China wants to “erase Tibetans' cultural and religious identity,” activists accused on Monday, demanding that Tuesday's review of Beijing's human rights policy at the United Nations should focus on this “cultural genocide.”
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According to independent experts and Tibetan activists, more than a million Tibetan children aged three to 18 have been separated from their families and placed in a network of boarding schools.
“This corresponds to almost 80% of Tibetan children of school age, (…) the vast majority of Tibetan children,” condemned Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute, on Monday in Geneva, on the eve of the Human Rights Review Rights Council of China.
Beijing defends this boarding school system because it respects cultural rights and emphasizes that it is particularly important in remote, high-altitude and sparsely populated areas where children often have to travel long distances to get to school.
But an independent UN panel of experts warned last year that the system “appears to act as a large-scale coercive program aimed at assimilating Tibetans into the predominantly Han culture, in contravention of international human rights standards.”
In schools, children are exposed to “very intensive indoctrination,” Ms. Tethong accused in an interview with AFP in Geneva.
In their opinion, they leave these schools barely able to communicate in Tibetan and are critical of Tibetan traditions.
“This is a case of cultural genocide, a clear case,” she said.
AFP requested comment from China's permanent mission in Geneva but received no immediate response.
China will undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.
This specific mechanism of the Council puts each member country before questions from its colleagues about its human rights policies.
In addition to Tibet, the suppression of civil rights in Xinjiang and the situation in Hong Kong will certainly also be mentioned.
“We have seen a deterioration of rights in China, particularly in Tibet,” Thinlay Chukki, a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, said at the meeting on Monday.
Tibet has oscillated over the centuries between independence and control from China, which says it “peacefully liberated” the country in 1951 and brought modern infrastructure and an education system to the previously underdeveloped region.
A view that many Tibetans who denounce the oppression and erasure of their culture do not share.
According to Ms. Tethong, the network of residential schools was the main tool in eradicating Tibetan culture.
She compares the system to boarding schools in Canada and the United States, which were designed for Indigenous children to forcibly assimilate them into “white, Christian” culture.
In Tibet, “it's not just about stripping children of their traditional identity, their language, their culture and their religion, but it's really about inculcating this kind of hyper-Chinese identity in them. Nationalist with this Communist Party as a basis,” she said.
For this activist, it is important to use China's UPR to shine a spotlight on this issue and demand that Beijing put an end to “this very blatant campaign of assimilation, … elimination of the identity and culture of Tibetan children through the school system.” .”