Britain Silent On China’s Forced Sterilisations

Submission from Independent Tibet Network To The United Kingdom Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee April 14, 2009 and Featured as Written Evidence in the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
Human Rights Annual Report 2008, Seventh Report of Session 2008–09. Published August 2009.

PDF Report Here


Independent Tibet Network is a research and campaigning organisation supporting justice, human rights and independence for the Tibetan and Uyghur peoples. It operates internationally and has a prominent internet profile through its website

An important aspect of our work concerns human rights violations resulting from China’s coercive population-control policies, as applying inside Tibet, East Turkestan, and China. In addition we also monitor and lobby the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this subject.

We remain concerned that this major human rights matter is not being extended, by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, any serious examination, nor being given sufficient exposure in its annual human rights reports. In particular we express our disappointment that this subject is entirely absent from the 2008 Report, a step-backwards from its 2007 Human Rights Report which at least contained a short tentative paragraph on the issue.

The Foreign and Commonwealth state that their work regarding women’s human rights is guided by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) along with the Beijing Platform of Action. Yet China’s coercive birth-control program is in clear violation of both these international commitments, which the FCO considers of such little importance that it selects not to include it in its Human Rights Report 2008.

On violence against women the FCO claims that: “The UK has been one of the main supporters of the key UN General Assembly Resolution on Violence against Women. Working through the UN means that all UN member states agree international standards on violence against women and take practical measures to combat it. We were pleased that this was adopted by consensus”.

All violence that is except forced sterilisations, a subject which was recognized as constituting violence against women, by the Beijing Declaration, upon which the FCO maintains a deathly silence in its report and wider activities and publications.

The section of its human rights report concerning women’s human rights, featured a range of issues from lesbian rights, female genital mutilation, equality to forced marriage, although China’s medical atrocities against women appear strangely absent.

Despite including a range of human rights violations within its section on China, the FCO human rights report singularly failed to make reference to coercive birth-control in China. Interestingly such selectivity was not applied to the Democratic People’s of Korea where the FCO Report mentions alleged abuses as including “forced abortions”.

The deliberate exclusion of what is a major human rights issue which impacts upon countless numbers of women in China, Tibet, East Turkestan and other occupied territories, one that violates a number of key international human rights instruments (to which China is signatory), cannot be reasonably justified by the FCO.

This memorandum scrutinises the background to these concerns, provides some detail on the existence of medical atrocities resulting from China’s population policies and includes accounts of coercive birth-control in Tibet, and East Turkestan. It concludes with a number of recommendations, requesting the Foreign Affairs Committee to urgently forward to the FCO for their action.


1. Reference to “Tibet” in this memorandum refers to the historic, political and cultural regions of Tibet comprised of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo. Parts of these territories were forcefully absorbed and renamed by Communist China into Chinese provinces, leaving a truncated region, the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region”. Mention of East Turkestan relates to the Moslem-Uyghur territory, annexed and renamed by communist China as “Xinjiang Autonomous Region”.

2. The current oppression suffered by the peoples of Tibet and East Turkestan operates through a range of human rights violations. A central, if under-exposed issue, and one which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has disappointingly chosen not to give any exposure to in its latest Human Rights Report, is China’s coercive population control programme. Despite claims to the contrary from a number of multi-lateral population agencies (United Nations Fund for Population, International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International) by nature, ideology and application China’s birth-control programme remains inherently coercive. Inflicting upon women a spectrum of abuses including forced

“From the beginning to the end, each village and town must give the highest priority to the tubal-ligation of women who have given birth to two girls, especially within those villages where these women have not yet had their tubes tied. We must demonstrate dogged determination and to the bodies of every cadre. Set the time and set the assignment. On multiple levels and using different channels, we should obtain information on spouses who are attempting to flee the county. By hook or crook, we must carry out contraceptive measures and every village must meet at least one of its target assignments.”

(Speech made by Tian Xiangrong 31 July 2006 Tongwei County Government (Online—As Documented in the US Congressional Executive Commission on China-Annual Report 2008.)

3. Such draconian appeals expose an official tolerance of abuses inflicted by family planning officials, which appear in China’s regional family planning laws:

“. . . Pregnancies that do not comply with the legal requirements for childbirths shall be terminated in a timely manner.” (Hunan Province Population and Family Planning Regulations, Article 22.)

4. Enforcement is also afforded state approval, a fact reflected in China’s Population and Family Planning Law 2002.

“Article 41 Citizens who give birth to babies not in compliance with the provisions of Article 18 of this Law shall pay a social maintenance fee prescribed by law. Citizens who fails to pay the full amount of the said fees payable within the specified time limit shall have to pay an additional surcharge each in accordance with relevant State regulations, counting from the date each fails to pay the fees; with regard to ones who still fail to make the payment, the administrative department for family planning that makes the decision on collection of the fees shall, in accordance with law, apply to the People’s Court for enforcement”.

