Social and Cultural Rights Violations by China
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights commits the signatories to grant all people the right of self-determination (Article 1). By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. China, as one of the signatories to the Covenant, is obliged to promote and observe the rights recognized in the said Covenant. Social and Cultural rights are those human rights relating to the workplace, social security, family life, participation in cultural life, and access to housing, food, water, health care, and education.
Despite the upsurge in global outcry and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) violation of numerous international treaties along with its own constitution, it continues to carry out wide-ranging repressions under the pretence of “anti-separatism”, “anti-extremism”, and “counter-terrorism”, in Tibet, East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, Hong Kong and the rest of China.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in its first review of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2004 have asked China asked to justify the demolition of historic buildings and housing complexes in Lhasa, and the forced eviction of residents, mostly indigenous Tibetans as reported by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. Other concerns raised include: the adequate living standards for people who have been resettled to make way for large dam projects; questions on China’s strategic plans on protection of UNESCO World Heritage site in Lhasa from the urban development and preservation of indigenous culture of the Mongolian as well as the Tibetan populations affected by the “China Western Poverty Alleviation Project”, Particularly with the construction of a water storage dam and large-scale irrigation schemes in eastern part of Tibet and information on the enjoyment of religious freedom by Tibetan Buddhists and other religious groups.
In China’s second review in 2013, the Committee questioned the under-representation of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in public administration as well as in the police force and the military, and the high rate of unemployment among persons belonging to “ethnic minorities”. The Committee also inquired about China’s “Re-education Through Labor” in camps and the number of children and adults who remained in these camps and to what extent Tibetans, Inner Mongolians, and Uighurs enjoy equality in their conditions of work, business permits and loans. The Committee inquired about China’s initiative to stop non-voluntary resettlement of nomadic herders from their traditional lands and non-voluntary relocation or rehousing programs of other rural residents, in particular in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and East Turkestan. Steps taken by the PRC to ensure the degree to which Tibetans and Uighurs are exercising their cultural rights including using and teaching their own languages, history and culture, as well as practising their religion freely without State interference were also questioned.
China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) with reference to Tibet, resources are devoted to “cranking up a construction industry of Tibetans workforce, willing to work hard at altitude year-round.” For Tibetans, this means long term urbanisation of entire rural families, training of a Tibetan construction workforce, cancellation of rural land rights, mandatory schooling in putonghua Chinese as the language of construction and depopulation of the pastoral lands. The TAR 14th plan often mentions migrants coming into the construction industry, who in turn encourage more to migrate from rural Tibet into urban training and industry employment. Implicitly, the entire program is gendered to favour fit young men, leaving behind all others in an underinvested farms and pastures. This suggests an expanded credentialism, requiring years of apprenticeship in training programs which could readily become a curriculum for civilising the farmers and herders, inducting them not only into construction-specific skills, but into a wider practice of behavioural training in showing appropriate gratitude to the party-state that has “rescued” them from their pasturelands. After the “Plan for the Construction of Well-off Villages in the Border Areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region (2017-2020)” failed miserably, at the Seventh Tibet Work Forum of August 2020, Xi invigorated the plan to “construct border areas and improve the border people’s living conditions.” The new plan called for a greater reliance on a Tibetanised workforce, mobilised by displacing Tibetans from their pastoral lands.
Restrictions on Tibetans’ religious and cultural practices have increased in recent years. In 2019, the “TAR” officials ordered retired cadres and retired Party personnel not to engage in the religious act of circumambulation around sacred sites or temples. In May 2020, Chinese authorities in Lhasa continued to place restrictions on Tibetans from participating in religious activities to observe the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa, an important Buddhist festival, and in the same year they banned the celebration of Losar (Tibetan New Year), which comprises of various activities and practices significant to Tibetan culture and religion. In November 2020, Chinese authorities banned Sangsol, ritual offerings by burning juniper outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. In December 2019, Chinese authorities banned the celebration of Gaden Ngamchoe festival.
Violations of Right to Education in Mother Tongue
Language rights are human rights and fundamental freedoms protected in a number of international conventions to which the PRC is legally bound to observe the responsibilities to protect the right to education. Indeed, China’s own constitution guarantees the protection of citizen’s right to an education in their native tongue. Article 10 of the 1984 Regional National Autonomy Law along with the PRC’s Constitution and other national laws and statutes provide for areas where minority languages and Chinese should be used as well as citizens and officials who should learn both minority languages and Chinese. But all these commitments, provisions, and safeguards are contravened by policy formulated and implemented under the pretence of “ethnic unity” and development.. In early August, Chinese authorities in Kham Karze ordered Gyalten Getza Tibetan school, recognised for its outstanding contributions to the society, to change the school’s curriculum and medium of instruction to Chinese and take the school’s examinations in the Chinese language. The notice warned the staff to comply with the order or face a forced shutdown of the school.
This January, the National People’s Congress declared the use of minority languages “unconstitutional” further cementing the Chinese party-state’s aggressive attempts to assimilate minority nationalities into a single Chinese national identity. The PRC’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) makes use of ‘patriotic education’ to ‘fortify students’ faith and confidence in the Party’s leadership and the socialist system. A new law on ethnic unity required schools to incorporate state ideology in their curriculum and parents to encourage compulsory bilingual kindergartens to immerse Tibetan children in Chinese language and state propaganda from a very young age.
