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Justice for the Uyghurs: What the US Can Do

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Justice for the Uyghurs: What the US Can Do

The U.S. can take some immediate, common-sense steps holding the CCP accountable for its transnational repression and offering effective humanitarian assistance for the Uyghurs.

Justice for the Uyghurs: What the US Can Do

A pair of shoes sits near an outdoor prayer area at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as seen during a government organized visit for foreign journalists on April 19, 2021.

Credit: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

During the public launch of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new report last week on the creeping destruction of the Uyghur community in China, Radio Free Asia journalist Gulchehra Hoja called on the “the international community to break the silence… not just about a Uyghur tragedy, but about a human tragedy.” The report affirms that this is not simply a moral imperative, but a legal one. According to the Holocaust Museum, the comprehensive evidence “triggers the legal obligation, binding on all states, to take appropriate action to prevent or halt genocide [and]… to protect victims of genocide and crimes against humanity.” The report builds on a growing number of expert reports and government declarations finding that the mass atrocities against the Uyghurs — including the mass internment, forced sterilization, and separation of families — amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Over the past year, China’s Foreign Ministry has increasingly hosted faux press conferences in a panicked reaction to the mountains of evidence corroborating the government’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. During these conferences, authorities smear victims and survivors, who have courageously borne witness, and attempt to intimidate them into silence by showcasing videos of family members’ forced confessions and statements. During a press conference in April 2021, China’s Foreign Ministry produced one such video of Gulchehra Hoja’s immediate family condemning her behavior and claiming that life is “very good” and “normal” in Xinjiang. China’s Security Agency added that Hoja has been on China’s terrorist list since 2017.

The CCP uses the guise of counterterrorism to both perpetrate region-wide destructive crimes in Xinjiang and to silence journalists, media outlets, and organizations abroad dedicated to the documentation of those crimes, including victim accounts. Hoja is among eight RFA reporters whose relatives have been held in internment camps. The CCP arrested 25 of her relatives in Xinjiang — a story that is tragically not unique. The CCP’s attempts to condemn the World Uyghur Congress as an organization with a “violent, terrorist, and separatist agenda,” along with other prominent Uyghur rights organizations like Campaign for Uyghurs and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), are attempts to silence those working tirelessly to ensure the victims of its mass atrocity crimes are heard and not forgotten. According to a new report by UHRP and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, 96 percent of Uyghurs interviewed living in liberal democracies feel threatened. Most of them have faced digital risks, threats, and harassment.

The CCP has denied independent, unfettered, international access to the region for years, only allowing minimal state-guided visits, while actively covering up evidence and concealing recent Xinjiang prison and birth rate data from the public record (since 2018 and 2019-2020). But now, the CCP’s active disinformation campaign demonstrates the lengths to which the party is going to suppress reporting from abroad on the mass atrocities, by way of coercion, threats, and propaganda.

The U.S. can take the following immediate, common-sense steps toward securing accountability for the CCP’s transnational repression and effective humanitarian assistance for the Uyghurs, and ending U.S. complicity in the atrocities. 

First, the Biden administration should grant “Priority 2” status to fast-track Uyghur refugee applications to protect those Uyghurs living in fear around the world, after inexcusably admitting zero Uyghur refugees for the last two fiscal years. Congress should pass the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act in this regard. 

Second, the administration should do everything in its power to prevent other states from deporting Uyghurs to China. 

Third, the U.S. should act on the Biden administration’s warning that all supply chains connected to the Uyghur region carry a “high risk” of forced labor. To this end, Congress should pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a law creating a presumption that goods made in whole or in part in Xinjiang were made with forced labor and are therefore prohibited from entry into the United States. The bill has shamefully languished in Congress since March 2020, despite its bipartisan appeal (passing by a 403 vote margin in the House last year). 

Fourth, the administration should designate all officials responsible for the mass atrocities in Xinjiang with Magnitsky Sanctions, or visa bans and asset freezes. 

And finally, the administration should impose “Khashoggi bans” on those responsible, a visa restriction that is specifically designed for foreign officials engaged in repression abroad that seeks to “suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents.” These targeted sanctions tools are important for naming, shaming, and imposing real costs on the officials most responsible. 

The United States’ responses to the CCP’s atrocities at home and persecution of Uyghurs around the world who bravely raise their voices, like Gulchehra Hoja and her RFA colleagues, are the litmus tests for its commitment to addressing transnational repression and the Genocide Convention itself.