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Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act Passes House and Senate. Next Stop: Trump’s Desk

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in favor of sanctioning Chinese government officials behind interment camps in Xinjiang, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslim groups have been forcibly detained as part of a wider campaign against ethnic minorities in the country.

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, the first legislation passed in response to the humanitarian crisis in the region, condemns the Chinese Communist Party for the “gross human rights violations” of ethnic Turkic Muslims, calls for an end to the “arbitrary detention, torture and harassment” of these communities, and proposes targeted sanctions and visa restrictions against offending individuals.

The Senate approved the bill two weeks ago; next, it will be up to President Trump to sign into law. (He told reporters Tuesday that he is “taking a look at it very strongly,” though he stopped short of saying whether he will sign it.)

Per the legislation, the White House will have 180 days to submit a report to Congress identifying Chinese officials and “individuals acting on their behalf” who commit torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, prolonged detention without charges or trial, abduction or clandestine detention and “other flagrant denial of the rights to life, liberty or the security” of people in Xinjiang.

Those individuals would then be subject to sanctions, including the blocking of assets, visa ineligibility or revocation and fines and other penalties under section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

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The bill also calls for the Department of State to compile a report of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including an assessment of the number of detained individuals and the conditions they face, such as methods of torture and other efforts to force detainees to renounce their faith.

“The House and Senate have shown true global leadership,” Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Humans Rights Project, said in a statement. “This is a signal to the entire world that now is the time to take action to end the Chinese government’s atrocities in East Turkestan.”

A report published by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in March detailed the Chinese government’s “far-reaching system” of forced labor in Xinjiang, as well as the widespread human-rights abuses—both within and outside these internment camps—that deserve a “concerted response” from the U.S. government and the international community.

The report also cast “credible” suspicion on a number of leading brands and retailers, including Adidas, Calvin Klein, Esquel Group, Esprit, H&M, Nike, Patagonia and Tommy Hilfiger, of either directly or indirectly employing forced labor, though all have either denied allegations or declined to comment.

“For far too long the Chinese Communist Party has gotten away with the systematic use of forced labor by Uyghur Muslims and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the commission, said at the time. “While the U.S. Government should take all precautionary measures to ensure that goods made in [Xinjiang] don’t enter our market, companies have a moral duty and responsibility to prove that their sourced products have been produced without forced labor.”

In March, the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Footwear Distributors & Retailer Association jointly decried allegations of forced labor ensnaring ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

“As an industry representing brands and retailers, we do not tolerate forced labor in our supply chains,” they said. “We work together to identify and eliminate forced labor, and conditions that can lead to forced labor, in the countries from which we source products. The industry continues to evolve and improve our existing approaches to identify, detect and address risks of forced labor in our supply chains. We actively engage countries all over the world to advance respect for human rights.”