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Sexual Violence and Birth Prevention: Conceptualizing Beijing’s Attacks on Uyghur Reproductive Capacities as a Settler Colonialist Strategy of Attritional Genocide

NOTICE: This article contains information that some readers may find distressing.


‘Take her to the dark room’, said the Han Chinese man in a mask.[1] Tursunay Ziawudun and her cellmate, also a young Uyghur woman, were ushered into separate rooms. As she heard her cellmate’s screams next door, guards inserted an electric baton into her vagina and twisted it. She blacked out from the shocks. Ten days later she was gang raped.[2] On other occasions, guards shoved metal tools into her genital tract, making her feel as if her internal organs were being pulled out.[3] ‘It was not a simple rape; it was extreme inhumane torture’, she later testified.[4] From these experiences, Ziawudun soon developed constant vaginal bleeding, from which she continued to suffer after her release. When she arrived in the US in September 2020 for medical treatment, doctors had to remove her uterus.[5]


From early 2017, the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), referred to by many Uyghurs as East Turkestan, embarked on a campaign of extrajudicially interning an estimated 1-2 million Uyghurs and other members of predominantly Turkic ethnic groups into re-education camps.[6] The campaign was preceded by decades-long tensions between Uyghurs and China’s Han majority population, which in July 2009 erupted into violent clashes in the region’s capital of Urumqi.[7] After acts of violent resistance by small numbers of Uyghur militants, Beijing turned Xinjiang into one of the world’s most heavily fortified police states.[8] This paved the way for a re-education campaign that represents the probably largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious group since the Holocaust.[9] A conservatively worded report issued in August 2022 by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that Beijing’s policies against Uyghurs may constitute crimes against humanity.[10] In December 2021, an independent people’s tribunal chaired by former war crimes prosecutor Sir Geoffrey Nice found that Beijing was committing genocide in the region.[11]


The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) specified the crime of rape in international law as:


[T]he sexual penetration, however slight: (a) of the vagina or anus of the victim by the penis of the perpetrator or any other object [...]; or (b) the mouth of the victim by the penis of the perpetrator; where such sexual penetration occurs without the consent of the victim.[12]


According to Qelbinur Sidik, an Uzbek woman who was forced to teach camp detainees, the women’s camps use four kinds of electric shock device to torture female detainees: ‘the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick’.[13] Camp security staff told her that groups of police officers would first rape a woman, then insert an electric baton or rod into her vagina and rectum to shock her, then rape her again (a Han police officer who fled China has testified that camp guards would also insert electric rods into the penises of male Uyghur detainees).[14] Some of the female rape victims were still teenagers. Classified police records confirm that many teenage females were among those arbitrarily detained at a re-education camp in Konasheher county in southern Xinjiang, including Rahile Omer, a Uyghur girl aged 14 when she was detained.[15] Ruqiye Perhat, who was repeatedly raped by Chinese prison guards, resulting in two pregnancies that were then forcibly aborted, stated that it was typical for a detained ‘woman or man under age 35 [to be] raped and sexually abused’.[16]


Other firsthand testimony from camp survivors speaks of forced sex-on-demand. ‘My job was to remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them [behind their backs] so they cannot move’, said Gulzira Aeulkhan. She would then leave the room and a man would enter, either camp police or a Chinese man from outside the camp. ‘I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room, I took the woman for a shower’.[17] Chinese men would pay money to sleep with the most attractive detainees.


According to another Uyghur detainee, in her camp in Xinjiang the younger and more beautiful Uyghur women were detained on the second floor of a building used by Chinese camp officials.[18] Officers would take them away for ‘interrogation’, a euphemism for taking them to their vehicles where they were kissed, groped, and raped. To refuse would risk a long prison sentence. One of her own disciplinarians, a Han man, would take younger female detainees to the locker room, which did not have surveillance cameras. There, he would grope their breasts and thighs, threatening to send them to the prefecture-level detention centre if they resisted.


Tursunay Ziawudun noted that the masked men always appeared at night, taking groups of women through camp corridors and into the interrogation room, which did not have cameras.[19] Several female detainees have reported incidents of gang rape during interrogations.[20] Sayragul Saytbay, a Kazakh woman who was forced to teach at a camp, witnessed a girl in her early 20s being gang raped in front of other detainees by masked police officers.[21] ‘Rescue me’, the girl screamed as five or six officers took turns penetrating her. Male Uyghur detainees have also been gang raped.[22] A former Han camp police officer admitted that guards used sexual torture to extract confessions, and dehumanize Uyghurs by ordering detainees to rape new male inmates.[23] Former camp teacher Qelbinur Sidik described how young women would routinely be taken out of her class, and returned hours later.[24] Sexual abuse and torture had left their clothes stained with blood, and they were unable to sit down.


