Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2018 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Legislation could help advance religious freedom and human rights in China’s far western province of Xinjiang, say U.S. lawmakers concerned about the treatment of the region’s Uyghur minority.
“The United States must hold accountable officials in the Chinese government and Communist Party responsible for gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in ‘political re-education’ camps of as many as a million Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said.
The bill will signal “that we will not tolerate Chinese government intrusions on American soil,” said the senator.
The bill calls for the immediate closure of reported internment camps in Xinjiang. It asks the FBI to report on harassment and intimidation of ethnic Uyghurs. It calls for the State Department to report on the scale and scope of the reported crackdown.
It also advocates the full implementation of the Frank R. Wolf Religious Freedom Act, which ensures U.S. foreign policy commitments to international religious freedom. It calls for targeted sanctions to be considered against individual human rights abusers in Chinese government, the ruling Communist Party, and in state security.
Following a two-day review of China’s record in August, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has said that up to 1 million Uyghurs could be currently held against their will and without trial in extra-legal detention, on the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.
Rubio and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate on Nov. 14. U.S. Rep Chris Smith, (R-N.J.), introduced the House version of the bill with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.)
“The internment of over a million Uighurs and other Muslims in China is a staggering evil and should be treated by the international community as a crime against humanity,” said Smith. “The Chinese government’s creation of a vast system of what can only be called concentration camps cannot be tolerated in the 21st century.”
A high-tech security network has been set up in Xinjian, with many police checkpoints and surveillance cameras, the Washington Post reports.
On Nov. 6 China rejected a U.N. review that criticized its human rights record in Xinjian. It has repeatedly characterized the region as a place recovering from extremism, saying it is stabilizing the area with training centers that help train former extremists for employable skills.
Chinese officials have claimed that the criticism of its human rights record is “politically driven.” They have said Islamist militants and separatists are a serious threat in the far western Xinjiang province and charge that they plot attacks and create tension between the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority and the Han Chinese majority, Reuters has reported.
Several countries have asked China to allow independent U.N. observers into the region, without success.
Smith said the legislation gives the Trump administration “the tools to take a firm stand against Beijing’s plans to erase the religious identity, culture, and language of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s western province.”
He said that U.S. businesses should be barred from “helping China create a high-tech police state” in the province.
“The situation in Xinjiang and China’s treatment of its Uighur Minority is beyond abhorrent,” added Menendez. “The President needs to have a clear and consistent approach to China, and not turn a blind eye as a million Muslims are unjustly imprisoned and forced into labor camps by an autocratic regime.”
In addition to the U.S., several western countries have criticized the camps and called for them to be closed: the U.K., Canada, France and Germany.
On Oct. 10 the Congressional-Executive Commission on China emphasized what it called “the dire human rights situation inside China and the continued downward trajectory by virtually every measure,” since Xi Jinping came to power as general secretary of the Communist Party and now its president.
Rubio chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and Smith is its co-chair. The commission was created in 2000 to monitor human rights and rule of law developments in China.