EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Uyghur Linguistic Rights Under Assault: Uyghur Language & Cultural Rights In East Turkestan

World Uyghur Congress, 13 March 2018

Considering the deplorable situation in terms of Uyghur language rights and the recent ban on its use in education in Hotan prefecture in 2017, the World Uyghur Congress under the co-sponsorship of the Norwegian Uyghur Committee and the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, and with support from the National Endowment for Democracy will hold a conference at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, on March 16th from 10:00-13:00.

The conference, Uyghur Linguistic Rights Under Assault: Uyghur Language & Cultural Rights In East Turkestan, will focus on the current situation faced by Uyghurs and the use of their mother tongue. For the past two decades, the Uyghur language has been under assault from the Chinese government as part of a larger cultural assimilationist project, ostensibly aimed at a supporting a robust system of ‘bilingual education’.

For the regional government, however, ‘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.

China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy has been quickly gaining momentum since the beginning of its implementation in the late 1990s. 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.

The policy was quickly accelerated in June 2017 when a five-point directive was issued by Hotan’s Education Department outlawing the use of the Uyghur language. 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.” The ban also contravenes both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and China’s own Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.

The conference will bring together Uyghur community leaders, human rights activists and academics to present and discuss topics related to this central theme and cultural assimilation more generally. Speakers will include members of Amnesty International in Norway, the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, among others.

For press or other inquiries and additional information, please contact Peter Irwin (peter@uyghurcongress.org).