Gulbahar Jelilova was chained and raped four times during interrogations, including attempts by a guard to forcibly insert his penis into her mouth.[25] The abuses forced her to spend a total of 40 days in the camp hospital. Other female detainees suffered mental breakdowns as a result of physical and sexual abuse, hitting their heads against cell walls and smearing faeces on them. Guards would force women to undress in public settings and search their genitals for hidden Koran texts.[26] A few women had recently given birth and were lactating from their bare breasts. One of them had delivered a baby the day before she was detained.[27] Other women reported that camp guards ordered them to strip naked and smear a liquid mixed with chilli paste on their genitals before showering, causing them to burn ‘like fire’.[28]


In 2018, Menzire (pseudonym), a Uyghur family planning officer, was tasked to deal with female camp detainees who had been impregnated during detention.[29] As growing numbers of detainees suddenly became pregnant, the camp quickly built a dedicated ‘lover’s room’ and required married detainees to engage in monthly conjugal relations with their husbands. In addition, the female detainees were forcibly fitted with IUDs. When Menzire complained to a Chinese superior that this practice was probably introduced to cover up incidents of rape in the camps, she was rudely ejected from her office. In Gulzira Aeulkhan’s camp, women were also coerced into having conjugal relations with their husbands, whether they wanted to or not.[30] Gulzira, who was forced to clean her camp’s ‘lover’s room’ discovered that it was also the very place where Han men paid money to rape Uyghur detainees.


Mihrigul Tursun, a Uyghur mother of triplets, said that during detention she and other women were given unknown drugs and injections that caused irregular bleeding and loss of menstrual cycles.[31] Doctors in the US later found she was infertile.[32] In the camp, she witnessed the death of a fellow female detainee who suffered from severe menstrual bleeding but was denied medical treatment.[33] Qelbinur Sidik similarly saw a detained teenage girl bleed from her genitals for two months before she passed away.[34]


State Policies Driving Declining Uyghur Birth Rates


Sexual abuses in the camps are not officially sanctioned by the government, but they fit into a systemic pattern of state violence against female Uyghur’s reproductive apparatus.[35] Here, I contextualise such sexual violence within Beijing’s wider efforts to ‘optimise’, contain, and dilute Xinjiang’s ethnic population through birth prevention, population transfers, coerced interethnic marriage, and ordering Han Chinese to stay in Uyghur homes. I discuss the political paranoia that drives its policies targeting Uyghurs and other groups, and conclude by arguing that attacks on Uyghur reproduction can be understood in the context of Beijing’s attritional campaign of settler colonialism. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the following acts to constitute a crime against humanity: ‘rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity’.[36]


In 2019, while studying population data to estimate mass internment shares, I stumbled upon local records showing birth rates and death rates by prefectures and counties. Together, birth rates and death rates enable calculating natural population growth. The data indicated severe birth rate declines in Uyghur regions.[37] Between 2015 and 2018, natural population growth rates in the four southern Uyghur heartland prefectures declined by 73 percent.[38] In 2019, rates continued to decline. In a population-weighted sample of prefectures and counties with data for both 2018 and 2019, natural population growth rates fell from 5.2 to 1.7 per mille[39], a staggering decline for a 12-month period. In 2020 the official Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook stopped publishing birth rates by prefectures and counties.[40]


At first glance, declining birth rates in Uyghur regions appeared to be the logical result of the campaign of mass internment, which had especially removed Uyghur men from their homes.[41] However, a subsequent investigation showed that population growth was plummeting as the result of a concerted effort to prevent Uyghur births.[42]


In 2018, ‘zero birth control violation incidents’, a phrase previously not routinely used in the PRC or Xinjiang, became a standard family planning target. A particularly strict case was Hotan Prefecture, a region of 2.5 million persons that in 2019 planned to have no more than 21 birth control policy violations among its entire population.[43] In 2018, the region performed 243 sterilisations per 100,000 population, compared to 33 per 100,000 in the rest of the country.[44] By 2019, at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in rural southern Xinjiang were subject to ‘birth control measures with long-term effectiveness’, including the placement of intrauterine devices (IUDs) or sterilisation.[45]


In 2017, former camp teacher Qelbinur Sidik was forced into a bus with four armed police and taken to a hospital where hundreds of women, all Uyghur, were lined up for IUDs to be inserted.[46] She protested in vain that she was nearly 50 years old, had only one child, and did not plan to have more. The authorities had notified her that if she resisted when the officers came for her, she would be placed into a tiger chair, a metal chair used for interrogations and torture.[47] ‘I was made to lie down and spread my legs, and the device was inserted. It was terribly violent. I was crying’.[48] Once inserted, IUDs could only be surgically removed. In 2018, when the state embarked on a campaign of mass sterilisation among ethnic populations, Sidik was forcibly sterilised.[49]