“Article 43 Anyone who resists or hinders the administrative department for family planning or its staff members in their performance of their official duties in accordance with law shall be subject to criticism and be stopped by the administrative department for family planning . . ..”

(Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China (Order of the President No 63) September 1, 2002.)

5. It is often asserted by defenders of the Chinese population programme, and the FCO has long been a supporter, that a relaxation of such coercive measures were a part of China’s 2002 National Family Planning Law. However, as indicated by the extracts above there is no sign of moderation presented nor anything about prohibiting, punishing, or avoiding coercive practices.

6. Neither does it identify or condemn specific coercive measures used across China (and occupied territories such as Tibet and East Turkestan). Significantly though it does emphasize precise acts obstructing family planning, and provision is made for their punishment.

“China’s population planning policies in both their nature and implementation constitute human rights violations according to international Standards.”

(US Congressional Executive Commission on China-Annual Report 2008.)

7. That coercion remains at the centre of China’s population policies and practice is beyond dispute, yet the FCO in its decision not to include this issue in its Human Rights Report seems to disagree. Such a deliberate omission places the FCO at odds with the findings of the United States State Department’s Country Report on China:

“The government [China] continued its coercive birth limitation policy, in some cases resulting in forced abortion or forced sterilization

(US State Department 2008 Human Rights Report: China Published 26 February 2009.)

8. What is puzzling about the Foreign Office’s exclusion of any reference to this subject, is its awareness of coercive birth-control abuses within Tibet, East Turkestan and China. Which have been reported and condemned by bodies such as; United States Congressional Committee on China, US State Department, Amnesty International, members of the United States Congress, Optimus, Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights Watch, Independent Tibet Network, Asia Watch and the British Medical Association.

9. Its action therefore not to give any prominence to coercive birth-control and related violations; either through its website, human rights documentation and reports, is extremely disappointing. The FCO appears indifferent to the existence of these medical atrocities, despite the findings of internationally respected human rights bodies:

“Women face forced abortion and sterilization as part of China’s enforcement of its one-child policy”.

(Amnesty International USA Press Statement, 20 February 2009.)

10. Nor does it appear to regard the comments of former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell as investing the issue with sufficient importance to feature in its Human Rights Report:

“China has in place a regime of severe penalties on women who have unapproved births. This regime plainly operates to coerce pregnant women to have abortions in order to avoid the penalties and therefore amounts to a “program of coercive abortion.”

(Comments issued in July 2004 after a US “fact-finding mission” into China to determine UNFPA’s complicity with China’s coercive
population control programme.)

11. We would respectfully remind the Foreign Affairs Committee that Independent Tibet Network have over the years provided the FCO, Government Ministers, the Department for International Development and individual Members of Parliament with detailed information on this issue.

Along with members of the research group, Optimus, we briefed, in 1993, officials of the China and Human Rights Desk. We also made available reports including Children of Despair and Orders of the State (ITN 1992 and 2000 respectively).

The latter forming written evidence to the Inquiry into Relations with China Foreign Affairs Committee Report on China 2000) submitted also to the Foreign Affairs Committee (Ninth Report 2007-08). Further information was made available for that Parliamentary report, including testimony detailing forced sterilisations of Tibetan women, official Chinese birth control regulations as applying to Tibet and East Turkestan, and a critical examination of the role of UNFPA, IPPF and DFID and the baseless claim that their association with China’s population programme has brought a moderation of coercive practices.

12. A remarkable aspect of this affair is that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through its colleagues at the Department for International Development, acknowledge that violations are occurring as a consequence of China’s population activities:

“It is of course true that abuses in family planning continue to occur in China.”

(DFID correspondence to Independent Tibet Network 20 December 2002.)

13. Although asserting that such abuses are condemned by Britain, the FCO has failed to make available any evidence that it has presented to China its official condemnation, thus we have only an assurance of

14. Meanwhile the FCO argues for continued population agency involvement and financial sponsorship of such organisations, on the basis that such bodies may exert a moderating influence, and will remain while the potential for positive change remains. Such extenuating sophistry flies-in-the face of continued violations, increased calls for coercion, and a hardening of Chinese government attitudes to enforce the population programme.

15. On a number of occasions during our efforts to secure some positive response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have been assured that should no moderation or progress be possible, with
respect to China’s population programme that Britain would reconsider its position and association with agencies working inside China:

“We would only contemplate withdrawal of support for UNFPA and IPPF activities in China if it became clear that neither organisation was making any progress in changing China’s population policy and its implementation”.

(ODA [DFID] Correspondence to Independent Tibet Network 11
January 1995.)

