The bill, known as Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed by unanimous consent on Tuesday evening, capping off weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations amid growing tensions in Hong Kong.
“With the situation in Hong Kong nearing a breaking point, this legislation will hopefully be a shot in the arm for the millions who have been patiently waiting for the United States to once again serve as a beacon of light and solidarity in their push to defend their basic rights and autonomy,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added that the bill would be an “important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations.”
The legislation would impose sanctions on individuals who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong and block them from entering the United States. It would also require the State Department to provide an annual report to lawmakers on whether Hong Kong remains “sufficiently autonomous” from China.
The passage of the legislation follows rising violence in Hong Kong, including reports over the weekend that police officials have threatened to use lethal ammunition if protesters do not leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University amid a standoff. The Associated Press reported on Monday that riot police had trapped hundreds of protesters on the campus.
The Senate also passed legislation by consent on Tuesday, backed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), that would ban the United States from exporting certain munitions—including tear gas, pepper spray and handcuffs—to the Hong Kong police force.