State Department should extend visa ban policy to world’s largest rights violator

Building on recent United States travel bans imposed on human rights violators, the International Campaign for Tibet urges the U.S. government to act to restrict visa entry to Chinese officials complicit in human rights abuses in China and Tibet.

“The U.S. government can send a clear message: if Chinese officials violate the human rights of the Chinese and Tibetan people, they can’t visit the United States,” said Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet. “There is momentum to extend visa bans to human rights violators, and there is no reason China, the world’s largest abuser, should not be included. We value the freedom to travel as we value fundamental human rights. Visa bans are a tool that governments can use to discourage officials who would violate such rights.”

On July 30, 2014, the State Department announced restrictions on travel to the United States by certain Venezuelan government officials responsible for human rights abuses. Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said, “With this step we underscore our commitment to holding accountable individuals who commit human rights abuses. While we will not publicly identify these individuals because of visa record confidentiality, our message is clear: those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States.”

The Venezuela travel ban follows establishment of a U.S. visa ban on Russian officials found complicit in human rights abuses, among other sanctions imposed on the Russian government, compelled by the Magnitsky Act passed by Congress. Mr. Mecacci, when serving as a Deputy in the Italian Parliament and as Chairman of the Committee on Democracy and Human Rights of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly actively supported efforts to internationalize the Magnitsky Act in cooperation with U.S. legislators. In 2011, President Obama issued an Executive Order that, in part, denies visa entry to “perpetrators of serious human rights abuses or humanitarian law.” In June 2014, the U.S. announced a travel ban on certain officials of Uganda based on abuses against LGBT individuals. Visa bans are applied to officials in Iran, Burma and North Korea, among other countries, and topically in cases of terrorists, arms proliferators and those involved in sexual violence, among others.

A new bill in the U.S. Congress promotes the ability of Americans to travel to Tibet, using a visa ban on certain Chinese officials as leverage. In June 2014, Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced H.R. 4851, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. The bill would bar Chinese officials who design or implement policies restricting the access of American diplomats, journalists and tourists to Tibet areas from coming to the United States, until such restrictions are lifted.

“The McGovern-Pitts bill is simple: if China won’t let us into Tibet, then their key officials can’t get into the United States,” said Mr. Mecacci. “This bill reminds Beijing that it is not biding by the principle of diplomatic reciprocity. I hope the House of Representatives acts on this important legislation.”