This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Legislation introduced in Congress this week would provide new tools to hold Beijing accountable for its persecution of ethnic Uyghurs, including through the appointment of an expert on human rights violations in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
The Uyghur Policy Act of 2021, which was introduced by U.S. Representative Young Kim of California, passed the House in a 407-17 vote on Thursday. It calls for the State Department to appoint a Special Coordinator for Uyghur Issues, would require Uyghur language training for foreign service officers, and would see a Uyghur-fluent officer assigned to a U.S. diplomatic and consular mission in China.
If passed by the Senate, it would also see the U.S. government develop a strategy with like-minded nations to pressure China to close its system of internment camps that are believed to have held some 1.8 million Uyghurs since 2017. The camps are part of a series of harsh government campaigns that China says are necessary to fight extremism and terrorism in the region, home to 12 million members of the ethnic group.
It would also allocate additional funding for U.S. soft power efforts, including reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, which Washington and the parliaments of some Western countries have said amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.
In introducing the bill, Kim described it as necessary to “address several shortcomings” in Washington’s response to rights abuses in the region, which she said include the subjecting of Uyghurs to forced sterilization, forced labor, brainwashing, and sexual violence.
“We must act now to leverage the U.S. soft power, garner international support for Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and equip the State Department with the tools it needs to better respond to Xi Jinping’s genocidal campaign,” said the lawmaker, who serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added her voice in support of the legislation, which she called “a strong step in our continued work to counter the genocide of the Uyghur people.”
“This Congress remains bipartisan, bicameral, unbreakable in our commitment to shining a bright light on the persecution of the Uyghurs,” she said.
“With this legislation, we send a powerful signal to the Uyghur people: America sees you, we stand with you and we’re fighting with you. And we send a resounding message to Beijing: this genocide must end now.”
The bill, which had 50 bipartisan cosponsors, passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2021.
‘A matter of urgency’
Speaking to RFA Uyghur, Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, welcomed the bill, calling the situation in Xinjiang “a matter of urgency, conscience, freedom and the future.”
“The world owes it to the Uyghur people to stop this genocide and hold these persecutors to account so that we can prevent atrocities that bad actors might commit on vulnerable ethno-religious groups like the Uyghurs,” he said.
The Uyghur Policy Act is the fifth piece of legislation to be introduced in Congress in support of the Uyghur people.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act were signed into law in 2020 and 2021, while the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act and the Resolution Condemning the Ongoing Genocide Against Uyghurs were passed in the House last year.