Starting in 2018, birth control violations were punishable with extrajudicial internment, and a leaked internal document (the Karakax List) showed that a violation of birth control measures was the most common reason for such internment.[50] That year, individual Uyghur counties determined to sterilise up to a third of all women of childbearing age, and a Uyghur heartland prefecture published a blunt statement linking the new regionwide ‘free birth control surgery’ campaign with the intent to mass sterilise rural populations: ‘Guide the masses of farmers and herdsmen to spontaneously carry out family planning sterilisation surgery’.[51]


Xinjiang’s ethnic regions are required to suppress population growth below certain targets. More recently, these have at times been near or below zero. For 2020, Kizilsu prefecture planned a 6.14 per mille reduction in its natural population growth rate, which would result in a negative 3.14 per mille growth target.[52] Similarly, for 2021, Aksu’s Xinhe County aimed at a birth rate of 6 per mille or less, which at the county’s posted death rate of 6.62 would result in negative population growth. For comparison, natural population growth rates in Uyghur regions between 2007 and 2016 ranged between 10 and 20 per mille, far higher than those among Han populations.[53]


‘End the Dominance of the Uyghur Ethnic Group’: Beijing’s Campaign to ‘Optimise’ Xinjiang’s Ethnic Population Structure


While it is evident that Xinjiang instituted birth prevention policies of an unprecedented draconian nature, the intent behind these policies was initially unclear. Research on the statements of Xinjiang’s so-called scholar-officials, academics who are at the same time employed and funded by the government, has shed important light on this question.[54]


In a top-secret speech held in 2014, Xi Jinping had argued that ‘population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability’.[55] This exact statement was later quoted verbatim by a senior Xinjiang official in July 2020 when arguing that southern Xinjiang’s Han population share was ‘too low’ (see below). Other classified documents from 2017 lamented ‘severe imbalances in the distribution of the ethnic population’ and a ‘severely monoethnic’ population structure in southern Xinjiang, indicating concern over an overconcentration of Uyghurs.[56]


In 2015, Liao Zhaoyu, dean of the institute of frontier history and geography at Tarim University, discussed the question of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population at an academic event. When contemplating ‘methods to solve Xinjiang’s problems’, Liao said that in southern Xinjiang the state must ‘change the population structure and layout [and] end the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’.[57] In 2016, Liao argued that the ‘underlying reason’ for Xinjiang’s unrest and terrorism was the high concentration of Uyghur populations in southern Xinjiang.[58]


Xinjiang’s most high-profile and authoritative voice on this sensitive subject is probably Liu Yilei, deputy secretary-general of the party committee of Xinjiang’s Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and dean of Xinjiang University’s Western China Economic Development and Reform Research Institute. At a July 2020 symposium with 300 experts and scholars from across China, Liu noted that despite all progress, ‘the root of Xinjiang’s social stability problems has not yet been resolved’.[59] To quote:


the problem in southern Xinjiang is mainly the unbalanced population structure. Population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability. The proportion of the Han population in southern Xinjiang is too low, less than 15%. The problem of demographic imbalance is southern Xinjiang’s core issue.[60]


A 2017 article published by two researchers from the Xinjiang Police Academy, argued that Uyghur ‘terrorism’ should be eradicated by ‘rapidly optimising the population structure’.[61] The authors proposed concrete measures to mitigate the ‘human threat’ emanating from concentrated Uyghur populations by diluting ‘problem’ populations with ‘negative energy’ through the embedding of Han settler populations.


Taken together, the concerns expressed by Xinjiang’s scholar-officials regarding the Uyghur population centred around the following themes:[62]


  1. Excessive ethnic population growth was creating an idle rural surplus workforce that constituted a potential threat to national security.

  2. High ethnic population density combined with low mobility was breeding a ‘hardened’ society with an ‘excessively strong atmosphere of religious belief’ creating an alleged breeding ground for religious ‘extremism’.

  3. High ethnic population concentrations were giving rise to a dangerous sense of identification with their homeland, weakening identification with the Chinese state.

  4. High ethnic population ratios were a national security risk for sensitive border regions.


This necessitated two strategies. First, to severely curb Uyghur population growth. Second, to dilute the Uyghur population through transfers of Uyghurs to other regions, and by promoting large-scale Han in-migration into Uyghur heartlands through systematic forms of settler colonialism. Concurrently, state policies transfer so-called ethnic rural surplus labourers from southern Xinjiang into coerced factory work placements in more industrialised regions and other provinces, an effort that according to international criminal law experts could constitute the crime against humanity of forcible transfer.[63]


Besides targeted birth prevention and the promotion of Han in-migration into Uyghur regions, the state has actively promoted interethnic marriage between the two groups through financial incentives and other means.[64] Chinese state corporations were incentivized to hold mass interethnic wedding ceremonies. The state further mandated ethnic families to be ‘paired’ with Han Chinese counterparts to promote ‘ethnic unity’. By late 2017, this so-called ‘Becoming Family’ program had paired approximately one million state officials as pseudo-’relatives’ with 1.5 million ethnic families.[65] Because many Uyghur and other ethnic men have been detained in camps and prisons, male Han Chinese ‘relatives’ assigned to Uyghur homes frequently ended up co-sleeping with female hosts, and ‘sleeping’ under the same roof was mandated by the policy.[66]


