CERD Fears Alteration of Demographics in ‘Minority Areas’ of China

UNPO, 1 September 2009

The seventy-fifth session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) while expressing concern on the future demographic composition in minority areas due to the continuing influx of Chinese settlers has recommended to the Chinese authorities that “any policies or incentives offered that may result in a substantial alteration of the demographic composition of autonomous minority areas be reviewed.”

The Committee made the above assertion after reviewing China’s compliance on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) on 7 and 10 August 2009 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.  China ratified the Convention on 29 December 1981 with its last report reviewed by the Committee in August 2001.

In the document called “Concluding Observations” on China adopted by CERD on 25 August 2009, the Committee noted “with concern reports according to which the system of incentives granted to work and settle in the autonomous minority regions may result in substantive changes in the demographic composition that impact negatively on local traditions and cultures in these regions.”

1996 recommendation

With regards to the prevailing specific situations which Mongolians, Tibetans and Uyghurs in present-day China refer to as population transfer of Chinese settlers, CERD was reiterating its previous recommendation from 1996 “that any policies or practices that may result in a substantial alteration of the demographic composition of autonomous areas be reviewed.”

Before the Chinese delegation appeared at CERD, the Committee in one of written questions (aka Lists of Issues) had asked China “to comment on reports according to which development programs in ethnic minority regions have disrupted local and regional cultures and traditions, affecting, inter alia, the Mongol, Tibetan and Uyghur ethnic groups … also comment on allegations that development programs in some ethnic minority regions, in particular Tibet, are coupled with the resettlement of ethnic Han into these areas.”

Indian Expert

One of the CERD expert-members on 7 August told the Chinese delegation that for him: “It seems beyond reasonable doubt that the change in the demographic balance brought about by its continued influx large numbers of Han settlers to the western regions, where many of the minorities lived, and their securing lion’s share of benefits of government investments in these areas, is one of the principal causes of unrest and dissatisfaction among China’s ethnic minorities.”

Mr. Lahiri (the expert from India) further reminded the Chinese delegation that in 2001, CERD was assured that the Government “had no plan whatsoever to encourage large-scale non-ethnic minority migration into these areas.”

“But large scale migration of Han settlers has continued, encouraged by generous incentives. Lhasa is now reportedly majority Han, and the Uighurs are being reduced towards becoming a minority in Xinjiang. Action by the Chinese Government to arrest this trend is imperative to fulfil its ICERD responsibilities.”

China’s response

On 10 August, the Chinese delegation while denying the existence of a large number Chinese settlements in Tibet, responded that “geographic conditions and climate” would make it very difficult for “non-locals” to get accustomed to the local environment” and as such “economic development projects will not trigger a major influx of migrants.”

Mr. Sonam Rinzin from the Chinese delegation told the Committee that as for those projects that are demanding in technology and expertise, “highly skilled specialists and technical personnel (which he admitted was lacking in Tibet)” were needed and a limited number was recruited “only live in Tibet on a temporary basis.”  He added that such recruitment was “part of normal movement within the domestic labour market and is by no means a massive ‘immigration.”

On 19 September 1997, a seminar held in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, “Population Transfer: The Baltic States and the Tibetan Experience” issued a declaration “expressing its alarm at the lack of any serious international attention being given to the subject of population transfer in Tibet, Eastern Turkestan and Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in the world, the seminar decided to convene an international conference to examine the contemporary forms of population transfer, their different impacts on humanity as a whole and the need for stronger international safeguards to counter it.”

NGO Views

On 7 August morning, NGOs representing Tibetan U.N. Advocacy, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation and World Uyghur Congress raised their serious concerns about the threats to the survival of Mongolians, Tibetans and Uyghurs due to China’s policy of population transfer into their homelands.

