China’s abuse of Uighur Muslims is finally getting some much-needed global attention, with reports of millions herded into political-reeducation camps that recall history’s worst atrocities. Now, a groundbreaking new report by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, reveals that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been systematically targeting Uighur women in a draconian birth-control campaign.
Chinese officials have been ruthless in their pursuit of limiting new Uighur births. Uighur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstruation, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations.
The Chinese government has a long history of perpetrating such horrors on its own citizens. The “one-child policy” was infamously enforced, before eventually being loosened at the end of 2015 to allow couples to legally conceive two children. But even as the CCP regime was easing reproductive restrictions on Han Chinese, it was drastically increasing systematic control of Uighur women in Xinjiang, a province in Western China. Since 2017, the CCP has systematically detained over 1.8 million Uighur Muslims in “political reeducation” camps, and used them for forced labor.
Zenz’s research reveals that birth-control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps, and evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document states that such violations were the most common reason for internment. According to Zenz’s report, “in 2014, 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs [intrauterine birth-control devices] in China were fitted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that share rose to 80 percent, far above Xinjiang’s 1.8 percent share of China’s population. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang placed 7.8 times more new IUDs per capita than the national average.”
A Uighur woman reported that in 2018, she was offered “free” surgical sterilization and threatened with internment if she refused. According to her Uighur doctor, her fallopian tubes were cut in the resulting tubal-ligation procedure, making her sterilization irreversible — a common experience for Xinjiang’s minorities.
China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uighurs by maliciously and ruthlessly controlling Uighur reproduction. This, in itself, is nothing new. The Chinese Communist Party has waged a long and dreadful war against women, more specifically against baby girls. Through the coercion of the one- and two-child policies, it created a gender imbalance as stark as 120 boys for every 100 girls. Families in China often had to seek the approval of local family-planning officials just to have a child, even if they hadn’t already reached the one-child cutoff. To meet quotas and restrict population growth, women were subject to forced abortions, and men and women to forced sterilizations.
Where the CCP applied the one- and two-child policies relatively equally, however, the Uighurs are being targeted for their membership in a particular religious and ethnic group, making their mistreatment even more pernicious.
On July 2, after Zenz’s report was released, members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, noting as much, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing that the U.S. may have grounds to publicly and formally declare an atrocity to be occurring. They claim that forced sterilization and forced abortion constitute attempts by the CCP to limit, and maybe even eventually exterminate, the Uighur population.
Limiting births on the basis of membership in a particular group may be enough to prove the CCP’s intent to commit genocide against the Uighurs — a legal standard that must be met in order for Pompeo to take such a step. Furthermore, officials responsible for human-rights violations against Uighurs may be subject to targeted sanctions like the ones now being applied to senior CCP official Chen Quanguo. As the architect of the surveillance state that made it possible for over 1 million Uighurs to be held in reeducation camps, as well as for similar rights violations in Tibet, Chen is finally facing repercussions for his actions. He and three other CCP officials were sanctioned just last month. Other officials responsible for the injustices uncovered by Zenz may be similarly vulnerable to sanctions.
Secretary Pompeo should establish a new position within the Department of State to coordinate the U.S.’s diplomatic, political, and legal response to the gross violations of universally recognized human rights in Xinjiang. This person would play a similar role to that of the Special Coordinator for Tibet and would ensure that the U.S. government is responding as effectively as possible to the crisis in Xinjiang.
China’s draconian and systematic abuse of Uighur women must be stopped, and the global community should boldly call on the Chinese Communist Party to end its persecution of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China altogether. Any holistic strategy to meet the challenges the CCP’s actions increasingly pose to the world has to be built on a strong moral foundation, and speaking up strongly and clearly for the Uighurs is the right place to start.
Olivia Enos is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is the policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.