Oct 27, 2020 - World

Senators introduce bipartisan resolution to label Xinjiang abuses "genocide"

Marco Rubio
Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

A cadre of bipartisan senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday to formally label the Chinese government's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang as "genocide."

Why it matters: China has faced global backlash for its repression in Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to surveillance, torture and detention in mass "re-education" camps. But genocide is a serious crime under international law, and the U.S. invokes the formal label only in rare cases.

The state of play: Though China's government has denied claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang — defending the camps as vocational centers that teach skills to prevent the allure of Islamic radicalism — reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees reveal a sweeping campaign of repression.

  • The new bill refers to the estimated 1 million-plus Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minorities in camps who were "forcibly transferred" out of Xinjiang to work in factories between 2017 and 2019.
  • A Canadian parliamentary committee concluded last week that China's population controls and other measures designed to eradicate Uighur culture amount to a policy of genocide, prompting a furious response by Beijing.

What to watch: If the Senate adopts the term "genocide," it will likely elevate tensions with China to a new level and escalate legal consequences in the U.S. and abroad.

Between the lines: The Biden campaign used “genocide” to refer to the Chinese government’s oppression back in August, saying the Democratic nominee “stands against it in the strongest terms.”

  • At the time, the White House was considering formally labeling it a genocide, but it has not yet taken the drastic step.
  • The Trump administration has, however, imposed a series of sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in the detention camps and it's designated companies that allegedly use Chinese forced labor to export blacklists.

What they’re saying: “As evidence is mounting of the Chinese government and Communist Party’s heinous crimes against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, we must be clear about the nature of these atrocities,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who introduced the resolution along with Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

  • “Stopping a genocide is consistent with our national security and our values, and it starts by standing up and speaking the truth," Menendez added. "I hope that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo will join us in calling this genocide by its name and responding to it with our partners in the international community.”
  • The UN defines genocide to include actions including killing, preventing births "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Go deeper: More countries join UN condemnation of China over Xinjiang abuses

Go deeper