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China’s repression of Tibetans alarms UN experts

Tibetans are forced to accept mandatory vocational training and labor transfer programs imposed by the Chinese regime

Tibetans take to the streets to protest religious repression in this file image

Tibetans take to the streets to protest religious repression in this file image. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 03, 2023 11:27 AM GMT

Updated: May 03, 2023 11:28 AM GMT

A U.N. human rights expert panel has alleged that the Chinese government is undermining the religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of Tibetans through mandatory vocational training programs and labor transfer.

Tomoya Obokata, the U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and other U.N. experts in an April 27 press release have warned that the programs could lead to forced labor, Radio Free Asia reported on May 1.

“I am not saying that all instances are involuntary because there is no clear evidence in that regard. … But in a similar way as with the Xinjiang situation, certain indicators of forced labor may be present,” said Obokata, a professor of international human rights law.

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“That’s why we are asking the government to provide a clarification and answer at this stage,” Obokata added.

Obokata further pointed out that in some instances the Tibetans were often forced to accept the decisions of the Chinese authorities and join mandatory vocational training programs.

“[But] in practice, and according to the information that we receive from various sources, oftentimes they [Tibetans] do not have any choice, so they have no choice but to accept it [vocational training],” Obokata said.

According to U.N. experts, Tibet has an extensive labor transfer program that shifts Tibetan farmers, herders, and other rural workers into low-skilled and low-paid jobs.

“Tibetans are being drawn away from sustainable livelihoods in which they have traditionally had a comparative advantage, such as wool and dairy production, and into low-paid, low-skilled work in manufacturing and construction,” the U.N. experts said in the statement.

Tibetans have reportedly complained of discrimination and rights abuses by Chinese authorities through policies that they say are aimed at wiping out the Tibetan national and cultural identity, the U.N. experts said, RFA reported.

They further added that Tibetans are transferred directly from the mandatory training centers to new workplaces. However, they also pointed out that it was “unclear” if they have consented to the jobs.

China’s Communist regime also restricts Tibetans’ political activities and even interferes in their cultural and religious activities as Buddhists through the forced training programs, the expert panel including Obokata said.

The panel said that the programs were “designed to promote a non-plural, mono-racial and mono-ethnic nation, in violation of the prohibition of racial discrimination under international human rights law.”

The panel has urged China to provide details about measures in place for Tibetans to opt out of vocational training and labor transfer programs.

They have also asked China to monitor the working conditions of Tibetans in their new places of employment and to ensure respect for Tibetan religious, linguistic, and cultural identity.

The panel also voiced its concerns that the treatment meted out to the Tibetan people might escalate to restrictions placed on the Muslim-majority Uyghur community in China’s Xinjiang province.

“We are seeing similar patterns in terms of the treatment, so that’s why we are raising our concern at this time for Tibetan people,” Obokata said.

Tibet, with its rugged terrain, vast plateaus, and mountains including Mount Everest, has been mostly isolated from the world until the 1950s. The region has been known for its unique cultural and religious community that thrived with the strong influence of the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibet shares borders with the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Yunnan along with the countries of Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal.

China annexed Tibet in the 1950s by claiming it had always been an integral part of China. Tibetans in the region and outside consider China’s action as an invasion by a foreign force and have long struggled for independence despite brutal suppression.


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