16. Fourteen years later such implementation remains highly coercive, while the policy is inherently draconian.

“Should it become clear that no progress is being made, the British Government would need to reconsider its support to UNFPA and IPPF work in China.”

(FCO Correspondence to Independent Tibet Network 30 September 1993.)

17. As campaigns of forced sterilisation are inflicted upon across China, Tibet and East Turkestan the brutalized women of those territories have witnessed nothing but state-engineered violence operating under the guise of population control. So much for progress!

18. Since 1989, in cooperation with Optimus we have furnished the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a series of informative papers and correspondence, that has consistently appealed for greater exposure of this major human rights violation. It is therefore not a lack of detailed information that explains the FCO’s virtual silence on this matter, or its regrettable decision to exclude the issue from its 2008 Human Rights Report.

19. We express our serious concern at this neglect, of what constitute a pattern of gender-based violence that Tibetan Uyghur and Chinese women suffer as a consequence of China’s population policies. This includes forced or coerced sterilizations and forced abortions.

20. Furthermore such abuses take place against a background of other human rights violations, and in the case of the Tibetan people a denial of their fundamental right to self-determination, as recognized by General Assembly Resolution 1723 (XVI) (1961) and reaffirmed by Resolution 2079 (XX) (1965).

Forced sterilisations, coerced abortions and sterilisations, in tandem with intrusive monitoring of women’s reproductive cycles, constitute acts of discrimination that violate:

Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Article 16(e) of CEDAW specifically guarantees women the rights: “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the . . . means to enable them to exercise these rights.”

21. At the Fourth World Conference on Women, the participating governments, including Britain’s and China, recognized and reaffirmed:

“the right to have control and decide freely and responsibly . . . matters related to . . . Reproductive health, free of coercion . . . and violence.”.

(Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, para 96.)

To this end, governments agreed to:

“Take all appropriate measures to eliminate . . . coercive medical interventions . . .” (para 106(h).)

22. Having collectively agreed and committed Britain to the terms and agreements of the Platform for Action and The Beijing Declaration, which rightly defined violence against women as including:

“. . . forced sterilisation, and forced abortion, coercive/forced use of contraceptives . . .” (Ibid-Paragraph 115).

the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has virtually ignored such abuses as there are inflicted women in Tibet, East Turkestan and China.

23. Television Documentary Exposes Forced Sterilisations of Tibetan Women:

Tibetan Lady: “Those who can’t pay the fine have to have a sterilisation. If you have good connections you can buy a sterilisation certificate for around 1,000Yuan. But those who don’t have any money have to have the sterilisation whether they like it or not. I was forcibly taken away against my will.”

Tibetan Interviewer: “Did you cry?”

Tibetan Lady: “I cried when I was lying on the bed after the sterilisation. I cried thinking that I’d been forced to have a sterilisation when there was nothing wrong with me. I was feeling sick and giddy and couldn’t look up. It was so painful. Apparently they cut the fallopian tubes and stitch them up. When they opened me up they pulled them out by the roots. It was agonising. They didn’t use anaesthetic. They just smeared something on my stomach and carried out the sterilisation. Apart from aspirin for the pain there were no other drugs. And then from the day after the operation I had to look after myself. If I needed a drip I had to pay for it myself.”

Tibetan Interviewer: “Can you show me the scars from the sterilisation?”

Narration: The woman shows Tash her scars, recounting.

Tibetan Lady: “I was so frightened. I can’t even remember how I felt. I wasn’t the only one. About half a dozen women in our village had to undergo sterilisation.”

Tibetan Interviewer: “Forcibly?”

Tibetan Lady: “Yes, forcibly. No one would have done it willingly. They come to the door to fetch you by force. They threaten to confiscate stoves and anything valuable from the house. So people get frightened and go for the sterilisation. Some people were physically damaged by the operation. They have limps and have to drag their hips. Since then people are too scared to have many children.”

(Interview with a Tibetan women as featured in the Channel Four Television Documentary, Undercover in Tibet. Broadcast 28 March 2008.)

24. Interview with Birth-Control Official in East Turkestan:

Radio Free Asia (RFA: “Your office is proceeding with the new birth control plan?”

Birth Control Officer 2 in Korla City: “Yes, we received a new birth control plan, the first of January in 2003, and started our job according to the new plan.”

RFA: “If someone is suspected with illegal pregnancy what would happen?”

Birth Control Officer 2 in Korla City: “We forcibly make her abort her child”

RFA: “Does it have to be forced? If she refuse [sic] what will be happen?”

Birth Control Officer 2 in Korla City: “Yes, it must be forced. If not, how we can control the population? It is clearly mentioned in our birth control policy.”