Qelbinur Sidik, the former camp teacher, had a Han man stay in her home:[67]


We were asked to ‘live together, cook together, eat together, learn together, sleep together’ with Han cadres assigned by the local government. Women must have a male Han cadre ‘relative’, and men must have a Han female ‘relative’.[68]


At night, Sidik’s Han ‘relative’ would come into her kitchen, kissing and touching her, while her husband stayed in another room. ‘He would strip down to his shorts and sexually harass me while I was cooking’.[69] In the kitchen, while groping her relentlessly, he showed her the state policy document which states that ‘relatives’ are to ‘cook together, do things together’.[70] He complained that she refused to sleep with him, given that other Uyghur women whom he stayed with were ‘happy to oblige’.[71] Together with officials from village-based work teams which regularly check on local families, the Becoming Family campaign represents an unprecedented invasion of a Han settler colonial population into occupied ethnic groups’ most private spaces.[72]


The Political Paranoia Driving Beijing’s War on the Uyghur Population


I argue that the scale and intensity of Xinjiang’s policies, the framing of entire ethnic groups as a ‘human threat’ and attendant extreme preoccupations with internment camp security, mass surveillance, and mass birth prevention, reflect a devolution into what experts have described as political paranoia.[73] Sean Roberts has suggested that Beijing’s stance towards the Uyghurs frames them almost as a type of ‘biological threat’ to society that must be contained.[74] Scholars of genocides and crimes against humanity have argued that political paranoia is a common feature behind many atrocity crimes.


Dirk Moses suggests that pre-emptive strikes against a perceived threat group indicate a political paranoia defined as an ‘interpretative disorder constituted by hysterical threat assessments’.[75] Paranoia is not purely delusional but rooted in a reality (such as a few Uyghurs perpetrating violent acts of resistance) that becomes greatly exaggerated through interpretation. Genocide scholarship on the Holocaust suggests that the Nazis were not just driven by racism, but also by a political paranoia which led to a radicalisation of anti-Jewish measures. The paranoid-schizoid position uses projective identification and splitting to project the hated parts of the self out and onto the ‘Other’, while simultaneously idealising the good within oneself.[76]


Political paranoia has arguably been a driving factor behind Beijing’s re-education campaign in Xinjiang.[77] In internal speeches held in 2014, Xi had initially delineated the ‘enemy’ as those who engaged in direct acts of violence against the state. Ultimately, however, anyone who cannot be controlled is ‘untrustworthy’ because they could conceivably end up resisting the state in some form.[78] This creates a devolutionary logic by which the ‘enemy’ is no longer just those who actually engage in violent resistance, but also persons who are potentially ‘untrustworthy’ because the state fails to ascertain their state of mind.


Moses describes this logic as a striving for ‘permanent security’, defined as the ‘unobtainable goal’ of pursuing ‘absolute safety’—being invulnerable to threats.[79] He argues that ‘[t]he paranoid and hubristic quest for permanent security escalates routine state…security practices’ to a point where the government indiscriminately targets entire groups, with indifference to collateral damage.[80] This quest then becomes the breeding ground for a mass atrocity.


Consequently, the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary non-Han citizens can be understood as political paranoia that feeds on exaggerated threat perceptions. This paranoia and the attendant desire to control the Uyghur population, its density, distribution and growth, could also explain systematic patterns of sexual assault against Uyghur women as an extension of the state project of settler colonialism.


Sexual Violence as Attritional Genocide: Attacks on Uyghur Reproductive Capacities are an Extension of Settler Colonialism


As a strategic frontier region, Xinjiang has a long history of settler colonialism and resource extraction by the Chinese state.[81] In 1884, the Qing authorities formally referred to it as ‘Xinjiang’ (‘New Frontier’). Since 1949, the PRC government has aimed to cement its control by dramatically increasing the Han population, which at that point made up only 6.7 percent of the region’s total populace.[82] By 1978, their share reached 41.6 percent. Han in-migration surged again in the 1990s and early 2000s. Besides growing economic activity of the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps (XPCC), a state entity established in 1954 as a military-agricultural colony to facilitate large-scale Han in-migration, the Great Western Development project, a multi-billion RMB development project initiated by the central government, also led to an influx of Han settlers.[83] By 2018, however, Han population shares had declined to 31.6 percent, due to lower birth rates and out-migration resulting from Xinjiang’s deteriorating security situation and increased state oppression.[84]


To increase the Han population, the state redoubled its efforts to lure Han settlers from other parts of China. In 2017, the central government mandated an increase of Xinjiang’s settler population in southern Xinjiang by 300,000 by the year 2022.[85] It promised incoming young settler families several acres of arable land, well-paid government jobs, brand new apartments with four years free rent, comprehensive medical benefits, and additional generous monthly livelihood subsidy payments.[86]


In her work on ‘sexual violence as genocide’, Lisa Sharlach notes that while rape is often presented as a consequence rather than a component of conflict, sexualized degradation serves to strategically perpetuate a dominant’s group hegemony over a weaker ethnic population.[87] Sharlash refers to ‘state rape’ as systematic mass rape ‘perpetrated, encouraged, or tacitly approved by the institutions of the state’.


