WASHINGTON – The Uyghur Policy Act is one of Congress’s newest efforts aimed at fighting China’s oppression of the Uyghur people. The bill has passed in the House of Representatives, and activists are urging the Senate to act quickly on the legislation. 

What is the bill?

The Uyghur Policy Act, introduced by Rep. Young Kim (D-Calif.), is aimed at responding to reports of detention, sterilization and cultural erasure of the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group from northwest China. 

“Chinese authorities have made use of the legal system as a tool of repression, including for the imposition of arbitrary detentions and for torture against members of the Uyghur and other populations,” the bill states. 

What policy changes would it make?

The Uyghur Policy Act seeks to use U.S. resources and agencies to preserve Uyghur culture and pressure the Chinese government to end the persecution. 

The bill would create a Special Coordinator for Uyghur Issues within the State Department “to ensure that department-wide resources are better coordinated to respond to the Uyghur genocide,” Kim said on the floor of the House earlier this month.

The Uyghur Policy Act would require the State Department to assign a Uyghur-fluent officer to a U.S. diplomatic or consular mission in China. This would allow greater access to Uyghur individuals in China and emphasize the U.S.’s dedication in the preservation of the Uyghur language.

The bill also encourages greater dissemination of information regarding allegations of Uyghur genocide, specifically to Islamic-majority countries. The legislation directs the U.S. Agency for Global Media to publicize information concerning Uyghurs. 

“We must now act to leverage the U.S. soft power, garner international support for Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and equip the State Department with the tools it needs to better respond to Xi Jinping’s genocidal campaign,” Kim said.

Who backs the bill?

The Uyghur Policy Act passed on Feb. 15 with overwhelming support in the House, with only six Republicans voting against the bill. Its success in the House triggered activists to urge lawmakers to push the bill forward in the Senate. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Project sent letters signed by over 40 other advocacy groups to the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) – this week, urging them to schedule the bill’s markup quickly “given the urgency of the situation and the growing international concern regarding the plight of the Uyghur people.”

“Representative Kim’s bill includes valuable provisions to ensure the United States takes further steps to end atrocities faced by Uyghurs, and will push allies to do the same,” UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said in a press release. “Uyghurs are grateful for Congressional leadership to push for stronger U.S. policies, and we urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to act quickly to move this critical legislation forward.”

What’s next?

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing to review the bill, but the bill is likely to gain support because of bipartisan support in both chambers to demonstrate that the U.S. is standing up to China.