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US lawmakers form Uyghur caucus to address rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang

Demonstration for the rights of the Uyghurs. (Leonhard Lenz/WikiCommons)
August 01, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives formed a Uyghur Caucus on Thursday to highlight the Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The caucus led by Reps. Tom Suozzi and Chris Smith also will support legislation aimed at addressing the human rights abuses, including the detention of about 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps, torture of inmates, sexual assaults, forced sterilization of women, and the use of forced Uyghur labor, and efforts to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion.

“Put simply, we’re talking about the largest coordinated human rights abuse campaign of the 21st century being perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party,” Suozzi said in a statement. “Not only as Members of Congress, but as human beings we have a responsibility to uphold the values of fundamental human dignity and religious freedom abroad.”

Smith, a veteran lawmaker who for decades has criticized Beijing over its human rights record, said the U.S. must speak out on egregious abuses being perpetrated against the Uyghurs and others in northwestern China, which have been well-documented by rights organizations, international media, and the United Nations.

“The United States cannot be silent as [Chinese President] Xi Jinping tortures and seeks to eradicate an entire population,” he said in the statement. “In solidarity with the oppressed, the Uyghur Caucus will call attention to the Communist Chinese government’s atrocious human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and work to end one of the world’s worst human rights tragedies.”

In January, the U.S. State Department determined that the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the XUAR constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese government to the announcement about the Uygur Caucus.

Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs, hailed the creation of the caucus.

“Day after day, we are faced with new horrors coming out of East Turkistan,” she said in a statement on Thursday, using the name for the XUAR that Uyghurs prefer. “These atrocities, this genocide, require a response that is proportional to its depravity.”

“With this caucus, we now have a way to organize our allies in the United States and turn activism into concrete policy actions that address this unspeakable crime,” Abbas said. “Together, we will see this genocide ended, and those responsible brought to justice.”

The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) also welcomed the development.

“This is such a welcomed initiative, and it comes at an opportune time when Uyghurs most need strong allies to restore their freedoms, and end the Uyghur genocide,” said WUC president Dolkun Isa in a statement.

The Uyghur Caucus joins other such caucuses — groups where U.S. lawmakers meet to pursue common legislative objectives — focusing on ethnic minorities or people living in territories that are repressed or targeted by China.

A bipartisan Congressional Taiwan Caucus set up in April 2002 has 139 members and is focused on enhancing and strengthening U.S.-Taiwan relations and ensuring that Taiwan remains democratic. Its counterpart in the Senate was established in September 2003 and has 24 members.

Smith created a Congressional Hong Kong Caucus in September 2014 to monitor China’s actions in the territory where at the time pro-democracy activists held massive street demonstrations clamoring for free elections.

Two former Congressmen formed a Congressional Tibet Caucus in 2009 to draw attention to the Chinese government’s policies there and to mobilize support for the Dalai Lama, Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader.

Neither of those groups appear to be active, but the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, now takes up rights issues concerning Uyghurs in the XUAR, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

The 17-member bipartisan, bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (ECCC), an independent agency of the U.S. government, also monitors human rights and rule of law developments in China.