Global Lawmakers Call Out China For Abuses Against Minority Women in Xinjiang
The Women’s Day statement condemns reports of sexual abuse and violations of reproductive rights.
A group of global parliamentarians marked International Women’s Day Monday by calling on governments to hold China to account for abuses against minority women in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), amid reports of systematic sexual abuse in detention and violations of reproductive rights.
Lawmakers from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) issued a statement Monday recognizing the plight of women in the region, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.
“Today these women are experiencing a brutal, state-sponsored persecution,” the lawmakers said in a video posted to Twitter.
“There is mounting evidence that hundreds of thousands of minority women in Xinjiang have been subjected to forced sterilizations and forced abortions … Those who refuse face imprisonment in Xinjiang’s vast prison camp network.”
In addition to restrictive “family planning” policies in the region, former detainees have given testimony that women in the camps have endured sexual abuse and torture, including situations in which men pay guards to rape women held there.
Experts say that taken together, such abuses could amount to genocide and crimes against humanity, as group of judges in the U.K. said in a legal opinion last month. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has labeled China’s policies in the region as such, while parliaments in Canada and the Netherlands recently adopted non-binding resolutions carrying similar designations.
“The perpetrators of these abuses cannot continue with impunity,” Monday’s statement said.
“We as parliamentarians from across the globe call on our governments to take urgent action to hold the Chinese government to account … We must pursue all domestic and international avenues for legal investigations into the alleged crimes against humanity and genocide taking place in the region.”
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Rahima Mahmut, IPAC advisor on Uyghurs, called this year’s International Women’s Day “a day of mourning for Uyghur women.”
“The mass sterilization of Uyghur women, forced abortion of Uyghur children, and gang rape of Uyghur women … prove beyond reasonable doubt that Uyghur women are facing the most brutal campaign of persecution from the Chinese government,” she said.
“That’s why we launched the campaign today to raise global awareness of China’s crimes against humanity committed against the Uyghur women and to urge governments to take action.”
Open letter by diaspora activists
Monday’s call by IPAC came as a group of female Uyghur activists in the diaspora issued an open letter to raise awareness of the rights violations perpetrated by authorities on women in the XUAR.
“Uyghur and Turkic women are currently facing some of the most egregious crimes carried out by Chinese State actors, including arbitrary detention, torture, rape, forced sterilization and abortion,” the letter said.
In addition to these crimes, the activists said, Uyghur and Turkic women are forced to marry Han Chinese men, while mothers are forcibly separated from the
ir children, who are often placed in state-run orphanages.
They said that for most Uyghur women whose husbands are detained, a government program that has seen Communist Party cadres move into Uyghur homes to monitor and supervise the family “creates a humiliating environment where women are subject to sexual abuse.”
Women from the XUAR who have shared their experiences of systematic sexual violence in the internment camps are now being targeted by a Chinese government campaign to slander them through personal, sexist attacks on their character, the activists said.
“The most intrinsic rights of Uyghur and Turkic women in East Turkistan are being violated on a daily basis,” the letter said, using the name preferred by Uyghurs for their homeland.
“The Chinese government has effectively taken control over their body, labor rights and family lives.”
The activists said that in addition to the growing outcry from the international community over rights abuses in the XUAR, women from across the globe should help to advocate for their counterparts in the region.
“On the occasion of the 2021 International Women’s Day, we call on international women’s institutions as well as our feminist allies from across the world to speak out against the CCP’s brutal repression of Uyghur and Turkic women,” the letter said.
Crucial role in fight
Ahead of International Women’s Day, three of the women activists who signed Monday’s open letter spoke with RFA about their experiences as former detainees in the XUAR and how they have come to assume central roles in the fight to hold China accountable.
On March 1, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attacked the character of Tursunay Ziyawudun, who recently testified to the BBC about systematic rape in the camp system, and of other Uyghur women survivors who have spoken out about China’s treatment in recent years.
Wang’s statements attracted a great amount of criticism on social media, including from Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch, who tweeted: “Taking control of narrative, or confirming racist misogyny as #China state policy? Perhaps no difference.”
Ziyawudun, who came to the U.S. to seek refuge and medical treatment in September 2020 with the help of the U.S. government, told RFA that International Women’s Day sadly reminds her of the terror-filled camps in the XUAR, as it was on March 8 in 2018 that she was detained in the system for the first time.
“I think that no Uyghur woman will be able to be part of Women’s Day until the oppression in our homeland stops,” she said.
“All the Uyghurs in the world—the women like us who are experiencing oppression in the homeland—I will not stop until they are truly free.”
Zumrat Dawut, who came to the United States with her family via Pakistan in 2019, has testified about her experience in the Xinjiang camps, where she was subjected to forced sterilization. Through the many interviews and testimonies she has given, she has provided news outlets and human rights organizations with strong evidence of the Chinese government’s genocidal policies.
Dawut became a direct target of China as a result of her testimony over the past two years but has continued speaking out, doing what she can to expose China’s repressive policies and actions.
“I am not one bit saddened over the insults the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs [spokesperson] made against me as he held my photograph in his hands. Quite the opposite, I’ve grown stronger from them,” she said.
“I know that my work and my activism for my people, my oppressed people—for my Uyghurs, who are experiencing genocide—is having an impact,” she said.
“Because the evidence in our hands is strong, we have been able to convince the international community. And so, because of this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs … [it] has been a heavy blow for them, they can’t sit still. We’re very happy about this.”
‘Proud to be a Uyghur woman’
Recently, the Chinese government also produced a short documentary film titled “Mihrigul Tursun’s Story,” which directly challenges the many testimonies given by Mihrigul Tursun since her arrival to the U.S. in Fall 2018. The video features Tursun’s parents, police officers, and doctors, all speaking against her, and attempts to portray every testimony the former detainee has given as false.
“All I can say is that China has lied from the very start, and they’re still lying now … They’re such a big and powerful country, and they’re doing this to try to silence a person,” she said.
“If you want to know what I’m feeling after seeing this [video], I know that I can’t stop speaking.”
Tursun said that what she needs more than ever, as she faces Chinese pressure and the depression associated with her own personal trauma, is the support and encouragement of her fellow Uyghurs.
“Even if they can’t come forward themselves, if they can’t do this themselves, we need them to say, ‘They’re doing the right thing, these women are doing good things,’” she said.
“Happy Women’s Day to all the Uyghur sisters, women, and mothers before us who have fought for our people and our homeland. The saying ‘Women move the cradle with one hand and with the other, the world’ is true. I am proud to be a Uyghur woman.”
Reported by Nuriman Abdurashid and Gulchera Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff and Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.