WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today voted with strong bipartisan support to pass a provision authored by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley to consider sanctions on individuals responsible for horrific human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in China. Merkley, who sits on the committee, inserted the provision—requiring the Trump Administration to consider Global Magnitsky Act sanctions unless China allows independent human rights inspectors unimpeded access to investigate on the ground—into a broader package addressing the Uyghur human rights crisis.
“There is no human right more fundamental than the right to your own identity and history,” said Merkley. “The escalating surveillance, imprisonment, torture, and forced ‘re-education camps’ that China’s Uyghur Muslims are being subjected to are appalling human rights violations, depriving millions of people of their liberty and trying to strip an entire community of their culture and their past. It’s time for the U.S. to take a strong stand in the face of these violations, starting with a formal determination on sanctions against those responsible.”
In recent years, China has dramatically escalated a crackdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minority populations in the Xinjiang province of northwest China. In addition to intensive surveillance, forcible relocation, and restrictions on religious and linguistic practices, an estimated one to two million Chinese Muslims have been arbitrarily detained and placed in “re-education camps.”
Merkley’s provision would require the Secretary of State to submit a report within 90 days determining whether the individuals responsible for these human rights violations meet the criteria for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, unless the Chinese government allows international human rights organizations independent, unrestricted, and unsupervised access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to investigate these abuses.
Merkley’s provision was inserted into a broader bill, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which Sen. Merkley has cosponsored on a bipartisan basis along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and others. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act would recommend the appointment of a U.S. Special Coordinator for Xinjiang; support efforts by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to receive unfettered access; press the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. goods and services to state agents in Xinjiang; and explore establishing a voluntary database of missing people, among other provisions.
After being passed by the committee today, the package now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Since joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2017, Sen. Merkley has used his position to highlight humanitarian issues and combat human rights abuses around the globe. In November 2017, Merkley led the first congressional delegation to Burma and Bangladesh to investigate the atrocities against the Rohingya minority in Burma and meet with refugees in Bangladesh. In 2018, he conducted a fact-finding mission to examine root causes and responses to famines in several regions of Africa. Merkley also has been a leading voice in calling out Saudi human rights abuses at home and abroad, and has used his position to push for humane and dignified treatment of refugees and asylum seekers within the U.S. and around the world.