Forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have dramatically increased in recent years and likely constitute a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations’ definitions, according to a report released Monday.
While China’s government has long controlled reproductive rights in the country, restrictions in the XUAR significantly intensified around the same time a campaign of mass incarceration was launched in the region in April 2017, German researcher Adrian Zenz said in a new report titled, “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang.”
Since then, Uyghur women with three or more children have increasingly been subjected to heavy fines, required to submit to pregnancy tests and examinations, and forced to implant intrauterine devices (IUDs) or undergo sterilization surgeries, the report said.
Those who refuse are regularly detained—per explicit government directions—in the region’s network of internment camps, believed to hold up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
Population growth in the XUAR fell by 84 percent in the two largest Uyghur prefectures from 2015 to 2018, and declined further in 2019, according to Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and one of the world’s foremost experts on mass incarcerations in the region.
Zenz drew from a sizable cache of official documents to compile the report, as well as interviews with former internment camp detainees. He cited a 2019 memo detailing a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions that targeted between 14 and 34 percent of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year.
He said the project had sufficient funding for performing “hundreds of thousands” of operations to tie the fallopian tubes of women in the region in 2019 and 2020.
“By 2019, Xinjiang planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to intrusive birth prevention surgeries (IUDs or sterilizations), with actual shares likely being much higher,” the report said.
A year earlier, 80 percent of all new IUD placements in China were performed in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the region only makes up 1.8 percent of the nation’s population.
Zenz notes that from 2015 to 2018, more than 1.2 million new residents were added to the XUAR’s Han Chinese majority regions, and by the end of that period, population growth rates in these regions were nearly eight times higher than the surrounding rural Uyghur regions. He said the figures suggest “Beijing is doubling down on a policy of Han settler colonialism.”
‘Campaign of genocide’
Zenz warned that growing disparities between Uyghur and Han population rates, the apparent impact of the internment policy, and what documents suggest is a campaign of mass sterilization in at least two Uyghur regions “should give the global community major cause for concern.”
“The population control regime instituted by CCP authorities in Xinjiang aims to suppress minority population growth while boosting the Han population through increased births and in-migration … In tandem, these three strategies appear to undergird a wider game plan of ethno-racial domination,” he said.
“These findings raise serious concerns as to whether Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang represent, in fundamental respects, what might be characterized as a demographic campaign of genocide,” Zenz concludes, citing Article II of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the [targeted] group.”
Zenz’s report, published by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, appears to confirm earlier reports by RFA’s Uyghur Service of former camp detainees, including one named Tursunay Ziyawudun who last year said she and others held at the camps were routinely made to take medication that affected their reproductive cycles or subjected to forced sterilization.
Another, Zumuret Dawut, told RFA she and her husband were fined 18,000 yuan (U.S. $3,000) for their third child who was born outside of the family planning limit, but said she was made to first undergo sterilization despite paying it.
Monday’s report drew an immediate condemnation from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who dismissed the claims as “baseless” and suggested that the international media was “cooking up false information on Xinjiang-related issues” when the region is “harmonious and stable.”
But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has repeatedly spoken out against abuses in the XUAR, wrote in a tweet that Washington “condemns the use of forced population controls against Uyghur and other minority women and calls on the CCP to cease its campaign of repression,” adding that, “history will judge how we act today.”
In a statement issued by the State Department later on Monday, Pompeo called Zenz’s findings “disturbing,” although “sadly consistent with decades of CCP practices that demonstrate an utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and basic human dignity.”
“We call on the Chinese Communist Party to immediately end these horrific practices and ask all nations to join the United States in demanding an end to these dehumanizing abuses,” he said.
The report also prompted a tweet from the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which called forced sterilizations and coercive population control methods “an appalling reminder of the #Chinese govt’s efforts to repress #Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.”
“The Chairs condemn the unacceptable violence against #Uyghur women & call for @UN discussion of crimes against humanity,” the tweet said, referring to Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Representative Jim McGovern, a democrat from Massachusetts.
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC)—a group of lawmakers from North America, the European Union, and Australia from a range of political parties—said in a statement it would request that the U.N. conduct an urgent probe into the treatment of Uyghurs and for appropriate courts to determine whether it constitutes crimes against humanity or genocide.
Call for action
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group said that the international community can no longer stand by while evidence mounts against the Chinese government of its rights violations in the XUAR.
“The findings of this report confirm what many Uyghurs have dreaded for the past three years: the Chinese government is trying to erase us,” WUC president Dolkun Isa said in a statement.
“Not just our language, history, culture, religion, and ethnic identity, but … us as people. We have to be direct and honest about what we are experiencing. This is genocide.”
Zenz’s report comes less than two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump enacted the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress at the end of May.
The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against Chinese officials deemed responsible for them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Congress may also soon debate new legislation which would prohibit imports from the XUAR to the U.S. amid growing evidence that internment camps in the region have increasingly transitioned from political indoctrination to forced labor, with detainees being sent to work in cotton and textile factories.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, introduced in March, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.