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UN Raises “Serious Concerns” About China’s Assimilation Policy in Tibet

January 13, 2023: Four UN Special Rapporteurs expressed “serious concern” over China’s “policy of acculturation and assimilation of the Tibetan culture” in a letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Wangy Yi dated November 11, 2022.

The letter signed by Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; and Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief “expressed serious concern about what is reported as a policy of acculturation and assimilation of the Tibetan culture into the dominant Han-Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions, in contradiction to the right to education, cultural rights, freedom of religion or belief and other minority 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.”

The letter raised a number of issues including the following:

  • “Chinese ‘Second Generation Ethnic Policy’ was designed to reverse seven decades of granting autonomous self-governance powers to minority-populated regions with the view to assimilate ethnic and linguistic minorities of China. Non-governmental initiatives to promote Tibetan language and culture are reported to be suppressed, and several individuals advocating for Tibetan language and education are reported to have been detained and tortured.”
  • “The state education system allegedly forces all children between the ages of 6 and 16 to be enrolled in Putonghua (Chinese)-language governmental schools that do not provide for substantive study of Tibetan history and culture.”
  • “The adoption and enforcement of the ‘national common language’ law since 2000 has produced policies and laws that marginalize Tibetan language and culture.”
  • “Voluntary initiatives by monks, community leaders and teachers to teach Tibetan language and culture outside the state education system have allegedly been curtailed and suppressed. Since 2012, privately-run and funded schools offering classes on Tibetan language and culture for Tibetan children during winter breaks have reportedly come under pressure and are being closed at a quick pace.”
  • “Over the recent period, there has been a substantial increase in the number of residential schools operating in Tibet and in the number of Tibetan children living in them. In total, almost one million Tibetan children study in residential schools. In residential schools, the educational content and environment is built on majority Han culture. Students are restricted in following traditional Tibetan religious practices connecting them back to their families and communities. There are very few Tibetan teachers in such schools, and the majority of teachers are Han. Teachers only speak in Mandarin Chinese and conduct all educational activities in Mandarin Chinese.”

Under the mandates provided to the Special Rapporteurs by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to its attention, the Special Rapporteurs requested a response to the issues raised in their letter.

“We welcome the timely intervention of the UN Special Rapporteurs’ probe into China’s colonial-style boarding schools currently in mass operation across Tibet. Leaving such a horrendous policy and practice unquestioned and unchecked will, unfortunately, lead to the gradual extinction of the Tibetan national identity — including its language, culture and religion — in all its form and essence. Therefore, we urge the Office of the High Commissioner to call upon China to allow unfettered access to Tibet to conduct an independent investigation” said Norzin Dolma, the Kalon (Minister) for Information and International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration.

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