New Jersey Congressman Pushes Bill to Target Human Rights Offenders in China

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Smith wrote a similar bill, signed into law in 1999, that requires the Secretary of State not to issue any visas to foreign nationals who have been directly involved in the establishment or enforcement of forced abortion or forced sterilization.

But Smith said to his knowledge, that law has not been enforced.

In August, the White House announced a proclamation barring human rights violators and persons who commit war crimes from entering the country. President Obama also announced the establishment of an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board aimed at detecting and elevating early warning signs to better prevent potential atrocities.

In Smith's bill, however, the law targets senior governmental leadership, their immediate family members and anyone else who has committed human rights abuse in China. The bill also targets anyone who has "derived significant financial benefit" from actions related to forced abortion and involuntary sterilization and all other human rights abuses.

The "very inclusive, large list," according to Smith, includes "the violent repression or persecution of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians," or other ethnic minorities in China, "trafficking of North Korean refugees or their forcible return to North Korea," and violent repression, imprisonment and torture of "religious believers, democracy adherents, workers rights advocates, independent media, journalists and internet users."

Smith said the intent of the bill is to proclaim that the U.S. takes "human rights seriously."

Peter Morici, former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission and professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, said the White House would have to take up the bill if it is to make headway in foreign policy and the bill would only gain momentum if it makes it to the Senate.

Smith acknowledges the complexities in the bill, but with input from the State Department and other experts, he hopes it will at least shed light on the most egregious human rights offenders.

Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch, said that whenever the U.S. government articulates a "clear penalty" for human rights abuses by Chinese government officials, the penalty does have a deterrent effect.

"Often what we have seen is that it's not really clear there's a price to be paid for human rights abuses," Richardson said. "That fundamentally undermines any administration's claims that the U.S. will not subordinate human rights issues for the sake of a bilateral relationship."

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