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Six UN rights experts debunk China on its forced labour programme in Tibet

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(TibetanReview.net, Apr28’23) – Six UN independent experts have on Apr 27 debunked China’s claim that its so-called “labour transfer” and “vocational training” programmes in Tibet Autonomous Region are meant to improve living conditions. Rather, they have found them to be part of a coercive programme which could further impoverish Tibetans and lead to forced labour while being an attack on their cultural identity. Earlier, on Feb 6, three UN independent experts had issued a joint statement, criticizing China’s forced assimilation schooling system for around a million Tibetan children.

“Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have reportedly been ‘transferred’ from their traditional rural lives to low-skilled and low-paid employment since 2015, through a programme described as voluntary, but in practice their participation has reportedly been coerced,” they have said in a statement.

What is more, the experts have noted, the labour transfer programme is facilitated by a network of “vocational training centres” which focus on “cultural and political indoctrination in a militarised environment”.

The experts have learnt that participants were being prevented from using the Tibetan minority language and discouraged from expressing their religious identity, both of which the Chinese government consider as obstacles to poverty alleviation.

What is more, the experts have found the Chinese programme to be a poor substitute to the Tibetan people’s traditional way of life for their sustenance.

“Tibetans are being drawn away from sustainable livelihoods in which they have traditionally had a comparative advantage, such as wool and dairy production, and into low-paid, low-skilled work in manufacturing and construction,” they have said.

The experts have called on China to clarify the measures in place for Tibetans to opt out of the vocational training and labour transfer programmes, to monitor the working conditions in their new places of employment, and to ensure respect for Tibetan religious, linguistic and cultural identity.

They have spoken of having received an initial response from the Chinese Government and of remaining in contact with the authorities regarding these issues.

The six experts who issued the statement are all Special Rapporteurs appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and act in their independent capacity.

They are Mr Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ms Ashwini KP, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Ms Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and Mr Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development.

Earlier, on Feb 6, three independent UN human rights experts issued a joint statement, saying that roughly one million Tibetan minority children had been separated from their families and placed into Government-run boarding schools, forcing their assimilation into the dominant Han Chinese culture.

“We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,” the statement said.

The statement also said: “We are alarmed by what appears to be a policy of forced assimilation of the Tibetan identity into the dominant Han-Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions.”

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