Press Release: WUC Alarmed at Recent Uyghur Language Ban in Hotan Schools
The World Uyghur Congress is appalled by the recent decision of Hotan authorities to completely ban the Uyghur language at all education levels up to and including secondary school. The ban shows the extreme lengths at which the Chinese government is willing to go to fully assimilate the Uyghur population in East Turkestan as well as the artificial nature of the so-called “bilingual education” system.
A five point directive was issued by Hotan’s Education Department in late June outlawing the use of the Uyghur language which argued that eliminating the language will actually, “strengthen elementary and middle/high school bilingual education.” The statement may appear contradictory at first glance, but given the meaning of ‘bilingual education’ in practice in East Turkestan, it is completely understandable.
For the regional government, ‘bilingual education’ does not mean to maintain both Mandarin and Uyghur at the same level in terms of teaching, but to transition Uyghur students at all levels from education in their mother tongue to education in Chinese.
The policy also fits within China’s broad assimilationist legislation in the region over the last decade at least. China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy has been quickly gaining momentum since the beginning of its implementation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1995, 5,533 students were enrolled in such schools, by 2007 it was 294,000, by 2010, 994,300 and by 2012, 1,410,000. The regional government has now set a target of 2,600,000 students in East Turkestan by 2020 which constitutes nearly all non-Chinese students.
Under the new directive, schools or individuals who fail to meet the criteria or “plays politics, pretends to implement, or acts one way and does another,” will be “severely punished”. The order also bans the use of the Uyghur language in “collective activities, public activities and management work of the education system.”
Not only is the blanket ban morally appalling, but it oversteps very clear international human rights standards in terms of language protections. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sets out in Article 27 that “persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”
Likewise, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which China is a state party, states in Article 29 that, “States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to […] The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values.”
Article 37 of China’s own Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law also explicitly guarantees language rights for ethnic minority students: “Schools (classes) and other educational organizations recruiting mostly ethnic minority students should, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction.”
Notwithstanding international and domestic law, the elimination of an entire taught language from a prefecture made up of close to two million Uyghurs is an affront to the most basic aspects of cultural life. The policy stands outwardly as the realization of China’s clear assimilationist drive that targets fundamental aspects of Uyghur life including religious belief and cultural rights.
It is for this reason that the World Uyghur Congress calls on the United Nations, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in particular, to push back strongly against such a policy. The international community is nearly unanimously united in support of language rights for children, so it is now incumbent upon like-minded states and institutions to ensure that such a drastic measure does not escalate.
The reaction from the international community to such an action will act as a bellwether for our collective reaction to future Chinese policy, indicating the importance of speaking out loudly and clearly in opposition.