In a written submission to CERD, a German-NGO, Society for Threatened Peoples highlighted that “China continues to transfer ever increasing numbers of Chinese settlers into Tibet.  In fact such large-scale development projects, far from helping the majority of Tibetans, disproportionately benefit Tibet’s urban areas where most of Tibet’s immigrant ethnic Han Chinese live.”  The report said that according to the book “State Growth and Social Exclusion in Tibet: Challenges of Recent Economic Growth (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2005), Andrew Martin Fischer also observes that Beijing’s current drive to develop the western regions of China, including Tibet, combined with the increasing influx of Chinese migrants into Tibet’s urban areas, is leading to increased exclusion of indigenous Tibetans in the development of their land.”

In another submission, Human Rights in China informed CERD that China’s “eco-development” policies have resulted in the forced displacement and relocation of hundreds of thousands of Mongol herders and their families away from their ancestral lands. Reports state that approximately 800,000 Mongols have been dispossessed of their land and livestock since 2001, forced impossibly to adapt to living conditions and occupations for which they have inadequate preparation or training. The State party’s policies give rise to serious concerns about the destruction of the Mongol group’s pastoral culture and way of life.”

While alerting the Chinese delegation that western regions are “economically underdeveloped”, the Committee recommended China “to intensify its efforts aimed at creating conditions for sustainable development in the Western areas and to eliminate economic and social disparities between the regions” reiterating “its recommendation that the State party take all necessary steps to fully ensure the promotion of and respect for local and regional cultures and traditions.”

“Root Causes”

On other human rights matters, the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also urged the Chinese authorities to find out the “root causes” of the protests which erupted on the Tibetan Plateau in 2008 and in Eastern Turkestan in July this year. The Committee recommended that China “carefully consider the root causes of such events, including inter-ethnic violence, and the reasons why the situation escalated.”

Expressing concern “at reports alleging the disproportionate use of force against ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs respectively and the important number of their detentions”, the Committee called upon China “to ensure that those detained in connection with the above events are guaranteed humane treatment while in custody and fair trial standards according to international law, including access to a lawyer of their choice, presumption of innocence, and handing down proportionate sentences on those found guilty.”

Implementation of CAT recommendations

During the dialogue with the Chinese delegation on the afternoon of 7 August, China was reminded that in November 2008 the UN Committee Against Torture  (CAT)  expressed concern especially at large number of persons detained or arrested in aftermath of demonstrations in Tibet and recommended that China conduct a full and independent inquiry to excessive use of force, effective investigation allegation of torture, ensure detainees prompt access to independent lawyer and medical care, prohibit and prevent enforce disappearances, investigation to deaths including deaths in custody.  CERD expert from Greece, Mr. Sicilianos echoed that the Committee “would like to have more information regarding the concrete measures taken by China to implement those recommendations of CAT.”  The Chinese delegation, however, failed to respond to this question by stating that it had communicated its views to the Committee Against Torture (CAT).

Chinese Figures on Tibet Crackdown

In a written response to CERD, the Chinese authorities said: “In the wake of the March 14 riots in Lhasa and elsewhere the public security authorities in Tibet Autonomous Region arrested 953 suspects that allegedly involved in beating, smashing, looting and arson. 362 crime suspects gave themselves up to the police. 1,231 suspects were set free by the Tibetan judiciary following administrative penalty for public security, statement of repentance and reprimand. Seventy seven accused were sentenced for the crimes of arson, robbery, burglary, endangering public affairs, provocative and disturbing behaviors and assembling crowd to disturb public order or assault state organs. Seven defendants were sentenced for espionage and crime of illegally providing intelligence to foreign institutions.”

A day before CERD adopted its Concluding Observations on China, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, in a written communication to the Committed expressed concern that the information provided by China “does not include Tibetan areas outside the “TAR” when “the majority of the over 300 protest incidents recorded during the 2008 uprising in Tibet took place in the Tibetan areas outside the “TAR” and that “there is deep concern about the Tibetans arrested in these regions namely; Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan”.

