EU, US, Canada, and UK sanction Chinese officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang

The European Union, the U.S., Canada and the U.K. imposed coor­di­nat­ed sanc­tions on top Chinese offi­cials for human rights vio­la­tions against the Uyghur minor­i­ty on Monday, trig­ger­ing Beijing to black­list sev­er­al EU politi­cians and academics.

The bloc accused the Chinese offi­cials of being “respon­si­ble for seri­ous human rights vio­la­tions in China, in par­tic­u­lar large-scale arbi­trary deten­tions inflict­ed upon Uyghurs and peo­ple from oth­er Muslim eth­nic minorities.”

The bloc’s top diplo­mats imposed trav­el bans and asset freezes on four senior Chinese offi­cials includ­ing Zhu Hailun, the for­mer deputy par­ty sec­re­tary in Xinjiang, and one of the archi­tects of the mass-deten­tion pro­gram, accord­ing to an inves­ti­ga­tion by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

This telegram is from the Communist Party com­mis­sion in charge of Xinjiang’s secu­ri­ty appa­ra­tus. The telegram, writ­ten in Chinese, is an oper­a­tions man­u­al for run­ning the mass deten­tion camps. It is marked “secret” and was approved by Zhu Hailun, then deputy sec­re­tary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party and the region’s top secu­ri­ty official.

The United Nations esti­mates that more than 1 mil­lion Uyghurs and mem­bers of oth­er Turkic minori­ties were detained in camps. The num­ber could be high­er than 2 mil­lion, accord­ing to a U.S. State Department official.

China’s Foreign Ministry react­ed to the EU sanc­tions by say­ing they “harm China’s sov­er­eign­ty” and are “based on noth­ing but lies and dis­in­for­ma­tion, dis­re­gards and dis­torts facts.”

Beijing then announced a trav­el ban against eight European politi­cians and two schol­ars from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Sweden. It also barred their insti­tu­tions from doing busi­ness in China.

Dutch law­mak­er Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, one of the politi­cians tar­get­ed, invit­ed his European col­leagues to con­tin­ue to put pres­sure on China. “As long as China com­mits geno­cide on the Uyghurs, I will not remain silent,” he wrote on Twitter.

In sol­i­dar­i­ty with the bloc, the U.K. and Canada announced sim­i­lar sanc­tions on the four Chinese offi­cials and one com­pa­ny. The U.S. Treasury added two Xinjiang top offi­cials to the black­list of Chinese gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tivesaccused of being involved with “seri­ous human rights abus­es.” (The U.S. black­list­ed Zhu and for­mer Xinjiang Public Security Bureau Director Wang Mingshan, also on the EU list, last year.)

We are unit­ed in call­ing for China to end its repres­sive prac­tices against Uyghur Muslims and mem­bers of oth­er eth­nic and reli­gious minor­i­ty groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbi­trar­i­ly detained,” the three coun­tries’ for­eign min­istries said in a joint state­ment.

A rare move against a powerful country

This is the first time the EU has adopt­ed such mea­sures against China since the Tiananmen Square crack­down in 1989.

The EU for­eign min­is­ters first agreed on the sanc­tions last week after lengthy nego­ti­a­tions that exposed the bloc’s divi­sions on how to deal with China, an impor­tant busi­ness part­ner ー and com­peti­tor ー for many European coun­tries, accord­ing to observers.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán led oppo­si­tion against the sanc­tions, the Wall Street Journal report­ed.

Last week, China’s ambas­sador to the bloc Zhang Ming invit­ed the EU to recon­sid­er the deci­sion through the Twitter account of the Chinese mis­sion to the EU.

Sanctions are con­fronta­tion­al,” the Chinese Mission’s tweet reads. “We want dia­logue, not con­fronta­tion. We ask the EU side to think twice. If some insist on con­fronta­tion, we will not back down, as we have no options oth­er than ful­fill­ing our respon­si­bil­i­ties to the people.”

The EU deci­sion fol­lows a U.S. law autho­riz­ing sanc­tions last June against Chinese offi­cials deemed respon­si­ble for the use of indoc­tri­na­tion camps, forced labor, and intru­sive sur­veil­lance against eth­nic minori­ties in China’s west­ern Xinjiang region. The U.S. Commerce Department has also imposed trade restric­tions against more than 30 Chinese com­pa­nies for their role in the Xinjiang repression.

The World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based group rep­re­sent­ing Uyghurs in exile, wel­comed the sanc­tions but urged the bloc not to bow to China’s pres­sure and main­tain a strong “human rights-based approach” when deal­ing with the pow­er­ful Asian country.

Only through con­crete action like this can we stop the Uyghur geno­cide and end the suf­fer­ing of the Uyghur peo­ple,” the group’s pres­i­dent Dolkun Isa said in a state­ment.

In recent years, reports by researchers and jour­nal­ists have doc­u­ment­ed instances of forced labor, fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion and the destruc­tion of mosques and oth­er reli­gious sites. Former detainees allege they were sub­ject­ed to indoc­tri­na­tion, sex­u­al­ly abused and forcibly ster­il­ized.

More recent­ly, a num­ber of coun­tries and par­lia­ments includ­ing the U.S., Canadaand the Netherlands have declared that China’s crack­down on the Muslim minori­ties amounts to “geno­cide” in vio­la­tion of the U.N. Genocide Convention. A recent report by more than 50 experts cit­ed China Cables find­ings as evi­dence sup­port­ing such allegations.

China has dis­missed the accu­sa­tions of geno­cide say­ing “it’s noth­ing but a rumor,” accord­ing to the Global Times, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

A group of Uyghur activists and lawyers filed a com­plaint last year with the International Criminal Court urg­ing the Hague pros­e­cu­tors to inves­ti­gate Beijing’s actions against the eth­nic groups. But the court decid­ed it won’t pur­sue the investigation.

The EU sanc­tions imposed against the Chinese offi­cials are part of a wider list that also includes offi­cials from Russia, Libya, South Sudan, and North Korea under the bloc’s new human rights sanc­tions regime.

Scilla Alecci, ICIJ

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