The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed China’s record, including in Tibet, as part of its compliance review under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on September 26 and 27, in Geneva, Switzerland.
On 4 October, the Committee adopted its final report on the review, with concluding observations and recommendations. In the report, the Committee once again expressed its concern about the deteriorating situation of human rights in Tibet highlighting the “continuous violations of rights and discrimination against Tibetan children.” The Committee was also deeply disturbed by the escalation of self-immolations by Tibetan children, and urged China to:
- Engage in a genuine dialogue with children, religious and community leaders in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in an effort to halt self immolations and protect the inherent right to life, survival and development of all Tibetan children;
- Take urgent measures to resolve the deep-rooted grievances of Tibetan children and their families, including by reassessing and reforming policies and programmes, which have led to the immolations and protests by children in TAR;
- Ensure that Tibetan children injured after self-immolating have full access to free medical treatment and that their conditions are independently verified and publicly reported; and
- Refrain from arresting and detaining Tibetan children and implementing security measures that may exacerbate the situation and ensure that children arrested or sentenced for ‘instigating’ or ‘inciting’ self-immolation can fully access their right to legal aid and fair trial.
The report also condemned the restrictions of Tibetan children to study and practice their religion, such as the measures imposed on Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, as well as the frequent practice of torture and ill-treatment of Tibetan children for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of religion, assembly and expression. In this context and reflecting the discussions held during the formal session, the Committee expressed its concern about the situation of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Chekyi Nyima, stating that China “has not allowed any independent expert to visit and confirm his whereabouts, fulfillment of his rights and well-being.” In addition, the Committee dedicated a long part of its final report to the issue of bilingual education policy and discrimination against Tibetan children within the Chinese education system.
In reviewing reports submitted by States Parties, the Committee accepts submissions by NGOs on the implementation of the CRC and the Optional Protocols on reporting States. The International Campaign for Tibet, as well as 17 other NGOs, submitted a report focusing on numerous areas concerning violations of Tibetan children’s rights. ICT testified before the Committee in February 2013 during a pre-session of China’s review.
During the formal session on 26 and 27 September, more than 40 representatives from NGOs and other civil society groups were present at the review, although they were not allowed to speak as per the rules of the review. ICT attended both days of the session and handed over a list of proposed questions to some of the Committee Members.
In many of the written questions posed by the Committee to the PRC prior to the formal session, Tibet and the rights of children belonging to ethnic minorities were raised. Some of the issues concerned the cases of self-immolations of children in Tibet, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, freedom of religion for Tibetan children, and bilingual education for children from ethnic minorities.
On the first day of its review, the head of the PRC’s delegation, Mr. Jia Guide, held an introductory speech, outlining the main objectives of China’s 10-year National Program for Child Development, adopted in 2011, as well as progress made regarding child-related legislation, the protection of children with special needs, the improvement of education and healthcare systems and new special criminal procedures regarding juvenile offenders. His statement was then followed by introductory remarks by Representatives from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macao Special Administrative Region on the implementation of the CRC in their respective regions.
In the interactive dialogue that followed, the Committee praised the PRC for the legislative reform of its Criminal Code and various programs aimed at improving the situation of children. However, Committee Members also raised their concerns with regard to a wide range of issues, such as the PRC’s reservation on article 6 of the CRC regarding the right to life, forced abortions, corporal punishment, the treatment of migrant children and the use of re-education through labor for children.
The rights of Tibetan children played an important role throughout the whole session, as several Committee Members asked different questions on the human rights situation of Tibetan children, touching upon many critical points, such as Tibetan children’s self-immolations, freedom of thought and religion, shortage of schools in rural areas in Tibet and the use of Tibetan language in schools.
On the second day of the review, the PRC was expected to respond to the questions posed by the Committee. However, China failed to answer to most of the sensitive questions regarding Tibet by giving lengthy explanations and providing formal laws and statistics, diverting from the actual questions. The Committee Members were able to effectively challenge the PRC’s delegation and always brought the focus back to their original questions when the PRC did not provide adequate answers. Many of ICT’s proposed questions were used by the Committee, covering different issues, such as freedom of religion, the right to education and language rights.
For example, when China denied that there was discrimination against the practice of religion, the Chairperson of the Committee, Ms. Kirsten Sandberg, retorted that they had received many reports on infringement of freedom of religion in Tibet and Xinjiang and that the PRC’s delegation was not talking about the reality on the ground.
Moreover, China was questioned on the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was disappeared by Chinese authorities in 1995 after he was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama. The Committee asked if China’s contention that the Panchen Lama had been given higher education and living a happy life had been confirmed by an independent authority, as had already been asked by the Committee in 2005. The Chinese Representative refused to respond to this question, vaguely stating that they would provide an answer at a later stage.
The next CRC review of China will be held in 2018.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the body composed of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the CRC by its State parties. It also monitors implementation of two optional protocols to the CRC, on involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially two years after acceding to the Convention and then every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.
During its 64th session (16 September – 4 October) the Committee reviewed the reports of seven States, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The other States, which were reviewed, were Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Sao Tome and Principe, Tuvalu, the Republic of Moldova and Paraguay.