Intervention on Children’s Rights

UN Interventions

U.N. Commission on Human Rights
57th Session
Agenda Item 13Rights of the Child:
A written intervention submitted by the
International League for Human Rights, a non-governmental
organization in special consultative status.
Mr. Chairman:

1. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) enjoys nearly universal support. Only two nations, the United States and Somalia, have not ratified the CRC. The Convention protects children from violence, neglect, and discrimination and secures to them the basic rights to food, shelter, healthcare, and an education. It also instructs states that, to implement the CRC, they should be guided at all times by the best interests of the child, which, as reaffirmed recently by General Assembly Resolution 54/149 (2000), must be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children. Yet broad formal support for the CRC often fails to translate into real, concrete protections for children.

2. One area in which this implementation failure emerges repeatedly consists in the failure of some states to protect the rights of children belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority groups. This failure is itself often related to the state’s refusal to allow a minority people to exercise its right to self-determination; for self-determination means, in part, the right of a people to participate in shaping the social, economic, educational, and political processes that play a decisive role in their children’s development and well-being. Thus, states that refuse to permit a minority people the right to self-determination often adopt policies that, in effect if not intention, affirmatively breach their obligations toward minority children in violation of Article 30 of the CRC.

3. UNICEF has noted that the CRC expressly protects children of minority groups because of the overwhelming evidence of serious and continuing discrimination against minority and indigenous populations (UNICEF Implementation Handbook, p. 407). The General Assembly likewise reaffirmed recently its concern that states ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights and fundamental freedoms (Res. 54/162 (2000), para. 2.). The children of minority groups are doubly vulnerable to human rights violations. As children, they lack the power to understand and exercise their rights effectively; as minorities, they may be identified, despite their age, as future threats to the state’s dominant political, social, and cultural groups. For these reasons, we wish to call attention to the plight of Tibetan children in China, as well as to the denial of Kurdish children’s rights in Turkey.

4. International law absolutely forbids torture. Its use against children, however, is particularly egregious. Amnesty International’s recent report, Hidden Scandal, Secret Shame: Torture and Ill-Treatment of Children (2000), reveals that the torture of children in not a rarity, particularly in countries like China, where, Amnesty observes, torture of both criminal suspects and political dissidents is endemic (p. 52). Tibetans are especially susceptible to torture because China uses torture as a tool of state control in Tibet. Recent research conducted by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet (ICLT) indicates that China’s documented practice of torturing Tibetans suspected of political dissent or nationalist sentiment extends even to children as young as ten years old.

5. In several cases Tibetan children told ICLT they were beaten and subjected to electric shocks with cattle prods during interrogation sessions. Amnesty likewise reported that Chinese police beat Puntsog Legmon, a 16-year-old Tibetan monk, with batons for saying that Tibet is not part of China and shouting other nationalist slogans (p. 41). The Special Rapporteur noted that Tibetan children have been branded with hot irons, sprayed in the throat with insecticide, beaten, and shocked with cattle prods for, for instance, protesting the insufficient number of Tibetan teachers and the lack of Tibetan language instruction in their schools (E/CN.4/1998/38/Add.1). Responding to these reports in September 2000, the U.N. Committee Against Torture reiterated its concern about allegations of serious incidents of torture, especially involving Tibetans and other national minorities (CAT/C/24/3, para. 11). In Turkey, similarly, Amnesty reported that two Kurdish girls suspected of supporting the nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party were raped, beaten, and hosed with cold water to elicit confessions (p. 54). Here, as in Tibet, the state at times appears to use torture against the children of a minority group to suppress any indication of nationalist sentiment.