The UNCESCR has questioned China how the “Bilingual Education Policy” in Tibet and East Turkestan guarantees equal respect and recognition for both the Chinese and the minority language, and the compulsory education of replacing ethnic minority languages including Uighur, Tibetan and Mongolian by Chinese as the medium of instruction in compulsory education is justified under the policy. Such a policy has resulted in parents refusing to send their children to school. The Committee highlighted reports that China has: a) attempted to eradicate the culture, religion and language of Uighurs and Tibetans through massive destruction of sacred cultural and religious sites and bans on the practice of religious rituals and on the use of the Uighur and Tibetan languages in schools.
On 8 July 2021, Chinese authorities ordered the closure of Sengdruk Taktse middle school in Darlak County without an official reason, arresting one of its longest serving teachers, Rinchen Kyi, accusing her of “inciting separatism” for her peaceful protest. While a handful of students got enrolled in Chinese government-run schools, many from distant areas are denied admission to schools and accommodation in the region. Imprisonment of language rights advocate, Tashi Wangchuk, substantiates China’s method of silencing voices against its flawed policy.
Violations of Right to an Adequate Standard of Living:
By legal standards, China is obliged to provide to its citizens and ethnic minorities an adequate supply of nutritious food; access to clean drinking water; affordable housing with a certain degree of tenure security, and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The PRC’s development policy with its primary focus on expanding industrialization, urbanization, and mining has led to the steady disempowerment of local Tibetans from exercising their economic, social, and cultural rights. The adequate standard of living of Tibetan nomads and farmers is compromised by forcing them to leave their land under the “relocation policy”. While it is generally understood that eviction from traditional farm and rangelands exposes the displaced to the risks of landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss of access to common resources and social disintegration. The production landscapes left behind are now open for use and exploitation by the Chinese government and private companies. Mining companies and damming operations have replaced pastures in many areas, leading to environmental degradation.
On 6 December 2019, A-nya Sengdra, a respected environmentalist, was sentenced to 7 year prison term after he and other local Tibetans were falsely charged with campaigns against corruption committed by the local government including illegal mining activities. On 13 October 2018, local Tibetan nomads launched a sit-in protest outside the government office in Kanlho TAP, after the authorities failed to pay compensation to 100 families that were ordered to either reduce or sell their livestock under the policy of tuimu huancao.
The human right to safe and clean drinking water, indispensable for leading a life of human dignity, is being undermined by mining, hydro-electric power projects, water diversion projects and glacial water bottling in Tibet. In November 2018, Chinese authorities carried out a project to divert water from a local river in Sertsang Township in Kanlho TAP, threatening the local drinking water source. On 1 June 2017, around 40 Tibetans were injured and at least seven hospitalized for resisting the diversion of the local river, the only source of water for Tibetan farmers in Takstang Township. On 10 July 2018, the water diversion project on Chakchu river commenced under strict watch of police and intelligence officers causing water scarcity for farmers in Chumar Township. There was no public consultation or assessment done to take into consideration the environmental and livelihood costs.
Violations of the Right to Health and Social Security:
The right to health is a fundamental part of human rights and of understanding of a life in dignity. The right to health is relevant to all states: every state has ratified at least one international human rights treaty recognizing the right to health. During the initial stage of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government withheld information from the public, under-reported the cases of infection, and dismissed the likelihood of transmission between humans. Authorities also detained “rumour-mongers” including activists, lawyers and others for independently reporting on the Wuhan-originated coronavirus outbreak. In Tibet, actual reports on cases of coronavirus infection remain uncertain because of the iron-clad information censorship in place. The UN’s CESCR has asked China to provide information on child malnutrition measures in rural areas and in Tibet, loss of farmland due to industrial development, urbanization, water pollution and soil erosion, water shortages in the rural areas due to dam and water-diversion projects.
Under the guise of “social stability maintenance,” Tibetans and Uighurs are under heavy surveillance and control. In Tibet, with the implementation of “grid-system of social management” since 2012, and imposition of over 600 “convenience police-posts” with high-tech equipment to monitor daily life, particularly of “special groups” in the region, former prisoners and those who have returned from the exile community in India, among others are under constant watch. Under the system, a designated place is divided into smaller subdivisions and facilitates the officials to closely monitor and identify “potential trouble makers,” and gather real-time information from the community worker stationed within the areas. Every movement of the residents is monitored on screens in offices and information is fed to these officers by grid staff stationed in respective areas, further restricting freedom of expression, belief, association and movement of Tibetans.
QUESTIONS AND ISSUES TO BE CONSIDERED
- How can we ensure that the international norms on human rights such as social and cultural rights remain universal?
- China’s recent policies have further marginalized Tibetan language. Under such an environment, what are the ways through which we could mobilize the protection of the Tibetan language? Language policy is outlawing the use of any languages other than Chinese in a rapid manner. What are the steps that need to be taken before it completes the total subjugation of minority languages?
- Is the international community in need of a new strategy to ensure the social and cultural rights in China? How can relying on the old strategy will ensure those rights?
- How should the international community coordinate and take a multilateral approach to challenge and condemn the CCP’s grave human rights abuses in Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia?
- With China’s deteriorating human rights record, what implications would it have on the universal idea of human rights?