TACOMA, Washington — There is a human rights crisis happening in China right now. Uighur Muslims are being held in detainment camps in China’s Xinjiang province. The government’s forced sterilization of Uighurs reflects an effort to control the population and threatens the future of the Uighur people.
The Forced Detainment of Uighur in Xinjiang
For years Uighur Muslims have faced persecution in China. Systematic oppression against the group has come to a head with the establishment of what the Chinese government refers to as “re-education camps,” where up to 1.5 million Uighur Muslims are being forcibly detained. China has argued that these camps are a means of combatting terrorism and “establishing a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality.”
Justin Jacobs, a professor at American University and author of The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures, spoke with The Borgen Project about the human rights crisis. Jacobs attributes China’s ability “to exercise such tight control over the country’s borders and media outlets, including the internet” as a major reason why China has been able to hide what is occurring inside these camps. While the full details are unknown, those who have come out with firsthand accounts of life inside the camps paint a horrific picture.
These reports include accounts of violence and rape as well as demands that the Uighurs denounce their Islamic faith, and recently, the forced sterilization of Uighurs in an effort to slash birth rates.
Forced Sterilization of Uighurs
Among the most harrowing aggressions that are taking place in China’s detention facilities is that of the forced sterilization of Uighurs.
A teacher from the camps spoke out against the inhumane treatment she witnessed in an interview with The Guardian. The authorities at the camp told her to get an IUD at the age of 50. She also recounts how authorities also demanded many other women between the ages of 19 and 59 to do the same. She faced a series of health consequences following her IUD. Eventually, authorities forced her into a sterilization procedure.
Although horrifying, her story is not unique.
An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) found that “the state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands.” Uighurs who have multiple children are met with massive fines as well as the threat of being separated from their families and taken to detainment camps.
China is no stranger to attempting to control its population’s birth rate. Jacobs describes how “the Chinese government forced untold numbers of Han women to undergo forced sterilization during the Mao years and Deng years, all in the name of population control and in support of the one-child policy.”
Today, the government’s regulations of Uighur births have already had a profound impact on their population. The AP found that birth rates have fallen “more than 60% from 2015 to 2018” in the predominantly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar. Additionally, the region of Xinjiang, which has long been home to the Uighurs, has seen birth rates drop “nearly 24% [from]last year alone.”
Suppression of Birth Tied to Genocide
The Chinese government’s forced sterilization of Uighurs reflects a knowing effort to control the ethnic group’s future. In an interview with NPR, researcher Adrian Zenz stated, “The evidence now, for the first time, very specifically meets one of the five criteria set forth by the United Nations Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide from 1948, which specifically says the suppression of birth.”
This means that China’s actions are not only endangering the Uighur people now but threatening the groups’ future survival as well.
An International Response
China’s inhumane treatment of Uighurs calls for public condemnation from the international community. However, doing so poses consequences.
Jacobs identifies China’s economic power as one major reason that some fear speaking out against China, describing how other countries must “be willing to endure economic repercussions from China as a result of their criticism.” Despite such consequences, some groups are choosing to speak out against the inhumane treatment of the Uighurs. The European Union recently urged China to open Xinjiang up to observation while threatening the viability of future trade deals with Beijing.
The United States has passed legislation, “mandating that individuals, including Chen, face sanctions for oppressing Uighurs”, while requiring that “U.S. businesses and individuals selling products to or operating in Xinjiang ensure their activities don’t contribute to human rights violations, including the use of forced labor.” Additionally, this summer saw almost two dozen individuals and organizations, including groups such as Genocide Watch, the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect join together in an open letter urging the United Nations to investigate China for possible “crimes against humanity and genocide.”
While the Uighur people’s future remains unknown; what is certain is that the international community needs to stand up—in a united effort—for those who are being oppressed.
– Jessica Blatt