In 2003, during its discussion on the integration of the Human Rights of Women the report of Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy (Sri Lanka), the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, expressed her concern about the situation of Tibetan women. She said, “Women in Tibet continue to undergo hardship and are also subjected to gender-specific crimes, including reproductive rights violations such as forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coercive birth control policies and the monitoring of menstrual cycles. There have been many reports of Tibetan women prisoners facing brutality and torture in custody.” Little has changed since 2003 for the women of Tibet.

China’s infamously oppressive health policies, such as the former ‘one child’ policy, have been found to disproportionately affect women and minority community members. Tibetan women, for example, are having their fundamental reproductive rights gradually stripped away by these oppressive Chinese health policies. There is reasonable evidence to suggest that women in Tibet are still being forced to adhere to the ‘one child policy’ by any means, such as forced abortions or sterilisation. Failure to adhere to the policy is reported to result in child support being stopped, the denial of medical treatments or the application of employment-related penalties. Furthermore, it is believed that the babies that are born to mothers who have been deemed unworthy of a ‘certificate to bear children’, or who already have a child, are in some cases killed by injection at birth.

Belgian Member of European Parliament, Marc Tarabella of the Socialist and Democrat Group, asked the European External Action Services to respond to these blatant violations of human and women’s rights by China (E-001299/2019). In respect to Tibetan women’s reproductive rights, Tarabella highlighted the many forms of oppression reportedly experienced by women in Tibet and asked if “the Commission [is] aware that the reproductive rights of Tibetan women are being violated”.

He then went on to inquire into the Europe Union’s (EU) plan to “ensure that reproductive rights are on the agenda for the next EU-China summit”. Even more pressingly though, he asked about the general steps being taken by Europe to “encourage the Chinese Government to improve its relations with Tibet, specifically in relation to women’s rights”.

The question was responded to on June 6, 2019, by Vice President Frederica Mogherini responsible for international relations. In her response, Ms. Mogherini asserted that the situation in Tibet is being monitored and that the EU has repeatedly called on Chinese authorities “to respect the rights of people belonging to minorities, notably in Tibet and Xinjiang”. One such example of this took place during the 37th EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, held in Brussels on the 1-2 of April, 2019, where “the EU raised a number of concerns with regard to the situation in Tibet, women’s rights, including women trafficking, reproductive rights, including in the framework of the one child policy”.

Ms. Mogherini reported that the reception of these concerns was somewhat limited but that “the EU will continue its bilateral engagement in line with its values and principles”. More broadly, “the recent Item 4 statement delivered at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2019 called on China to respect fundamental rights of Tibetans”. In closing, Ms. Mogherini stated that the EU intends to continue to monitor the situation in Tibet, including the state women’s rights and respect to reproductive rights in the region.

This is a somewhat toothless answer from an institution claiming to defend the state of fundamental human rights and gender equality around the world. China has been known to disregard the will of the international community in the past, it is little surprise that it has provided ‘limited replies’ to concerns while the EU continues to engage with, and possibly rely on, Beijing on a variety of topics, such as trade and investment.

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