The Plight of Language Rights Violations in Tibet

By Aryan Garg, published on 12 May 2020 

(In 2010, China officially announced its “Bilingual Education Policy” for subsistence and promotion of local languages in the schools of the minority areas of the country. On account of the said policy, institutions in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) were given the choice to use Tibetan as a medium of instruction. However, according to the latest report by the Human Rights Watch, the condition seems otherwise.)

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Pic Credits – Unsplash


The situation of language autonomy in Tibet has been depressing since the advent of PRC’s Education Policy in the region. The official stance of the government is the promotion of Chinese and Tibetan together, but in the veil of “National Coordination,” the former is promoted at the cost of the latter. Non-Tibetan-Speaking teachers are filling the schools of Tibet. Tibetans are being taught in the same class along with the migrant Non-Tibetans under the “MixedClasses” Policy. An increased number of Boarding Schools are started under the “Concentrated Schooling” Policy to maximise diversity and culture mingling, but this, in turn, separates the children from their families and culture. Moreover, the curriculum for the Tibetan-Speaking students is not well developed, which in turn forces them to shift to the other language, i.e. Chinese. Learning Chinese also becomes an obligation as it is the standard language used in any government or other official work. Furthermore, recruitments in Tibet requires good command over the Chinese Language. Tibetans who do not know Chinese cannot find work.


There have been a large number of protests, in the forms of petitions, demonstrations, slogans and letters in Tibet following the Bilingual Education Policy. This started a decade back when about a thousand Tibetan students protested in Qinghai province of China against the Language Policy. A protest again followed in 2012 when officials in Qinghai province tried to introduce Chinese curriculum and textbooks in Tibetan Schools. Between 2015 and 2016, several petitions were filed concerning the lack of Tibetan-language teaching in schools in Qinghai and an increase in Chinese-language teachers in primary, secondary and high schools. Furthermore, there have been instances wherein people were detained when they spoke for their Language Rights and Individual Identity.


The shift in the curriculum of the schools of Tibet not only concerns International Law but also Domestic Law. It is pertinent to mention that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China protects the educational rights of the linguistic minorities in the country. This is coupled with the Regional National Autonomy Law which gives freedom to minority schools for using their mother tongue as a medium of instruction. Moreover, Article 30 of the of the UnitedNations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “In those States in which ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion or to use his or her own language.” It is to be noted that China is a signatory to the treaty and has ratified it. Similarly, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises language identity as a human right.

Notably, China has been accused of violating the Language Rights of the Tibetans in the past. This included theCommittee on the Rights of the Child, which, in 1996 asked the Chinese Government to allow the people of the minority areas to gain knowledge in their local language, and additionally learn Chinese. Similarly, the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CECSR) also raised questions concerning the Linguistic and Educational Rights of the Tibetans and the Uighurs.


One needs to understand that keeping minority language alive requires more than just the native language component in the curriculum. One should also pay heed to the content of the curriculum. It is often seen that the content in the minority language schools often contains a hidden assimilationist material which promotes the majority language and tends to perplex children of their own identity. It should be the responsibility of the schools to identify and weed out such content to protect their identity. Furthermore, it should be the duty of the educators to show greater appreciation and respect for the culture of the students. Perceptions that Chinese is better than the local language should not be transmitted. Also, the students must be exposed to real-life activities that would help them to connect with their culture and to appreciate the culture of others.

Apart from this, Good Governance always remains an option for protecting the overall Rights of the minority community. Deliberation in the form of identification of the problems, dialogue and participation can lead to the development in the form of a greater understanding amongst the communities. This includes strict adherence to the guidelines for Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities issued by the Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights (UNHR). Opportunities should be enhanced for the people of the minority areas so that they can find employment and can live their lives peacefully.


The promotion of Minority Language is the basis of promotion of Minority Identity which requires policies to maintain, reproduce and further develop their culture. The issue do not only concern the development of the minorities culture but the generation of confidence among minorities about the protection of their identity. The current acts of the Chinese Government are not only hindering the Rights of the Tibetans but are also deviates them from their culture, ethnicity and identity. The results of the same are visible in Tibet.

Aryan Garg is an LL.B. (Hons.) candidate from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad



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