As in other atrocity contexts such as former Yugoslavia, Xinjiang’s leaders have denied incidents of sexual abuse and have not issued any publicly-available statements condoning them. Theoretically, sexual assaults against Uyghur and Kazakh female detainees could result from male sex drives. However, paranoid state perception of concentrated and growing Uyghur populations, coupled with the region’s increased geopolitical significance in the context of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, mean that sexual violence can be understood as but one component of a wider campaign of settler colonialism.


Taken together, the acts of Han police guards penetrating shackled Uyghur female detainees, gang-raping Uyghur men, forced sterilisation, sending Han men into the homes of Uyghur women, or forced interethnic marriage embody the ultimate intention behind the state’s settler colonial project.[88] While officials argue that sexual assault in camps violates government regulations, the presence of such violence is a logical consequence and expression of the systematic dehumanization, occupation and dispossession of Uyghur and Kazakh heartlands. Acts of rape go further than mere internment: by penetrating and thus occupying the bodies of the dispossessed, they turn state phantasies of ethnopolitical dominance into physical domination over their reproductive capacities.


Citing Lorenzo Veracini, Sean Roberts notes that while other forms of colonialism exploit host populations and therefore act more like a virus living off other living cells, settler colonialism favours lower population density as it is less interested in exploiting the population than the land and its resources.[89] Settler colonial efforts are therefore more akin to bacteria living on surfaces without needing a living host. Even so, rather than necessitating full ethnic cleansing, settler colonial campaigns may be content to destroy what Lemkin described as the ‘national pattern of the oppressed group’, imposing their pattern (ways of living) on ‘the oppressed population which is allowed to remain’.[90] Here, Beijing’s settler colonialism in Uyghur heartlands combines frontier with settler colonial elements as its two large-scale systems of state-imposed forced labour feed off the exploitation of the able-bodied ethnic workforce.[91]


Rather than being a process that can ‘erupt’ into ‘genocidal moments’, Pauline Wakeham argues that settler colonialism entails cumulative dispossessions that combine to a long-term attritional effect.[92] Drawing on Raphael Lemkin’s notion that genocide can be a process of protracted group disintegration rather than of rapid destruction, she suggests that settler colonialism exerts a slow violence that follows a logic of gradual dissolution. Benjamin Madley described ‘frontier genocide’ as a three-phased process, where in the final phase, indigenous populations are subjected to slow genocidal attrition through malnutrition, inadequate healthcare and violence.[93] Nazila Isgandarova’s work on the long-term effects of systemic rape explicates the various knock-on effects of initial acts of sexual violence, such as victims suffering from long-term mental and physical conditions that prevent them from being able to marry.[94] This results in long-term impacts on the capabilities of targeted groups to maintain numerical strength and to reproduce socio-communal structures that are the foundations of their survival.[95]


Whereas Hamas’ acts of sexual violence against Israeli and other women were carried out with the declared intent to physically destroy the Jewish race, systematic acts of rape and sexual abuse by Russian troops against Ukrainian women and by Han Chinese males against Uyghur females are best understood in the context of long-term campaigns designed to integrate and colonize subjugated populations.[96] Moscow and Beijing seek to eradicate the distinct identities in the regions they seek to or have occupied, weakening and decreasing the respective populations through acts of violence and birth prevention so that they can more readily impose the cultures of the ‘master races’.[97] These efforts represent forms of settler colonialism carried out with varying degrees of genocidal attrition, within which sexual violence and acts of sexual domination can play an integral part.[98]


Together with eliticide—the elimination of a targeted group’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual elite through murder or lifelong imprisonment—attacks on the dignity and physiological functioning of the female reproductive apparatus are part of a systematic campaign intended to destroy a group ‘in part’, to facilitate its subjugation, integration, and erasure of identity.


Adrian Zenz

Adrian Zenz is Director and Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. A German anthropologist known for his studies of the Xinjiang internment camps and persecution of Uyghurs in China, he is the author of numerous books and articles.


[1] Ivan Watson and Rebecca Wright, ‘Allegations of shackled students and gang rape inside China’s detention camps’ (CNN, 19 February 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Tursunay Ziyawudun’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Matthew Hill, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter, ‘‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape’ (BBC News, 2 February 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; David Tobin and others, ‘State violence in Xinjiang - a comprehensive assessment. Submission of evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal’ (June 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023, chapter 3.

