Uyghur rights advocates gather at US Capitol to urge for awareness, legislation

2 Min
Uyghur rights advocates gather at US Capitol to urge for awareness, legislation

On a crisp Saturday afternoon in February, dozens of rights advocates, which included Uyghur human rights activists and their allies, gathered in front of the US Capitol to raise awareness of the Uyghurs’ plight in China and encourage the passage of bills to support the community.

One by one, on a temporary outdoor stage with the Uyghur flag and a sign reading Stop Uyghur Genocide, speakers argued for more awareness and stronger legislation to protect Uyghurs.

“We urge the US government and Congress to take further action to hold China accountable for its genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Uyghur activist Elfidar Iltebir, president of the Uyghur American Association, standing with the white Dome of the Capitol behind her.

“We would like to see a full bipartisan effort to pass current Uyghur bills in the 118th Congress so we can continue to press the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to stop the Uyghur genocide and release innocent people from the camps,” she said, referring to the Uyghur Policy Act and Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act.

In light of revelations over the past several years of mass detention and forced labour of China’s predominantly Muslim Uyghur community, US Congress has passed over the past couple of years the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in 2020 as well as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in 2021.

The previous legislation was passed with bipartisan support, which the current bills are also expected to receive. Another piece of legislation that could be introduced next week is to do with organ harvesting, said Piero Tozzi, a congressional staff for Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.

“When I was a college student back in the day, South African divestment was the big thing, and it can really make a difference,” Tozzi told the crowd, many of them student organisers. China’s actions are increasingly being referred to as genocide, a term used in the US State Department’s 2020 human rights report, noting extreme conditions the detainees are subjected to and the state of fear they and their families often live under.

At Saturday’s event, speakers advocated for the passage of further legislation, including the Uyghur Policy Act and Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act, which would prioritise refugees from the Xinjiang region for special humanitarian concern.

“There are European conflicts at the forefront,” Suha Khan, a student at Cornell University and an organiser of the event, told The New Arab, noting that the Chinese government’s policies against the Uyghurs started years before the war in Ukraine. “They’re at risk of their families being hurt.”

  • Report in The New Arab, February 12, 2023