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UNFPA Whitewash: Forced Abortion in China

Population Research Institute (PRI) has obtained a copy of a letter sent from the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, to the US Secretary of State, Colin L. Powell. The letter, dated 19 November 2001, falsely claims that information presented by PRI to members of the US Congress regarding UNFPA-supported abuses in China is untrue.1

Visit to China

PRI investigators this September visited a county in Southern China where UNFPA claims coercion does not exist. In Sihui county, Guangdong province, they obtained testimony from victims of a UNFPA-funded family planning program who had suffered forced abortion, forced sterilization and destruction of homes and property at the hands of local officials. They presented this evidence at an October 17 hearing of the House International Relations Committee, along with further evidence linking these abuses to the UNFPA. In their opinion, based on interviews with two dozen women, coercion in Sihui county is as bad today as it ever has been.

The UNFPA sought to counter PRI’s on-the-ground investigation of UNFPA-funded family planning programs by carrying out its own in-house review. A delegation of UNFPA employees and associates was hastily organized and sent to China in October. The seven-and-a-half page “mission report” produced by that delegation describes visits with Chinese officials in Beijing, Guangzhou, Sihui county, and Hubei Province, all of whom — not surprisingly — denied that China’s family planning programs were coercive in character.2 The report also maintains that both the UNFPA and the Chinese government have agreed that UNFPA programs in China will not include “any form of coercion,” without offering any specific evidence that this assertion is true.3

Mission Report for Friends

UNFPA has been careful to circulate its “mission report” only to friends and key decision makers, such as Secretary Powell, but PRI has been able to obtain a copy.

In our view, the “mission report” presents no credible evidence to support its claim that voluntarism exists in its country program in Sihui, or anywhere else in China. The report simply repeats assertions made by Chinese officials that coercion has been eliminated, and targets and quotas lifted, in Sihui county. The Chinese officials who make these assertions have every reason to put the best face on the family planning programs that they supervise, especially when they come under scrutiny. They are not unbiased observers, but interested parties.

Of the five days total that the UNFPA delegation spent in China, over half was spent in Beijing, in meetings, banquets and barbecues with Chinese officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Family Planning Commission. During half-day visits to Sihui county, Guangdong Province, and Qianjiang, the delegation was accompanied by Chinese officials from the national, provincial, prefectural, municipal and county governments. They went on guided tours of several family planning clinics, and spent only 30-minutes on “household visits.” Faced with a phalanx of officials, no villager is going to utter the slightest criticism of family planning policies, or any other government policy for that matter. The risk of doing so would be too great.

In the absence of unsupervised contact with ordinary Chinese (of the kind enjoyed by PRI’s own investigators in China), it would be impossible for the UNFPA delegation to accurately assess the state of the family planning policy in Sihui county or anywhere else in China.

UNFPA Cover-Up

In our considered opinion, UNFPA’s “mission report” is merely an attempt to cover up UNFPA’s continuing involvement in forced abortion and forced sterilization in China. UNFPA’s support of coercive family planning in China consists of public praise for, and misinformation about, China’s one-child policy. In addition, UNFPA directly supports coercive family planning in China. This support takes the form of financial aid, and also of complicity in the implementation of policies that are fundamentally coercive in principle and practice.4

In letters sent this week to Secretary of State Colin Powell, to the White House, and to Members of Congress, I reiterated that the “information presented by PRI is accurate.”5 I appended copies of PRI’s full report on UNFPA support of coercive family planning in its county programs in Sihui county, Guangdong province, in Jianou, Fujian Province, and in Kuerie, Xinjiang Province.

Copies of the full report, entitled “UNFPA, China and Coercive Family Planning,” are available from PRI.


1 Letter from UNFPA’s Executive Director, Thoraya A. Obaid, to US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, 19 November 2001.

2 “Report of the International Review Team on the UNFPA China Country Program,” UNFPA, 22–27 October 2001.

3 Ibid. Attachment 7b, “Reproductive health/Family Planning Project,” UNFPA/State Family Planning Commission, Beijing.

4 “UNFPA, China and Coercive Family Planning,” An Investigative Report by Population Research Institute, 12 December 2001.

5 Letter from PRI President, Steven W. Mosher, to US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, 17 December 2001.

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