[2] Uyghur Tribunal (n 1).

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid; Asim Kashgarian, ‘Uyghur Activists in Exile Emboldened by Beijing’s Attacks’ (Voice of America, 26 March 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[6] Adrian Zenz, ‘The Xinjiang Police files: Re-education Camp Security and political paranoia in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’ (2022) 3 The Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies 263; Adrian Zenz, ‘Public security minister’s speech describes Xi Jinping’s direction of mass detentions in Xinjiang’ (ChinaFile, 24 May 2022) <> accessed 27 December 2023; James Millward, ‘China’s new Anti-Uyghur campaign’ (Foreign Affairs, 23 January 2023) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Adrian Zenz, ‘Thoroughly Reforming Them Towards a Healthy Heart Attitude: China’s Political Re-education Campaign in Xinjiang’ (2018) 38 Central Asian Survey 102; Adrian Zenz, ‘Wash Brains, Cleanse Hearts’: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s Extrajudicial Internment Campaign’ (2019) 7(11) Journal of Political Risk.

[7] Sean Roberts, War on the Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority (Princeton University Press 2020). 

[8] Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, ‘Securitizing Xinjiang: Police Recruitment, Informal Policing and Ethnic Minority Co-optation’ (2020) 242 The China Quarterly 324.

[9] Adrian Zenz, ‘Innovating Repression: Policy Experimentation and the Evolution of Beijing’s Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang’ (2024) Journal of Contemporary China; Fergus Shiel, ‘About the China cables investigation’ (ICIJ, 23 November 2019) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[10] OHCHR, ‘OHCHR Assessment of Human Rights Concerns in the XUAR’ (OHCR 2022).

[11] Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Uyghur Tribunal Judgement: Beyond reasonable doubt the People’s Republic of China committed torture and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021).

[12] Gideon Boas, James L Bischoff, and Natalie N Reid, International Criminal Law Practitioner Library: Elements of Crime Under International Law (11th edn, Cambridge University Press 2008).

[13] Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Qelbinur Sidik’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Hill (n 1).

[14] Shiel (n 9); Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Wang Leizhan’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Rebecca Wright and others, ‘‘Some are just psychopaths’: Chinese detective in exile reveals extent of torture against Uyghurs’ (CNN, 5 October 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[15] Rahile Omer was 14 years old on September 28, 2017, when she was first detained; Zenz (n 6). 

[16] Anna Ferris-Rotman, 'Abortions, IUDs and sexual humiliation: Muslim women who fled China for Kazakhstan recount ordeals' (Washington Post, 5 October 2019) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[17] Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Gulzire Awulqanqizi’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[18] Written witness statements and interviews conducted by the author in late 2022.

[19] Uyghur Tribunal (n 1); Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Sayragul Sauytbay’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; OHCHR (n 10); Human Rights Watch, ‘‘Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots’: Chinese Government Crimes against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims’ (Human Rights Watch 2021).

[20] Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Gulbahar Jelilova’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Harris (n 1); Elizabeth M Lynch, ‘China’s attacks on Uighur women are crimes against humanity’ (The Washington Post, 21 October 2019) <> accessed 27 December 2023; David Tobin, ‘Genocidal processes: Social death in Xinjiang’ (2022) 45(16) Ethnic and Racial Studies 93; Joanne Smith-Finley, ‘Why scholars and activists increasingly fear a Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang’ (2021) 23(3) Journal of Genocide Research 348.

[21] Uyghur Tribunal (n 19)

[22] ibid 11; Wright (n 1).

[23] ibid; compare Zenz (n 6).

[24] Ruth Ingram, ‘Uyghur women have been disproportionately singled out for abuse in Xinjiang’ (The China Project, 16 March 2023) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[25] Uyghur Tribunal (n 20).

[26] Ursula Gauthier, ‘‘They want to turn us into zombies’: the ordeal of the Uighurs in the Chinese camps’ (Ursula Gauthier, 21 November 2019) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[27] ibid; The Associated Press, ‘China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization’ (AP News, 29 June 2020) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[28] Ferris-Rotman (n 16).

[29] Interview with an anonymous Uyghur witness, conducted by unnamed interlocutors in Kazakhstan. Used with permission.

[30] Uyghur Tribunal (n 17) 13.

[31] CBS News, ‘Uighur woman details horrific abuse in China internment camp’ (CBS News, 27 November 2018) <> accessed 27 November 2023.

[32] Shosuke Kato and Kenji Kawase, ‘Xinjiang: What China shows world vs. what former detainee describes’ (Nikkei Asia, 10 August 2019) <> accessed 27 December 2023; Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Witness Statement: Mihrigul Tursun’ (Uyghur Tribunal: An International People’s Tribunal 2021) <> accessed 27 December 2023.

