize their continued detention, or relocating them to factories both inside and outside of the XUAR as forced labour, under the guise of providing them jobs connected to their so-called vocational training.

Reports that the Senate could move forward with the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act come amidst increasingly tense ties between Washington and Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic and the latter’s transparency in dealing with the outbreak that originated in Hubei province’s Wuhan city late last year.

China has slammed moves to pass legislation in support of the Uyghurs as interference and warned of retaliation “in proportion” if Chen were targeted. (Source: RFA)

 

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