Uyghur groups are quietly frustrated with slow action by the president and Congress against the Uyghur genocide, as the government appears unable to override business interests bent on appeasing China. The Chinese Communist Party-led government detained, for reeducation, forced sterilization, and forced labor, approximately 2 million Uyghurs over the past years in what amounts to genocide in China’s Xinjiang region (East Turkistan).
Four months into his term, President Biden is noncompliant with a key U.S. law, enacted on June 17, that requires the President to produce a report that lists individual foreign human rights violators against the Uyghurs. The report must by law have been delivered to Congress within six months of the law’s enactment, by Dec. 15, 2020. That report is now over five months late, as are comprehensive sanctions against identified perpetrators that must by law immediately follow.
Louisa Greve, Director of Global Advocacy for the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), wrote by email that “Uyghurs are now suffering the 5th year of ongoing atrocity crimes. The deadline for the President’s Magnitsky sanctions list passed 5 months ago (under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020). It’s past time for Congress to step up with concrete action.”
She believes that it is Congress’ responsibility to hold the president accountable for not complying with the reporting and sanctioning requirements in the law.
Greve was also critical of the new China omnibus bill that could pass the Senate as early as this week or next. “Any serious bills addressing China’s threats to a rules-based international order need more forceful action on the genocide against Uyghurs,” she said.
The omnibus, shepherded through Congress by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), omits key bills on the Uyghurs, including the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act. The latter designates Uyghurs who are subject to forced return to China (refoulement) as priority refugees. Also missing is the “Uyghur Stop Oppressive Sterilizations Act.” That bill is being introduced by Representatives Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.).
According to one source, the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act was stripped from Schumer’s omnibus. Two sources, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about retaliation, claim that the failure to include stronger language on Uyghurs in the upcoming omnibus is the result of corporate influence on the Democratic leadership, including a leading Democratic senator, and obstructionism from the U.S. Treasury Department. Republicans, one Republican source wrote, are trying to coax a tougher stand in the omnibus bill from the Democrats. A few Democratic lawmakers are also pushing for stronger language, he wrote.
Earlier this month, Nury Turkel, U.S. Commissioner on International Religious Freedom, called for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act to be passed. He denounced, to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, the “lackluster international response” to rights abuse in Xinjiang. He said, “I want to emphasize that genocide denial is in full swing.”
Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, wrote of the China bill, “It is very encouraging to see that more actions are being taken and to welcome omnibus bills like this. However, as an Uyghur American whose own sister has been detained by the Chinese regime, I would have liked to see the issue of Uyghur forced labor included.”
The China bill effectively excludes measures against Uyghur forced labor as the sparse language it does include duplicates measures found in existing vehicles such as the Magnitsky Act.
Abbas said, “While prioritizing strategic competition and addressing malign activities by the Chinese State is very important to the Uyghur American community to protect our democracy from this barbaric regime, we must also recognize that addressing U.S. corporate complicity in genocide should be equally prioritized. Highlighting the prevention of modern-day Uyghur slavery should be vital.”
Congress and the Biden Administration, especially the Treasury Department, are reportedly beholden to corporate special interests that do business in China. The same was arguably true of the Trump administration and Republican-controlled 115th Congress. The following congress, split between a Republican Senate and Democratic House, was also affected, according to a November 2020 New York Times report. It found that “Business groups and major companies like Apple have been pressing Congress to alter legislation cracking down on imports of goods made with forced labor from persecuted Muslim minorities in China.” The Times noted that Nike and Coca-Cola allegedly sought to weaken the legislation, and cited the Congressional-Executive Commission on China as listing Adidas, Calvin Klein, Costco, H&M, Campbell Soup, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfiger as having suspected ties to forced labor in Xinjiang.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 was sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Senator Rubio, Senator Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Julie Millsap, director of public affairs and advocacy, Campaign for Uyghurs, wrote “We are pleased that the Endless Frontier Act includes some addressal of the ways in which Sister City partnerships can be used by the Chinese State to contribute to malign activities including activities relating to human rights abuses. As our organization has supported accountability for the ways in which programs like Sister City relationships are exploited by the Chinese regime, we will be happy to see reporting measures passed. Concurrently we hope that beyond investing in measures for the long-term that the United States will continue to take decisive action in the short-term to stop genocide and the use of Uyghur Forced Labor. We also would have hoped for more points to address the PRC’s coercion and threats used against Uyghurs in the United States. The CCP is seeking to stifle free speech here in the United States, and this ought [to] be of paramount concern.”
In Turkel’s congressional testimony, he called on the U.S. government to urge signatories to the 1949 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to uphold their obligations relative to Xinjiang. “Even without making a legal atrocity-crimes determination, Article I [of the convention] obligates states to take action to prevent an unfolding genocide,” he said. He called on the committee to “ensure that American Olympic athletes are not forced to compete in the shadow of concentration camps at the 2022 Olympics” and urged coordination “with like-minded countries” to relocate the Olympics away from China for the duration of human rights abuse in Xinjiang. Turkel appealed to the Government to decisively prevent U.S. corporations, including technology companies and universities, from cooperation with Chinese surveillance companies whose technology is used by the regime to monitor Uyghurs.
According to Greve, “It’s already illegal to ‘sell’ to 31 of these companies—the 31 tech companies on the ‘Entity’ list.” Greve, whose organization is in part funded by Congress, wrote that the UHRP appreciates that the Biden team recognized the genocide in August 2020, brought up the genocide in negotiations with China and the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States), imposed sanctions on March 22, and coordinated sanctions and supporting statements with the European Union, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. She also showed appreciation for the efforts of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), including Pelosi’s mobilization of support for prior Uyghur bills, and for proposing a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Greve noted, diplomatically, that the slow pace of the Senate is often true in American legislation. She wrote that President Donald Trump was also late, by 45 days when his term ended, in his reporting and sanction requirements per the Uyghur law of 2020.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, Section 6, requires that “Not later than 180 days [December 15, 2020] after the date of the enactment of this Act [June 17, 2020] … the President shall submit a report to [Congress] that identifies each foreign person, including any official of [China] that the President determines is responsible for … Torture … degrading treatment … disappearance … [etc.]” against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities and persons in Xinjiang. “The President shall impose … sanctions … with respect to each person identified in the report [including] Asset blocking [and] prohibit all transactions in property [and] ineligibility for visas …”.
Since 2004, Uyghur groups, including the UHRP and Campaign for Uyghurs, received just $8 million in largely U.S. government funding. This puts them in the unenviable position of being both financially dependent on a shoestring government budget, and forced by circumstances beyond their control to be critical of the government for its slow action on the Uyghur genocide.
The work of Uyghur advocates is essential to keeping the public informed and true to American principles, and these groups should be excused if they feel slightly frazzled and under-resourced. Their work is critical to the defense of not only Uyghurs, but the ideas of freedom and liberty that form the foundation of American democracy. Upcoming China bills should increase their funding tenfold to maximize their important international advocacy.
Confronted by the government’s inadequate action, American and other Uyghurs should be disappointed, if not enraged. The United States, in addition to China, is the most powerful country in the world. The Democrats have control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House. It is now their responsibility to stop the genocide, and they are failing due to special interests. To end the genocide, citizens must turn their anger into constructive action. Strengthen the spines of our democratically-elected representatives by removing the corporate influence on politicians that so determines their inaction against the China threat.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.