Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Thomas Mann introduced Ms Carol Wang, Programme Officer of the Human Rights in China (HRIC)
Ms Wang presented the facts about the general crackdown situation in relation to China’s Olympic and human rights obligations, and placed in context the repression of Tibetans that has been observed during the last year. The Olympic promises contrast with the reality of the increasingly repressive climate. This included taking into account recent incidents of harassment, detention, and censorship of other groups such as petitioners, environmentalists, journalists and human right activists. She also discussed crackdowns in ethnic minority areas, and specifically in Tibet.
Legal Framework: International obligations and PRC law
The PRC is not adequately protecting the legal rights of ethnic minorities, despite an existing domestic framework for ethnic autonomy, as well as its obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil international human rights laws.
● Failure to comply with international obligations: International law stipulates that constitutional and legislative protections must be enacted, and that China must ensure the implementation of these rights. Although many laws, regulations, policies and statements address the importance of equality among Chinese minority ethnic groups, the PRC is not meeting its international obligations on minority rights for the Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs.
● Shortcomings of the LREA and its implementation: Implementation of the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy (LREA) and other state policies has failed to protect minorities’ unique cultures, as a result of a) gaps between central policies and local implementation, b) the lack of a legal definition of discrimination, c) the lack of systematic and effective monitoring and assessment of implementation, and d) poor institutional capacity. LREA implementation must also address the obstacles facing the overall development of a rule of law in China, including the lack of accountability and transparency, and independence from the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Limited and ineffectual political participation
Despite the PRC’s obligations to implement international human rights law, and its own framework of autonomous governance, minorities are still unable to exercise real political decision-making that has an impact on their own communities.
● As a result of severe gaps between law and practice, there are major weaknesses in the PRC’s ethnic autonomy arrangements.
● Additionally, because of limited access to the CPC, ethnic minority individuals cannot participate in real decision-making.
● Restrictions on overall growth of domestic civil society mean that opportunities for ethnic individuals to form organisations around cultural or political interests are strictly limited.
● Furthermore, the government’s violations of civil and political rights, exacerbate the vulnerable situation of minorities in china.
Given the government’s intolerance of critical views and rejection of political reforms, the prospects for meaningful political participation are limited – not only for ethnic minorities but also for everyone living within China’s borders.
Inequitable and discriminatory development
Although there have been attempts to address the growing disparities within its borders, China’s rapid economic transformation has not improved the lives of ethnic minorities overall.
● Instead, there continue to be sharp inequalities in basic social services, such as education and health, while income and unemployment comparisons show that persons belonging to ethnic groups fall behind national averages and those for Han Chinese.
● The costs of inequitable development are high for those living in rural areas, and political exclusion from the process means that solutions are not necessarily made in the best interest of local ethnic minorities.
● The Western Development Strategy (WDS), targeting the western provinces and autonomous regions, is intended to “modernize” these areas and narrow the development gap between the interior and the wealthier coastal provinces. Given the potential for discontent in such inequitable situations, however, the WDS is widely seen as a political tool for strengthening national unity through “common prosperity.” Its official development goals are undermined by three unspoken but overarching objectives – resource extraction from the borderlands to benefit the coast, assimilation of local ethnic minority groups through Han Chinese population transfers to the autonomous areas, and the alternate purpose of infrastructure development for military use.
These policies and the failure of the government to address the resulting inequalities and discrimination contribute to the violations of human rights for ethnic minorities.
Inadequate protection of cultural identity
As the object of integrationist policies, which are comprised of political, economic and social elements, minorities are under continual threat, both officially sanctioned and otherwise. Han Chinese settlers now dominate the urban public sphere in autonomous regions, making it difficult for minorities to maintain distinct cultural identities.
● Decreased use of local languages in the public sphere, as well as the imposition of Mandarin, means that ethnic minority children have limited access to native language or cultural education.
● The declining availability of ethnic language or cultural education is compounded by an aggressive campaign of Chinese nationalist ‘patriotic education’, instituted in primary and secondary schools, in addition to centres of religious learning such as monasteries and mosques.
These attempts to assimilate ethnic minorities is occurring in tandem with systematic violations of civil and political rights, making it nearly impossible for ethnic individuals to express their cultural identities publicly.
Linking conflict with political participation, inequitable development and protection of cultural identity.
Although this report focuses on Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs, instances of conflict are occurring with increasing frequency across China – not just among these minority groups but also among the Han Chinese. As a result, minority rights protection has implications for wider human rights issues across China. The government is willing to suppress any individual or group – not just minorities – who are perceived as threats to the integrity of the PRC. However, the ethnic status of Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs makes them especially vulnerable to the mechanisms of repression.
This report identifies three key potential causes of conflict for these groups: - a) limited and ineffectual political participation, b) inequitable and discriminatory development, and c) inadequate protection of cultural identity. Sustainable solutions must be adopted if a stable, peaceful society is the ultimate goal. Such a society can only be achieved in China if minorities and other individuals and groups are empowered to voice their opinions. Opportunities must be created for ethnic groups to participate in governance, and also in the creation of a civil society. Development policy must focus on the local population – both in planning and in project implementation, so that benefits are shared evenly. At the same time, adequate minority rights protections must be in place, so that expressions of cultural identity are encouraged rather than stifled or attacked.
Only when these issues can be resolved peacefully within the context of respect for human rights, will the PTC rhetoric about China’s “harmonious society” become a reality.
The international community has a critical role in the promotion of minority rights protections inside China. International organizations, governments, multinational corporations, and civil society groups should continue to engage the Chinese government in substantive dialogue on the issue of human rights and political reform to increase transparency and accountability, through monitoring and pressure. International co-operation and further engagement should take into serious consideration this report’s recommendations, which are directed at the PRC government, in the following areas: -
- Delivering on promises to the international community
- Ensuring effective protection against discrimination
- Promoting greater transparency and access to information
- Advancing genuine and inclusive political development
- Promoting equitable and non-discriminatory development
- Facilitating the preservation of cultural identity