According to documents made available before the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council, four human rights experts of the Council, on 22 October, 2010 issued a joint urgent appeal to China “regarding allegations relating to restrictions imposed on the use of the Tibetan language in schools in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China.” The experts were the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and Independent Expert on minority issues.
The experts told the Chinese government: “Such alleged restrictions on the use of the Tibetan language in schools would have a negative impact on those of Tibetan origin and the preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language generally. Concerns related to the impact of the education reforms on the education outcomes as well as to access to their cultural heritage of children whose mother tongue language was Tibetan. Those children had benefited from bilingual education that had enabled them to become proficient in both languages, ensuring access to their own cultural heritage.”
China’s response to the experts denied that there had been any detentions of students connected to the protests, and stated that they had listened to their grievances.
On 22 October, 2010, ICT reported that protests by Tibetan school and college students over plans to restrict the use of their language spread from several areas of Qinghai to Beijing. Several hundred Tibetan students at Minzu (Chinese: Nationality) University of China added their voices to Qinghai students in expressing their concern about the downgrading of the Tibetan language. The protests in Qinghai were caused by new measures that focus on Chinese as the main language of instruction with the Tibetan language to be treated only as a language class, and with less time allocated to it in the curriculum. This reflects the Qinghai authorities’ emphasis on enforcing the importance of the Chinese language for Tibetans, which strikes at the core of Tibetan fears over the survival of their identity and culture.
In a petition written by Tibetan teachers to the authorities and translated by ICT, the Tibetan teachers write that they support a genuine bilingual language policy, in which the teaching of the Chinese language is strengthened, but subjects are taught through the Tibetan language medium. But the Qinghai authorities are setting in place what they also characterise as a “bilingual” policy but which appears to mean in practicean education imperative which is designed to transition minority students from education in their mother tongue to education in Chinese. New measures to “forcefully develop ‘bilingual’ pre-school education in the farming and pastoral areas, strengthen teaching of the Chinese language in the basic education phase, [and] basically resolve nationality students’ fundamental ability issues in speaking and understanding Chinese” were outlined as part of a ten-year plan for 2010-2020 in Qinghai in June.
In a response dated 18 November, 2010 to the UN human rights experts, China said following the protests, “The Qinghai provincial government and education authorities at all levels promptly met with students and teachers to publicize the State’s minority education policy, listening extensively to the views and opinions of teachers, principals and students. People from all ethnic groups as well as teachers and students gained a fuller understanding of the significance of bilingual education and the provincial government’s policy in that area. Today the matter has been resolved satisfactorily, and the situation in the schools has quickly returned to normal. Throughout these events no student who participated in the demonstration was arrested, detained or charged with criminal acts.”
In his observation, Mr. Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stated that with regard to the use of the Tibetan language in schools in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China, the Special Rapporteur wishes to emphasize paragraph 82 of the Outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, which affirms that “The existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities shall be protected, and the persons belonging to these minorities should be treated equally and enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination of any kind.”
China’s explanation to the UN human rights experts fails to refer to the written petition signed by more than 300 teachers and students from Qinghai expressing their view that while learning Chinese is essential for students in Tibet today, the main language medium for teaching should remain Tibetan. Similarly, no mention was made about the intensified buildup of troops in the areas where students protested, when sources in the area reporting the detention of more than 20 students from the Tibetan Middle School in Chabcha (Chinese: Gonghe) on Friday on 22 October, 2010.
The 17th session of the Council will be held from 30 May to 17 June, 2011 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The Tibetan Community in Switzerland and Liechtenstein will hold a demonstration in front of the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations building in Geneva on 30 May.
The media release for this demonstration states: “None of the interventions by UN Commissioners or by any other respected member of the International Community has encountered an appropriate response by the Chinese government. It is now time to call on the UN Human Rights Council and UN High Commissioner to send an independent fact-finding mission to Tibet, to ‘obtain truth from facts’ as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has repeatedly advocated.”
Full Text of Exchange
Document: A/HRC/17/29/Add.1, Pages 3-7
China (People’s Republic of)
On 22 October 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and Independent Expert on minority issues sent a joint urgent appeal to the Government of China regarding allegations relating to restrictions imposed on the use of the Tibetan language in schools in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China.
According to information received, proposed educational reforms in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture stipulated that all subjects previously taught in both Chinese (Mandarin) and Tibetan languages, would in future be taught only in Chinese, except for Tibetan language classes. In addition, the educational reforms would allegedly result in a Chinese-only curriculum and that all textbooks would be in the Mandarin Chinese language only. Under a policy of bilingual education in the regions, lessons had previously been conducted in both languages and textbooks available in Tibetan and Chinese. According to the information provided, such reforms were underway and had already been implemented in some parts of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, including Gansu province. Reportedly no consultation had been held with the affected communities and, under instruction from provincial authorities, Tibetan teachers had been required to attend workshops on the change of the medium of instruction from Tibetan to Chinese.