[33] Congressional-Executive Commission on China ‘Testimony of Mihrigul Tursun, Hearing: The Communist Party’s Crackdown on Religion in China’ (Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2018); Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott, ‘Uyghur refugee tells of death and fear inside China’s Xinjiang camps’ (CNN, 21 January 2019) <> accessed 28 December 2023.

[34] The Select Committee on the CCP, ‘Hearing Notice: The Chinese Communist Party's Ongoing Uyghur Genocide’ (23 March 2023) <> accessed 28 December 2023, 37:35-37:55; Alex Willemyns, ‘Uyghurs tell Congress of gang rape, shackles and sterilization’ (RFA, 24 March 2023) <> accessed 28 December 2023.

[35] Adrian Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang’ (Jamestown Foundation, 28 June 2020) <> accessed 3 January 2024; Adrian Zenz, ‘‘End the Dominance of the Uyghur Ethnic Group’: An Analysis of Beijing’s Population Optimization Strategy in Southern Xinjiang’ (2021) 40(3) Central Asian Survey 291; The OHCHR report speaks of ‘credible’ allegations of sexual violence, torture and rape in Xinjiang’s internment camps, see OHCHR (n 10).

[36] United Nations, ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ (United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[37] Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35).

[38] National Bureau of Statistics of China, ‘China Statistical Yearbook 2016’ (China Statistics Press 2016); National Bureau of Statistics of China, ‘China Statistical Yearbook 2018’ (China Statistics Press 2018); National Bureau of Statistics of China, ‘China Statistical Yearbook 2019’ (China Statistics Press 2019).

[39] ‘Per mille’ refers to ‘per thousand’.

[40] National Bureau of Statistics of China, ‘China Statistical Yearbook 2020’ (China Statistics Press 2020). 

[41] Adrian Zenz, ‘Wash Brains, Cleanse Hearts’ (n 6).

[42] Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35); Compare The Associated Press ‘China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization’ (AP News, 29 June 2020) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[43] Hotan Prefecture Health and Family Planning Commission ‘2019 Budget Disclosure’ (Hotan Prefecture 2019).

[44] Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35).

[45] ibid.

[46] The Associated Press (n 42); Ruth Ingram, ‘Confessions of a Xinjiang Camp Teacher’ (The Diplomat, 17 August 2020) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[47] Emma Graham-Harrison and Lily Kuo, ‘Muslim minority teacher, 50, tells of forced sterilization in Xinjiang, China’ (The Guardian, 4 September 2020) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[48] Ingram (n 46).

[49] Graham-Harrison and Kuo (n 47).

[50] Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35); Adrian Zenz, ‘The Karakax List: Dissecting the Anatomy of Beijing’s Internment Drive in Xinjiang’ (2020) 8(2) Journal of Political Risk. 

[51] ibid; Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture ‘Summary of poverty alleviation development work in the first half of 2018 and work plan for the second half’ (Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, 2018). 

[52] Kizilsu Prefecture Government, ‘Public Explanation of the 2019 Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture Health Commission Departmental Final Accounts’ (Kizislu Prefecture Government, 10 August 2020).

[53] See Zenz, ‘End the Dominance of the Uyghur Ethnic Group’ (n 35).

[54] ibid.

[55] Adrian Zenz, ‘The Xinjiang Papers: An Introduction’(The Uyghur Tribunal, 27 November 2021) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[56] ibid.

[57] International Legal Research Net, ‘The 41st Session of the International Law Lecture – How to enlighten the key of Social Stability and Long-term Security in Xinjiang’ (2015) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[58] Zhaoyu Liao, ‘‘Yidai yilu’ beijing xia ruhe yi ‘wenhua kepu’ pudian Xinjiang changzhijiu’an jishi’ (2016) 4 Journal of Kashgar University 46.

[59] The speech is summarized on Xinjiang University’s website at Xinjiang University School of Economics and Management. Liu Yilei participated in the ‘Chinese Economists 50 Forum’ and spoke as a representative.

[60] Liu Yilei ‘Liu Yilei: Face the Problem, Deal With Each Issue on Its Merits, Implement Policy Precisely, and Promote the Formation of a New Pattern in the Development of the Western Region’ (China Think Tanks, 25 July 2020) <> accessed 3 January 2024

[61] Gao, Xue-Jing, and Li Ming, ‘Research into the Core Content and the Promoting Tactics of the Counter-terrorist Strategy of Embedding in Xinjiang’ (2017) 5 Journal of Beijing Police College 26.

[62] Zenz, ‘End the Dominance of the Uyghur Ethnic Group’ (n 35).

[63] Adrian Zenz, ‘Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program: A Process-Oriented Evaluation’ (Jamestown Foundation, March 2021) <> accessed 3 January 2024; Adrian Zenz, ‘The Conceptual Evolution of Poverty Alleviation Through Labour Transfer in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’ (2023) 42(4) Central Asian Survey 649; Adrian Zenz, ‘Coercive Labor in the Cotton Harvest in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Uzbekistan: A Comparative Analysis of State-Sponsored Forced Labor’ (2023) 56(2) Communist and Post-Communist Studies 1.

