Senate approves Uyghur human rights bill
Posted May 13, 2020 1:15 p.m. EDT
Updated May 14, 2020 4:58 p.m. EDT
CNN — The Senate on Thursday afternoon approved a bill to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for forced labor camps in the region of Xinjiang, where up to 2 million ethnic Muslims have been forcibly detained, in the latest congressional move to strengthen the US stance toward China.
The legislation condemns the Chinese Communist Party for the camps and recommends a tougher response to the human rights abuses suffered by Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The bill would also require the State Department to assemble a report on human rights violations in Xinjiang. The State Department currently details the abuses in its annual Human Rights and International Religious Freedom reports.
Members of the House overwhelmingly passed an amended version of the bill last December, with a vote of 407-1. The Senate's passage of the legislation is certain to invoke Beijing's ire -- the Chinese government reacted with fury to the House version, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying saying it "wantonly smeared" what China claims are counterterrorism efforts.
Senators had hoped to approve the legislation by the end of 2019, but Republicans took issue with some of the provisions the House had added to the measure. The matter was also put on hold during impeachment proceedings. The House will have to vote again on the legislation now that the Senate has passed its version, sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
In floor remarks last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell connected the Senate's movement on the legislation to the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the United States "is going to be asking tough questions about our relationship with the Chinese Communist Party."
The Kentucky Republican added that he expects the Senate's passage of the Uyghur human rights bill to bring "more attention to the plight of this mistreated minority."
The bill passed under unanimous consent, a process used for expedited passage of uncontroversial legislation.
The action comes as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to advance another bill soon that is seen as a rebuke to the Chinese government.
The Tibetan Policy and Support Act, introduced by Rubio and Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, would make it US policy that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, be left solely to the Tibetan Buddhist community, without interference from the Chinese government. Once it has been approved in committee, the measure will be able to go to the full floor for consideration.
Under the legislation, if Chinese officials interfere in the process of selecting Tibetan Buddhist leaders, they would be subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act -- including denial of entry into the United States. The measure also calls for the creation of a new US consulate in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Lawmakers in the House approved a similar bill in January. There are some small differences between the House and Senate measures, so the House will have to vote on the Senate bill once it has passed before it can become law.
This story has been updated with the Senate's passage of the Uyghur legislation Thursday.