Religious Freedom Panel to Pompeo: Do Forced Sterilizations of China's Muslims Constitute Genocide?

By Patrick Goodenough | July 1, 2020 | 4:54am EDT
A Uyghur mother and baby at a night market in Xinjiang region. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)
A Uyghur mother and baby at a night market in Xinjiang region. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

( – A statutory religious freedom watchdog asked the State Department Tuesday to determine whether forced sterilizations of minority Muslims in western China meet the legal definition of genocide.

Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as “shocking” revelations that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is enforcing mandatory birth control and sterilizations as part of an apparent strategy to reduce the number of Uyghurs (Uighurs) in Xinjiang region relative to the numbers of ethnic Han Chinese.

Adrian Zenz, a leading scholar of Chinese policies in Xinjiang and Tibet, found that birth rates in Xinjiang’s two biggest prefectures dropped by 84 percent between 2015 and 2018, and that “a campaign of mass female sterilization” targeted married women of childbearing age in rural areas in 2019 and 2020.

“Budget figures indicate that this project had sufficient funding for performing hundreds of thousands of tubal ligation sterilization procedures in 2019 and 2020,” he wrote in the study. An Associated Press investigation into the allegations was also published this week.

Pompeo said the findings were “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.”

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Nury Turkel called on Pompeo to investigate whether the Chinese policies meet the legal definition of genocide.

“We also call on the U.S. government to introduce a resolution at the U.N. on these crimes that the Chinese Communist Party has committed against the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China,” added Turkel, who is himself a Uyghur rights advocate.

Another of the USCIRF’s nine commissioners, Gary Bauer, said it was “absolutely horrifying that the Communist Chinese government is targeting a religious community for forced sterilization in the 21st century.”

He urged President Trump to act swiftly against those responsible, under legislation signed by the president this month providing for sanctions against the perpetrators of “gross human rights abuses” against Uyghurs

The U.N. Convention on Genocide defines genocide as the taking of specified actions “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Among the five listed actions is, “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

Coercive population control

As Pompeo alluded to, China is a pioneer of population limitation practices. Launched in 1980, the “one child” policy was imposed through a range of measures including forced abortions and sterilizations, prohibitive fines, loss of jobs or other deterrents for violators.

Some exception to the one-child quota were allowed, for example rural or ethnic minority couples could have a second child if their firstborn was a girl.

The policy, which apart from egregious rights abuses gave rise to increasingly skewed gender ratios, was eased somewhat after 2015, with citizens allowed to have two children.

But according to Zenz’ study, although nationwide sterilizations per capita dropped significantly after that, sterilizations in Xinjiang surged dramatically, from about 40 per 100,000 in 2016 to nearly 250 per 100,000 in 2018.

(Graph: Chinese 2022-2019 Health and Hygiene Statistical Yearbooks/Adrian Zenz)
(Graph: Chinese 2022-2019 Health and Hygiene Statistical Yearbooks/Adrian Zenz)

After the communist Chinese took power in Xinjiang in 1949, Beijing encouraged and incentivized the settlement of millions of ethnic Han Chinese, a policy which critics say undermined Uyghurs’ cultural and religious identity.

A census in 1953 found 75 percent of Xinjiang population were Uyghur and six percent were Han. By 2000, a census found Han accounting for more than 40 percent of the population, while the Uyghur proportion had dropped to 45 percent.

Zenz’ findings indicate that official policies aimed at assimilating ethnic minorities have gone well beyond settling Han in the region.

“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,” he wrote.

“Draconian measures that impose surgical birth control methods enable the state to increase or decrease minority population growth at will, akin to opening or closing a faucet.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a briefing Tuesday questioned Zenz’ credibility and labeled Pompeo “a brazen liar,” saying China’s population policies have in fact benefited ethnic minorities – apparently referring to exceptions allowed during the “one-child” era.

He noted the increase in size overall of the Uyghur population between 1978 and 2018, but was silent on its proportion relative to the Han population.

Zhao encouraged Pompeo to “face up to the issue of racial discrimination at home” and to stay out of China’s affairs.

Shortly after he took office, Trump defunded the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), over its reported links to China’s coercive population-control policies – claims which the UNFPA denies.

Republican administrations since President Reagan had taken the same step, under a legislative amendment prohibiting federal funding for any agency that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”

The Clinton and Obama administrations restored the funding, and former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged, if elected president, to do the same.

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