[64] Andréa J. Worden and others, ‘Forced marriage of Uyghur Women: State policies for interethnic marriages in East Turkistan’ (Uyghur Human Rights Project, 16 November 2022) <> accessed 3 January 2024; Gulchehra Hoja, ‘Matchmaking app offers Uyghur Brides for Han Chinese men’ (Radio Free Asia, 14 November 2023) <> accessed 3 January 2024.

[65] Xinjiang Documentation Project, ‘The ‘Jieqin’ Campaign: Ethnic Integration, Surveillance, and Grassroots Governance’ (The University of British Columbia) <> accessed 4 January 2024.

[66] Shohret Hoshur, ‘Male Chinese ‘relatives’ assigned to Uyghur homes co-sleep with female hosts’ (Radio Free Asia, 31 October 2019) <> accessed 4 January 2024.

[67] The Select Committee on the CCP, ‘Testimony of Qelbinur Sidik’ (23 March 2023) <> accessed 4 January 2024.

[68] Ruth Ingram, ‘Sexual abuse of Uyghur women by CCP cadres in Xinjiang: A victim speaks out’ (Bitter Winter, 19 September 2020) <> accessed 4 January 2020.

[69] ibid.

[70] The Select Committee on the CCP (n 34), 40:50-41:20.

[71] The Select Committee on the CCP (n 67).

[72] Zenz (n 50).

[73] Zenz (n 6).

[74] Roberts (n 7).

[75] A Dirk Moses, ‘Paranoia and Partisanship: Genocide Studies, Holocaust Historiography, and the ‘Apolitical Conjuncture’’ (2011) 54(2) The Historical Journal 553; Compare Robert S Robins and Jerrod M Post, Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred (Yale University Press 1997).

[76] Robins and Post (n 75).

[77] Zenz (n 6).

[78] Zenz (n 9).

[79] A Dirk Moses, The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression (Cambridge University Press 2021).

[80] ibid.

[81] James A Millward, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (Columbia University Press 2021); Roberts (n 7); Joanne Smith-Finley, ‘Tabula rasa: Han settler colonialism and frontier genocide in ‘re-educated’ Xinjiang’ (2022) 12(2) Journal of Ethnography Theory 341.

[82] Statistical Bureau of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, ‘1990 Statistical Yearbook’ (1990) table 3-1; Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35).

[83] Zenz, ‘Coercive Labor in the Cotton Harvest’ (n 63).

[84] Zenz, ‘Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control’ (n 35).

[85] Zenz, ‘End the Dominance of the Uyghur Ethnic Group’ (n 35).

[86] ibid.

[87] Lisa Sharlach, ‘State rape: Sexual violence as genocide’ in Kenton Worcester, Sally Avery Bermanzohn, and Mark Ungar (eds.) Violence and Politics (Routledge 2002). 

[88] In this, I concur with Rachel Harris’ testimony to the Uyghur Tribunal, in which she argues that these forms of sexual violence are interconnected, meaning that ‘sexual violence is an integral part of the planned transformation of the Xinjiang region’; Uyghur Tribunal, ‘Transcript: 4-7 June 2021’ (Uyghur Tribunal 2021) 66.

[89] Roberts (n 7).

[90] Pauline Wakeham, ‘The Slow Violence of Settler Colonialism: Genocide, Attrition, and the Long Emergency of Invasion’ (2021) 24(3) Journal of Genocide Research, 337, 344.

[91] Adrian Zenz, ‘Innovating penal labor: Reeducation, forced labor, and coercive social integration in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’ (2023) 90 The China Journal 27; Zenz, ‘The Conceptual Evolution of Poverty’ (n 63).

[92] Wakeham (n 89).

[93] Benjamin Madley, ‘Patterns of frontier genocide 1803–1910: The Aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia’ (2004) 6(2) Journal of Genocide Research 167; Compare Smith-Finley (n 80).

[94] Nazila Isgandarova, ‘Post-traumatic growth and resilience in victim-survivors of genocidal rape’ (2023) 72 Pastoral Psychology 417.

[95] For the Xinjiang context, see for example Tobin (n 20).

[96] Bruce Hoffman, ‘Understanding Hamas’s genocidal ideology’ (The Atlantic, 10 October 2023) <> accessed 4 January 2024. After 7 October 2023, Israel responded with an invasion that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

[97] Peter Dickinson, ‘Putin admits Ukraine invasion is an imperial war to ‘Return’ Russian land’ (Atlantic Council, 10 June 2022) <> accessed 4 January 2024; Orysia Kulick, ‘Gender and violence in Ukraine: Changing how we bear witness to war’ (2022) 64(2-3) Canadian Slavonic Papers 190; Zenz (n 55).

[98] Smith-Finley (n 80).


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