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  • 27 Oct, 2024
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U.S. Lawmakers Call on Biden Cabinet to Act Against Tibet DNA Collection and Family Separation


The Congressional-Executive Commission on China has issued a compelling call to action, urging three key members of the Biden administration's cabinet to address the critical issues of mass biometric data collection and family separation in Occupied Tibet.

The letter, signed by Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Jeff Merkley, chair and co-chair of the Commission, implores Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take immediate measures, including the possible imposition of Global Magnitsky sanctions, to tackle the concerning situation in Tibet.

The letter, addressed to the three officials, emphasizes the need to impose export controls on technology utilized by China's Public Security Bureaus and other affiliated entities in Tibet, specifically for the collection of biometric data used for political identification and racial profiling. The lawmakers have proposed adding Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Public Security Bureaus and any other entities involved in mass DNA collection to the Bureau of Industry and Security's Entity List. This move aims to prevent U.S. companies from contributing, either directly or indirectly, to the development of biometric ID surveillance capabilities in the TAR and other Tibetan regions.

Furthermore, the letter underlines that the actions taken by the secretaries could encompass a range of responses, including the application of Global Magnitsky sanctions or visa restrictions targeting officials in Tibetan areas implicated in mass biometric data collection and the forced separation of Tibetan children from their parents.

International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) President Tencho Gyatso commented on the Commission's initiative, stating, "The CECC chairs have given a strong call to action for holding Chinese officials accountable for their mass DNA collection in Tibet and unconscionable separation of Tibetan children from their families. We urge Secretaries Raimondo, Yellen, and Blinken to heed the chairs' message and take these steps to limit US business complicity in China's abuses and to stand up for the rights of the Tibetan people."

Regarding the issue of mass DNA collection, the letter points out that extensive evidence, including congressional hearings and independent investigations, indicates that the practice has been ongoing in Tibet for at least the past six years. Citizen Lab's September 2022 report estimated that China's police had collected between 920,000 to 1.2 million DNA samples in the Tibet Autonomous Region over the preceding six years, accounting for a substantial portion of the region's total population. Human Rights Watch also revealed that China's authorities were systematically collecting DNA from TAR residents, even from children as young as 5, without parental consent.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concerns about the expansion of mass DNA collection to Tibet, viewing it as an additional means of control and surveillance over the Tibetan population.

The letter insists that Tibetans have no control over how their blood samples are collected, stored, or used, leaving them unaware of the potential consequences of DNA collection for themselves and their extended families. Consequently, it calls for robust responses to address these circumstances.

Another aspect raised in the letter pertains to the involvement of U.S. companies in the issue. It highlights that Thermo Fisher Scientific, based in Massachusetts, had sold DNA kits and replacement parts for its DNA sequencers to police in the TAR. The letter expresses concern that the lack of adequate safeguards in the People's Republic of China (PRC) for the gathering and use of biometric data could enable severe human rights violations, including coercive mass surveillance and organ harvesting. The letter urges the secretaries to collaborate with Congress to ensure that export controls are sufficient to prevent the future export of technology facilitating the PRC's deployment and management of biometric ID surveillance.

Turning to the heart-wrenching issue of the forced separation of Tibetan children, the letter notes that China has maintained a brutal occupation of Tibet for over six decades, making it one of the least-free countries on Earth, according to the watchdog group Freedom House. In a particularly egregious instance of human rights abuses, the Chinese government has forcibly separated over one million Tibetan children from their families, placing them in government-run boarding schools where they are isolated from their religion, language, and culture.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had previously announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials for their involvement in the boarding school program, condemning China's "coercive policies" that aim to eradicate Tibet's unique linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions among the younger Tibetan generations.

In their letter, the CECC chairs propose potential Global Magnitsky sanctions to target Chinese officials responsible for the separation of children from their families and other abuses against the Tibetan people. The letter acknowledges that the list of officials to be sanctioned is likely extensive, given the history of successive and sometimes brutal campaigns of repression and social control in Tibet. Nevertheless, the Commission calls on the administration to take a resolute stance, preventing those who egregiously violate the internationally recognized rights of Tibetans from benefiting from access to the United States or its financial system.

Edited and collated by Team TRC