Washington, December 10: On Friday, World Human Rights Day, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 15 individuals and 10 entities for their connection to human rights abuse and repression in several countries around the globe, pursuant to multiple sanctions authorities.
Separately, OFAC is also imposing investment restrictions on one company in connection with the surveillance technology sector of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) economy, highlighting the human rights abuse enabled by the malign use of technology.
Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd., which has developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs, has been sanctioned.
“On International Human Rights Day, Treasury is using its tools to expose and hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights abuse,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”
Today’s actions are taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse; E.O. 13959, as amended, which targets, among other things, companies that operate or have operated in the surveillance technology sector of the PRC economy, and entities that own or control such companies; E.O. 13687 and E.O. 13722, which target the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Workers’ Party of Korea and certain conduct related to labor; and E.O. 14014, which targets a range of malign activities, including serious human rights abuse in Burma.
As the President stated at the opening of the Summit for Democracy, we will “work with our partners to … reduce the potential for countries to abuse new technologies including surveillance technologies, to suppress the rights of their people to express their views.”
Technology is a key tool used to advance the exercise of freedom of expression and the protection of other human rights globally. However, authoritarian states misuse technology to facilitate human rights abuse and repression, target members of racial and ethnic minority groups, manipulate information, and spread disinformation.
Abuse of technologies, like the exploitation of data for intrusive surveillance, is on the rise and threatens the security of all people. It is therefore critically important that the United States and other democracies around the world take a firm stance against these repressive activities.
Shohrat Zakir served as the Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR) from at least 2018 until 2021. Erken Tuniyaz (Tuniyaz) now serves as the acting Chairman of the XUAR and had served as the Vice Chairman of the XUAR since 2008. During their tenures, more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been detained in Xinjiang. On July 9, 2020, OFAC designated the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), a constituent department of the XUAR, for its role in the serious human rights abuse that has occurred in Xinjiang since at least late 2016.
The XPSB has deployed the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP), an artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted computer system that created biometric records for millions of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. The XPSB, through the IJOP, uses digital surveillance systems to track Uyghurs’ movements and activities, to include surveilling who they interact with and what they read. In turn, IJOP uses this data to determine which persons could be potential threats; according to reports, some of these individuals are subsequently detained and sent to detention camps, being held indefinitely without charges or trial. According to press reporting, the IJOP technology looks exclusively for Uyghurs, based on their appearance, and keeps records of their movements. The mass detention of Uyghurs is part of an effort by PRC authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region.
Zakir and Tuniyaz are designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being foreign persons who are or have been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure.
Today, the U.S. Department of State announced visa restrictions under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on Zakir and Tuniyaz due to their involvement in gross violations of human rights, making them ineligible for entry into the United States.
OFAC is also identifying a Chinese firm, SenseTime Group Limited (SenseTime), as a Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Company (NS-CMIC) pursuant to E.O. 13959, as amended by E.O. 14032. SenseTime owns or controls, directly or indirectly, a person who operates or has operated in the surveillance technology sector of the PRC’s economy. SenseTime 100 percent owns Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd., which has developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs. When applying for patent applications, Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd. has highlighted its ability to identify Uyghurs wearing beards, sunglasses, and masks.