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China forced Muslims in Xinjiang to be sterilised and have abortions, concludes tribunal

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 20 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n3124
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. The BMJ

The People’s Republic of China is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in its treatment of its Uyghur minority, a UK tribunal chaired by a leading international human rights lawyer has concluded.1

The Uyghur Tribunal, based in London, said it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that China had subjected the Muslim minority in Xinjiang to forced sterilisations and abortions, approved at the highest levels in Beijing, and was therefore guilty of genocide.

The informal “people’s tribunal” pointed out that a finding of genocide did not necessarily involve mass killing. It can be committed by top level perpetrators who commit acts with the intent to destroy a significant part of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

The tribunal was chaired by Geoffrey Nice QC, who led the prosecution in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. It heard evidence in June and September and made findings it considered proved beyond reasonable doubt, delivering its conclusions in the form of a judgment. The panel, which included lawyers, doctors, and academics, received oral and written evidence as well as a cache of leaked documents, the Xinjiang papers.

Its findings follow those of a separate tribunal that found forced harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience in China.2 Geoffrey Nice served on both tribunals.

The Uyghur Tribunal “noted evidence it was possible that young [Uyghur] detainees were used for forced organ harvesting, being killed for their organs to be harvested and sold.”

The evidence showed that thousands of people were trained and trained others to do all that was necessary to bring the systems into force, the panel said. Professionals, including doctors, “were content for their skills to be used for such systems.”

The tribunal was “satisfied that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has effected a deliberate, systematic and concerted policy with the objective of ‘optimizing’ the population in Xinjiang by means of a long-term reduction of the Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations to be achieved through limiting and reducing Uyghur births.”

Among the facts found proved was that “detainees were forced to take medicines by mouth or by injection that affected the reproductive functioning of women and possibly of men.”

The panel found that pregnant women were forced to have abortions even at the last stage of pregnancy. Babies were sometimes born alive and then killed.

In addition, a “systematic programme of birth control measures had been established forcing women to endure removal against their will of wombs and to undergo effective sterilisation by means of IUDs that were only removable by surgical means.”

The judgment added, “On the basis of evidence heard in public, the tribunal is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the PRC, by the imposition of measures to prevent births intended to destroy a significant part of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as such, has committed genocide.”

It also found beyond reasonable doubt that the Chinese regime was guilty of inflicting torture on the Uyghurs.

Calling for international action, the tribunal concluded, “From the needless suffering of fellow citizens anywhere in the world, it can never be right to look away.”


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