According to the information received, such alleged restrictions on the use of the Tibetan language in schools would have a negative impact on those of Tibetan origin and the preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language generally. Concerns related to the impact of the education reforms on the education outcomes as well as to access to their cultural heritage of children whose mother tongue language was Tibetan. Those children had benefitted from bilingual education that had enabled them to become proficient in both languages, ensuring access to their own cultural heritage. In addition, concern existed that the new education policy will result in Tibetan teachers losing their jobs as the Tibetan language was phased out and became redundant in schools. Secondary education was taught only in Mandarin and university entrance exams were conducted in Mandarin resulting in Tibetan students reportedly being put at a disadvantage. Concerns had been expressed by community leaders regarding the long-term negative affects of such education reforms on the preservation of the Tibetan language and Tibetan culture in the region if these reforms were to be put into practice.
Allegedly owing to this decree, on 19 October 2010 in Tongren (Rebkong in Tibetan) county in Malho, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Qinghai province, thousands of Tibetan students had reportedly come out on the streets to protest against the education reforms and the inequality faced by the Tibetans. Further student demonstrations had been reported on 20 October at various towns in the Hainan (Tsolho in Tibetan) TibetAutonomousPrefecture in western Qinghai province, according to sources. Protesters were reportedly calling for equality between ethnic groups and for the Tibetan language to maintain its status as one of the two languages of instruction in the education system in the region’s bilingual education. In all cases the protests had been described as peaceful and, to-date, there had been no reports of clashes between demonstrators and police or arrests.
On 18 November 2010, the Government replied to the urgent appeal sent on 22 October 2010. The Chinese Government indicated that it had carefully looked into the matter referred to in the communication and wished to make the following reply:
China’s Constitution, the Law on Regional National Autonomy, the Education Law and the Law on the National Language and its Writing all contain clear provisions with regard to the teaching of written and spoken language. The Chinese Constitution clearly stipulates that the language in common use throughout the country shall be popularized; this is done because of the existence of many ethnic and local languages, just as it is done in countries with numerous ethnic groups the world over. The Chinese Constitution further stipulates: “people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages”, while the Law on National Regional Autonomy and relevant local and autonomous legislation also contain provisions that are even more detailed and specific.
The vigorous development of education in minority languages through bilingual education in minority areas has long been one of China’s policies. Bilingual education in China has been developed extensively through more than a half century of effort, and has been instituted in basic through tertiary education. The State attaches a high degree of importance to the protection and transmission of minority languages in both their spoken and written forms. In 2009, the State Council issued its views on the development of the cultural activities of ethnic minorities, setting out a number of policy measures which included increasing Government investment in such activities, giving priority to increasing the publication of materials in minority languages as well as the translation of minority languages, and protecting and developing minority languages by promoting their standardization and their adaptation for use with electronic information technology.
In September 2010, Qinghai Province held a province-wide education conference at which the outline of the Provincial Plan for Medium-term Educational Reform and Development 2010–2020 was presented; one of the key elements of the Plan was strengthening and reforming bilingual education as a means of promoting education in minority areas. The Plan called for the following: in future, bilingual education in Qinghai would emphasize the language in common use throughout the country while providing education in ethnic minority languages, so that minority students would be proficient in their knowledge and use of both the language in common use in the country and their own minority language. This is consistent with national legislation and necessary for the growth and development of minority students. In Tibet and every autonomous Tibetan locality, both Tibetan and Chinese are the languages of instruction in schools; there are also, where there is a need, specialized Tibetan-language schools, where spoken and written Tibetan are used extensively. The operation of “bilingual schools” is not intended to target any particular minority group, nor is it intended to diminish the status of minority languages, but rather enhances communication between all ethnic groups as well as the employment prospects and long-term development of minority students. It is also consistent with national legislation and in the interest of the masses.
In October 2010, a few students from some schools in Qinghai held public demonstrations; upon investigation it was determined that the main reason for the demonstrations was that the students had misunderstood the plan for reforming and strengthening bilingual education that had been proposed at the Qinghai education conference. Following this incident, the Qinghai provincial government and education authorities at all levels promptly met with students and teachers to publicize the State’s minority education policy, listening extensively to the views and opinions of teachers, principals and students. People from all ethnic groups as well as teachers and students gained a fuller understanding of the significance of bilingual education and the provincial government’s policy in that area. Today the matter has been resolved satisfactorily, and the situation in the schools has quickly returned to normal. Throughout these events no student who participated in the demonstration was arrested, detained or charged with criminal acts.
The Special Rapporteur would like to thank the Government for its reply.