In connection with review of China by CERD, NGOs that submitted detailed information on the situation in Tibet included Amnesty International, Society for Threatened Peoples, Human Rights in China and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.  In view of the harsh crackdown on the Tibetan Uprising in 2008, Amnesty International recommended that China “allow access to UN human rights experts and other independent observers to investigate the human rights situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in Tibetan-populated areas in neighbouring provinces.”

Human Rights in China recommended that CERD get concrete answers from the Chinese authorities about “the number of persons arrested, detained and imprisoned after the March 2008 demonstrations, the current status or conditions of those persons, the number of cases investigated or prosecuted as a result of the March 2008 demonstrations, and the current status or outcomes of those cases, whether and to what extent arrested, detained and imprisoned individuals have access to legal counsel, and the number of investigations or prosecutions in which the held individuals have and have not been represented by legal counsel.”

In view of the reports received by CERD concerning allegations of harassment of defense lawyers, especially when they deal with difficult cases of ill treatment of dissidents, Uyghurs and Tibetans, the Committee while expressing concern recommended that the Chinese authorities to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that lawyers can exercise their profession freely, in law and in practice, and to promptly and impartially investigate all allegations of harassment, intimidation, or other acts impeding the work of lawyers.”

“One country, two systems”

The Indian expert while appreciating that China’s “visionary approach to combining meaningful autonomy with a unified country under “One country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong and Macau” wondered why this cannot be applied to Tibetans and Uyghurs.  Mr. Lahiri stated: “Perhaps the formula could also be considered to meet the desire for meaningful autonomy by Tibetans, and even the Uyghurs. There seems no obvious reason by ethnic minorities should be treated differently from the Han on this matter, as this would clearly amount to racial discrimination.”

On 10 August, Mr. Duan Jielong, Director-General of the Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, who led the Chinese delegation responded: “I want to make it clear that Tibet and Xinjiang have been inalienable parts of the Chinese territory since ancient times. Any attempt to deny this fact and split China will not succeed…Any move to undermine and change the regional ethnic autonomy system in Tibet is against the Constitution and other laws. This position also applies in the case of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.”

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, “China’s Western Front: Can Beijing Bring Order to its Restive Provinces”, Christian Le Miere, the editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review wrote: “If Beijing hopes to find a longer-term solution to its western problem, it will need to implement a far more radical policy. The best approach may already exist: China could expand the category of Special Administrative Regions (SARs), which now exist in Hong Kong and Macau, to the country’s western provinces.”

The session of CERD on the whole resulted in one of the most extensive dialogues between UN human rights forums and China with regards to the human rights situation confronted by “ethnic minorities”, especially Tibetans and Uyghurs.  However, certain pertinent issues that were not raised were the forceful eviction of Tibetan nomads, birth control practices against Tibetans and Uyghurs and specific information on the crackdown in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan were raised by CERD experts.

CERD’s other key recommendations to China:

• abolish the application of re-education through labour and that this practice should not be disproportionately applied to members of ethnic minorities.
• intensify efforts aimed at fair and adequate participation of all minority groups in public service, including the military, and political life.
• ensure the respect for the rights of members of all ethnic groups to freely enjoy the freedom of religion.
• ensure that special measures adopted to promote access to education of children of ethnic minorities, such as scholarships or lower entry qualification, are available in practice.
• strengthen its measures to increase employment opportunities for members of ethnic minorities, in particular by focusing on professional training and by providing language training.

China’s large delegation of over 40 people included a Tibetan and Uyghur while several of China’s Government-sponsored NGOs (GONGOs) not only submitted written reports but also attended this CERD session.  The tight UN security outside the meeting room with metal-detectors was another surprising development since no such arrangements are generally provided when others countries appear before UN Treaty Bodies.  Unlike the tight restrictions when China was reviewed by CAT in November 2008, this time NGOs were allowed to take pictures in the meeting room.

CERD has asked China to submit its next periodic report by 28 January 2013.

To view the full text of the Concluding Observations and other related documents, visit the Committee’s website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/cerds75.htm