The U.S. Treasury Department answered the plea of human rights activists on Thursday, imposing sanctions on four key individuals and one Chinese agency responsible for countless atrocities against the persecuted Uyghur Muslim minority in China. This is a major step in the U.S. government’s effort to address religious persecution in China.
The most well-known individual on the sanctions list is Chen Quanguo, often labeled the mastermind of China’s crackdown against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Chen originally gained fame within the Chinese Community Party due to his success in suppressing Tibet through security crackdowns. He was later put in charge of the Xinjiang crackdown, where he utilized the oppressive measures he’d developed in Tibet to control the Uyghur population.
Under Chen’s leadership, a web of internment camps was built in Xinjiang to hold 1-3 million Uyghur Muslims who remain arbitrarily detained. Survivors of the camps report accounts of torture, sexual abuse, and horrific living conditions. Yet, even outside of the camps, Uyghurs don’t escape the abusive grip of Chinese authorities. Facial recognition technology throughout Xinjiang tracks almost every move residents make. Last week, shocking reports indicated that local authorities limit population growth by forcing sterilizations, intrauterine devices, and even abortions on hundreds of thousands of Uyghur women.
Chen is directly responsible for the mass incarceration in Xinjiang, and the sanction against him is more than justified.
Among a few other individuals targeted by these sanctions is the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, comparable to a police department. This is significant because it targets those who directly enforce China’s draconian policies against the Uyghur people.
The sanctions imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act are one of the more effective tools the U.S. has to address human rights violations around the world. They include freezes on U.S. assets, banning travel to the U.S., and prohibitions on Americans doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities.
Targeted sanctions are sometimes considered largely symbolic. But symbolism is important. Public naming and shaming matters to the Chinese government, which cares about its reputation on the world stage. Individuals who enforce human rights violations around the world should know that the U.S. government will notice and call them out on an individual basis. Global Magnitsky sanctions are important, but they are just one step that should be followed up with many more.