25. RFA also interviewed women involved in the UNFPA county project:

RFA: “Usually [do] hospitals explain anything about the risks of IUDs or abortions?”

Woman: “No . . .we accept insertion of IUD because we have to do it. Peasants [are] against birth control but government workers [are] not.”

RFA: “If government workers wanted to have more children, what would happen?”

Woman: “They have to pay [a] heavy fine or they will be fired.”

RFA: “If the government finds out someone is illegally pregnant, in spite of the age of [pre-born] baby, will they force her to do abortion?”

Woman: “Yes, pregnant women will be forcibly brought to the hospital by birth control officers. Birth control officials wait for her until the operation is done, because they want to make sure the baby was killed or not.”

RFA: “How do birth control officers find that someone’s pregnancy?”

Woman: “Their job is searching about each family’s private life everyday. They can find out. In case someone had not been [discovered], all responsibility would [go] on birth control officer’s head.”

(Radio Free Asia, Family Planning in Uyghur Region, 17 March 2003.)


26. There remains genuine concern in this country (Editor’s Note: the report was targetting a British readership) about such medical atrocities, and a deep sense of unease at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s association with communist China’s birth-control programme, through its support; moral, political, and financial, of multi-lateral population agencies working there.

27. This was reflected in Parliament on 8 May 2008 by Mr David Amess MP, who rightfully asked if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in its regular discussions with China had raised the implementation, in Tibet, of the Population and Birth-planning Law 2002. Responding for the Government Mr Jim Murphy MP revealed that:

“We have not discussed the implementation of China’s population and family planning law with the Chinese Government with specific reference to Tibet . . .”.

28. Although it would seem the FCO claimed to have raised the One Child Policy during the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, no details were forthcoming on the nature of such discussions. Any hope that the FCO would open up its considerable files on the subject were not encouraged by Mr Murphy’s insistence that:

“A more detailed survey of all the exchanges between UK Ministers and officials with Chinese authorities from 2006 would require a search of files held centrally and at all posts in China, which could be achieved only at disproportionate cost.”

29. Why is the FCO seemingly unable or unwilling to make available for public or Parliamentary scrutiny details of its exchanges with China on human rights?

30. Meanwhile, the present policy of dialogue with communist China (which the FCO claims it regularly raises “. . . concerns with the Chinese Government about the implementation of China’s population and family planning law”) as a means of improving human and reproductive rights has proved a singular failure, as witnessed by ongoing coercive practices inside China, Tibet and East Turkestan. There is an urgent need to reassess this aspect of relations with communist China, for the Foreign and Commonwealth to give full and detailed coverage of this serious violation of women’s human rights, and in so doing restore a much needed sense of ethics to UK foreign policy.


31. Independent Tibet Network respectfully requests that the FAC.

32. Given the Foreign Affairs Committee considers this subject to be a grave violation of human rights, as evidenced by the FAC’s Tenth Report (2000) which concluded that: “. . . restrictions on reproductive rights in China re not in keeping with Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which give men and women the right to found a family” (Paragraph 41-Reproductive Rights.)

submit a formal request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that it include, in all future annual Reports on Human Rights and China, the issue of China’s population control programme (as applying to Tibet, East Turkestan and China) and a detailed, forceful and critical analysis, featuring and informed by material from independent human rights organizations.

33. Call upon the FCO to include, in the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, with specific reference to Tibet, the implementation of China’s population and family planning law.

34. Ask the FCO to implement an independent evaluation involving a forum of relevant and independent organizations including human rights monitors to more factually and independently assess the Chinese population programme, as they impact upon Buddhist-Tibetan, Moslem-Uyghur women, and other subject peoples within Chinese-occupied territories.

35. Request the FCO to establish an impartial and credible investigation of the role of IPPF and UNFPA in the Chinese programme and a realistic assessment of the potential for change these organizations might deliver.

36. To request the FCO to provide genuinely independent evidence that UNFPA and IPPF have prevented coercive practices, including forced sterilisations. Should such a conclusion not be convincingly demonstrated to honour previous assurances made by both the FCO and DFID that a withdrawal of UK support for UNFPA and IPPF would be considered.

37. Call upon the FCO to make available for Parliament, human rights organisations and/or members of the public details of exchanges between its officials and Chinese representatives within the annual UK China Human Rights Dialogue. Making available for public examination evidence that the FCO has formally expressed its condemnation to China concerning coercive practices within that population programme.

38. Demand that FCO urgently establish a programme linked to future availability of international aid and involvement aimed at encouraging the Chinese government to switch their reliance on sterilization and abortion to the use of safe, effective and voluntary methods of contraception so that the Chinese programme can be brought into line with CEDAW Articles 1, 2 and 16e, The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article 7.1 and the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, including Paragraphs. 96, 106 (h) and 115.

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