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China fails to respond to seriously concerned UN experts’ queries on Tibet Sinicization drive

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(, Jan11’23) – Expressing “serious concern” that reports they have received appear to amount to “a policy of acculturation and assimilation of the Tibetan culture into the dominant Han Chinese majority”, four Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, have jointly written to China’s foreign minister on Nov 11, 2022, seeking clarifications on the fact of those reports and the concerns they give rise to in light of its international treaty obligations. And the Special Rapporteurs have made their communication public after China failed to respond to it within the stipulated 60-day period while continuing to wait to hear from Beijing and expecting it to take effective measures to address their concerns as they proceeded with their investigations.

They have written that the reports speak of the violations of the rights enshrined in those UN human rights instruments taking place “through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions, in contradiction with the right to freedom of religion and belief, the right to education and cultural rights of the Tibetan people.

“In particular, the residential schools system for Tibetan children appears to act as a large-scale program to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to the international human rights standards.”

They have noted that “concerns about the Tibetan language, culture and education and the situation of those who defend them have been the subject of previous communications from the Special Procedures since 2010.” While taking note of Beijing’s responses to them, the Special Rapporteurs have emphasized that they continue to “remain concerned in light of recent developments” with regard to a number of issues related to these rights.

* * *

Their communication, addressed to Mr Wang Yi, State Councilor and Minister for Foreign Affairs, refers to Putonghua having replaced Tibetan as the medium of instruction in all Tibetan schools, while the autonomous powers granted to minority nationalities to use and develop their languages in the country’s constitution have been subordinated to the policy of promoting this dominant Chinese language.

It refers to the fact that Putonghua is the medium of instruction even in all preschool education facilities “despite claims of the Chinese authorities that the educational instruction is carried out in bilingual (Tibetan-Putonghua) settings.” It refers to a July 2021 “Implementation of the ‘Children’s Homophony’ Plan for Putonghua Education for Preschool Children” issued by the General Office of the Ministry of Education.

The communication refers to the government’s closing down of private Tibetan schools and demolition of their buildings to eliminate the only Tibetan medium education in at least one remote nomadic region.

It refers to the widely reported state-ordered closing down in Jul 2021 of the state-approved and patronaged Sengdruk Taktse Middle School in Darlag County of Golok (Chinese: Guoluo) Prefecture, Qinghai Province, which had become a resource for the Tibetan community in eastern Tibet, providing both the state-sanctioned nine-year compulsory education curriculum and comprehensive cultural education with lessons in Tibetan language, literature and philosophy. The school also taught “Putonghua, and English languages, as well as science, history, politics, chemistry, mathematics, arts and ethics” and was not alleged to have violated any laws.

The communication refers to the fact that China’s nine-year “compulsory education” policy was, in Tibet Autonomous Region, extended to 15 years to include “preschool and senior higher secondary education, giving the state authorities absolute control over the education of minors at the expense of children and parental choice or preference.”

It refers to the fact that the “Double Reduction” policy in China of Reducing the Burden of Homework and Off-Campus Training for Compulsory Education Students was being used in the Tibetan areas to ban “private Tibetan culture schools and coaching classes from offering off-campus tutoring during weekends and holidays.”

The communication refers to the fact that voluntary and private initiatives “to teach Tibetan language and culture outside the state education system, including those initiated by monks, community leaders and teachers to teach Tibetan language and culture outside the state education system have allegedly been curtailed and suppressed.”

It says Tibetan language learning has been further disincentivized in a number of ways, “including the fact that Tibetan language proficiency is not required in the job market or for public service examinations.” Professions requiring Tibetan language proficiency, like teaching, translation, research, and television studio work, are few, it adds.

The communication says that against the national average of approximately 22%, 78% (or almost one million) of all Tibetan children from age six to 18 are reported to be enrolled into residential schools (in Tibetan Autonomous Region – 81% as of 2019), often under pressure. “The educational content and environment is built on majority Han culture, with textbook content reflecting almost solely the lived experience of Han students, traditional Han holidays, etc.”

It also refers to reports that as a part of China’s systematic campaign to Sinicize the Tibetan education system, the Tibetan monastic system, which is at the forefront of promoting Tibetan language and culture, is itself being Sinicized. “The Chinese authorities called Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society and promote the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism, which requires the interpretation of core Buddhist teachings to promote socialist values and founding principles of the party.”

* * *

In light of the above reports, the Special Rapporteurs have urged China to provide its observations, clarifications, comments, explanations, and measures taken, as the case may be, to address the serious concerns raised by them within 60 days.

With the Chinese government having failed to do that, the Special Rapporteurs have undertaken to continue to wait while making their joint communication public as previously informed.

“While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations,” the Special Rapporteurs have concluded.

The Special Rapporteurs are Fernand de Varenneson on minority issues, Alexandra Xanthaki in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheedon on the right to education, and Nazila Ghanea on freedom of religion or belief.


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