One man’s fight to get Congress to care about China’s Uyghurs

This is what it’s like to lobby Congress when you’re up against the world’s second-largest economy

Dolkun Isa doesn’t have the money or powerful backing that most people who successfully lobby Congress have. But he’s going up against the government of China anyway.

Isa is the head of the World Uyghur Congress, an international nonprofit group that represents millions of ethnic Uyghurs who want independence from China's repressive rule. They accuse the Communist Party of trying to suppress their religion and dilute their culture. Activists like Isa say Uyghurs are regularly subjected to inhumane conditions, psychological abuse, and forced indoctrination.


A series of recent reports documenting China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs stirred alarm among politicians on Capitol Hill. So Isa went to Washington in November to meet with powerful legislators in hopes of gathering more American support for his community.

He may have some reason to be optimistic. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey recently co-sponsored “The Uyghur Human Rights Act,” in an attempt to punish Chinese officials for allegedly holding at least 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps.

“This is something from a horror movie … not something you imagine happening in the 21st century,” Rubio told VICE News. “We cannot allow our foreign policy, our commitment to human rights, to be decided by whether or not there will be retaliation.”

“This is something from a horror movie … not something you imagine happening in the 21st century.”

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both mentioned the Uyghur issue in recent speeches. But Isa would like their boss, President Trump, to take a more aggressive stance. He was hoping Trump would raise the issue to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their recent meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina. But that didn’t happen.

Ultimately, Isa worries that Rubio’s bill, and the Uyghur cause, won’t get that far in Washington.

“It is difficult, because most of the countries[are] just trade partners with China,” Isa said. “And most of the countries just think about the economic [issues].”

Rubio shared his concerns. “What I fear is that it's not a high enough priority with everything going on in the world.”

This segment originally aired November 28, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.