6. China’s educational system in Tibet also reveals a pattern of repression towards Tibetan children. The Children’s Rights Committee observed in 1996 that school attendance in minority areas, including the Tibet Autonomous Region, is lagging behind, a factor that may disadvantage Tibetan and other minority pupils applying to secondary and higher level schools (CRC/C/11.Add.7, para. 19). ICLT’s recent research affirmed that Tibetan children in China lack equal access to primary education. They face prohibitive school fees and, from an early age, confront an educational system designed systematically to deny them the ability to learn the Tibetan language, to study Tibetan history, or to practice Tibetan culture. For example, ICLT found that most schools in Tibet forbid children to celebrate Tibetan holidays or sing Tibetan songs, while forcing them to participate in celebrating Chinese holidays and to pledge fealty to the Chinese state. (In some cases, children were beaten or whipped for displaying Tibetan religious ornaments or traditional dress.) As the International Commission of Jurists concluded in 1997, rather than instilling in Tibetan children respect for their own cultural identity, language and values, as required under the Convention, education in Tibet serves to ideologically indoctrinate Tibetan children and to convey a sense of inferiority of their own culture, religion and language in comparison to the dominant Chinese culture and values (Tibet: Human Rights and the Rule of Law, pp. 219-20).

7. Again, the situation in Turkey is somewhat analogous. While the government permits private communication in the Kurdish language, it forbids the use of the Kurdish language in any public context, including state schools. Kurdish children are not permitted to learn in their own language, and the government uses the medium of primary school education to marginalize the Kurdish culture, history, and ethnic identity. Under Article 29 of the Children’s Rights Convention, primary education should develop the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities and instill respect for the child’s . . . own cultural identity, language and values. Yet in both Turkey and China, the state instead uses school as a tool of political control. Education becomes a means to compel children of minority groups to conform their beliefs and loyalties to the dominant social and political group. This kind of manipulation of education to repress the expression of a minority child’s cultural identity not only violates specific guarantees in the Children’s Rights Convention, but is also contrary to the best interests of the child.

8. Tibetan children in China also suffer from unequal access to healthcare. While China’s status as a developing nation perhaps limits its ability to provide healthcare to all children, evidence suggests that the primary reason that children of the Tibetan minority lack equal access to healthcare is that the government chooses to distribute its medical resources primarily to areas dominated by Chinese settlers. ICLT found that subsidies for clinics, hospitals, and physicians that treat children go almost exclusively to a select few urban centers in Tibet, where mostly Chinese settlers, rather than Tibetans, reside (due to the population transfer policies pursued by the central government). By contrast, rural regions of Tibet, where more than 80% of Tibetans live, rarely even have medical clinics or physicians trained in modern medicine. Similarly, while many predominantly Chinese cities in Tibet benefit from government vaccination programs, inoculations are not, in general, accessible to the vast majority of Tibetan children, most of whom live in rural regions of Tibet. Moreover, even in Tibet’s cities, Tibetan children may not enjoy equal access to healthcare unless their parents have connections with Chinese officials or within the communist party. Refusal to conform to the dominate Han culture and political caste prevents many Tibetan parents from securing such connections and thus deprives their children of equal access to healthcare. The results of China’s neglect of Tibetan children’s health is apparent: according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (Racial Discrimination in Tibet, 2000) Tibetan infant mortality rates are triple those of China in its entirety, and the average life expectancy of Tibetan children is the lowest among China’s 18 major nationalities.

9. Mr. Chairman, as the General Assembly recently reiterated, states should strive to provide for every child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development, as well as the provision of universal and equal access to primary education (Res. 54/149). Yet Tibetan children in China are subject to physical torture, a discriminatory educational system that denigrates their language, culture, and values, and a healthcare system that neglects their most basic medical needs. Indeed, violations of Tibetan children’s rights in China are so severe that hundreds flee the country each year, at great risk to their lives, to find a community in which their fundamental educational and development needs will be met and their rights to physical security and freedom of expression will be respected. We therefore urge the Commission to adopt a resolution calling on the Chinese government to protect Tibetan children from torture, to ensure them the right to an education that permits them to learn their own language, history, and cultural values, and to take steps to ensure that Tibetan children receive basic healthcare and childhood vaccinations essential to their survival.