US Lawmakers and UN Panel Sound Alarm on China’s Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang

August 30, 2018 Updated: August 30, 2018

WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of 15 U.S. lawmakers on Aug. 29 urged the U.S. administration to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses of minority Muslims in Xinjiang, saying the region was being turned into a “high-tech police state.”

The group, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Executive Commission on China, made the call in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang were “being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored,” said the letter.

The letter, signed by nine Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent, called for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against senior Chinese Communist Party officials overseeing the policies, including Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo, and for other measures to be considered.

The Magnitsky Act was originally designed to target Russian human rights violators, but has been expanded to allow sanctions for abuses anywhere in the world.

“The Chinese government is creating a high-tech police state in [Xinjiang] that is both a gross violation of privacy and international human rights,” the letter said.

A U.N. human rights panel this month said it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs in China were held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The U.S. lawmakers’ letter called for “a tough, targeted, and global response.”

It added, “No Chinese official or business complicit in what is happening … should profit from access to the United States or the U.S. financial system.”

The U.S. State Department has said it is deeply troubled by Beijing’s crackdown in Xinjiang, but has declined to comment on the possibility of future sanctions on Chen and others.

Critics have said the security and surveillance in Xinjiang have created near martial law conditions, with police checkpoints, re-education centers, and mass DNA collection.

United Nations

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also voiced alarm on Aug. 30 over the political re-education camps, calling for the immediate release of those detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism.”

Its findings were issued after a two-day review of China’s record, the first since 2009, earlier this month.

The panel decried China’s “broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism in Chinese legislation.” This could be used against those peacefully exercising their rights and facilitate “criminal profiling” of ethnic and religious minorities, including Uyghurs, Buddhist Tibetans, and Mongolians, it said.

In its conclusions, the panel said it was alarmed by “numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.”

By David Brunnstrom, Philip Wen, and Cecile Mantovani