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May 20, 2020

US Senate passes Uyghur human rights bill

The US Senate has unanimously voted to create a law that imposes sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.

By Hannah Abdulla

The US Senate has unanimously voted to create a law that imposes sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The bill was introduced by Senator Marco Rubio and condemns the internment of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China. It also calls for the closure of the camps where they are being held and requires US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on and revoke the visas of any officials found to be responsible for the oppression of the Uyghurs.

A statement published on Rubio’s website said the bill is an important step in countering the “totalitarian Chinese government’s widespread and horrific human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, including the mass internment of more than one million Uyghurs and other predominantly ethnic Turkic Muslims.”

“The Chinese Government and Communist Party’s systematic, ongoing efforts to wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is horrific and will be a stain on humanity should we refuse to act,” Rubio said. “I thank my Senate colleagues for working together to send a clear message to Chinese officials responsible for egregious human rights abuses committed against the Uyghurs that they will be held accountable. I urge the House to act swiftly so that this important, bipartisan bill can be signed into law without any further delay.”

Senator Rob Menendez added: “Today’s action by the Senate sends a clear message that the United States will not be distracted and will not stand by as millions of Uyghur Muslims continue to be unjustly imprisoned, subjected to a mass surveillance state, and forced into labor camps by Beijing’s autocratic regime. Enactment of this legislation to provide justice for the Uyghur people and others subject to China’s gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity is long overdue. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House as they take action on this legislation as well, and to getting a bill on the president’s desk soon.”

In March, a study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) alleged more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang between 2017-19 to work in factories including ones making garments and footwear. 

Following this, a coalition of trade bodies representing US apparel and footwear brands and retailers called on the US government to help find a solution that protects the right of workers and the integrity of global supply chains, leading to US lawmakers proposing legislation to ban goods made with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region from entering the country.  

Later that month, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) said it was suspending its activities in Xinjiang on the back of concerns over the prevalence of labour abuses in the region. 

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