On the last day of the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a determination saying that genocide and crimes against humanity are taking place against Uighur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, China.
The determination is an essential step toward ensuring justice for the more than 1 million Uighurs currently held in political reeducation facilities in China, for the Uighur women being forcibly sterilized at the hands of their own government, and for Uighur Americans with loved ones in China they haven’t heard from in years.
This late-hour atrocity determination is an encouragement to the Biden administration to stand by the voiceless facing atrocities in Xinjiang, as well as a charge to a divided U.S. Congress to unify over the need to help those who can’t help themselves.
Evidence has been mounting for genocide and crimes against humanity for quite some time. When reports first emerged in 2017 that Uighurs were being collectivized and interned in political reeducation camps in China, the world knew something terrible was taking place.
As time went on, reports from inside Xinjiang became increasingly harrowing. One Jamestown Foundation report by anthropologist Adrian Zenz found documented evidence that the Chinese Communist Party had a goal of forcibly sterilizing between 80% to 90% of Uighur women of child-bearing age in certain provinces.
Reports from Radio Free Asia documented Uighur children being systematically separated from their families. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China documented deaths and torture of people in the camps.
This evidence illustrated the Chinese Communist Party’s intent to commit genocide.
On that basis, I urged the State Department to issue an atrocity determination in a September 2020 Heritage Foundation report, not as a standalone action, but as a critical step toward a strong response to human rights violations in Xinjiang.
Atrocity determinations aren’t mere feel-good measures. They have historically led to follow-on action by Congress and the executive branch.
After the Obama administration’s ISIS genocide determination, Congress passed legislation that led the U.S. Agency for International Development to create the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response fund, a more than $389 million fund that provided relief to survivors of ISIS genocide.
The fund was aimed at helping those left behind with the support they needed to rebuild lives broken by the atrocities they and their community faced at the hands of ISIS.
Similar leadership is now needed, not merely to respond in the aftermath of genocide and crimes against humanity, but to respond as they are occurring.
The Trump administration took several important steps that preceded the issuance of the determination, including the sanctioning of Chen Quanguo and other Chinese Communist Party leaders and entities responsible for carrying out these human rights violations.
The administration has also prioritized stopping goods produced with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the U.S. market. Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection expanded its withhold release orders to all cotton and tomatoes produced in Xinjiang, effectively banning them from U.S. markets.
Next steps can and should include extending priority-2 refugee status to Uighurs, continuing to combat and upping the ante on efforts to combat forced labor, and identifying additional individuals and entities in the Chinese Communist Party ripe for sanctioning.
Today’s atrocity determination should not be seen as an apex of policy achievements, but rather as a call to action for other countries to join the U.S. in responding to a crisis that will go down in history as among the worst.
This is an opportunity for U.S. leadership, demonstrating that we are not afraid to call a spade a spade and that we are ready to protect and preserve the human rights of the Chinese people, even when their own government fails to do so.
Olivia Enos is a senior policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation who specializes in human rights and national security challenges in Asia. This piece originally appeared in Forbes.