Experts from the United Nations have expressed “grave concern” over allegations that Chinese officials in Xinjiang have expanded a government-run boarding school system that forcibly separates Uyghur and other minority Muslim children from their families and communities.
The experts were also concerned that the boarding schools teach almost exclusively in China’s official language of Mandarin “with little or no use of Uyghur as medium of instruction,” according to a statement released by the U.N.’s human rights office on Tuesday.
“The separation of mainly Uyghur and other minority children from their families could lead to their forced assimilation into the majority Mandarin language and the adoption of Han cultural practices,” the U.N. experts said.
Scholars as well as previous RFA reporting have found that thousands of Uyghur children whose parents have been detained have been sent to camps, boarding schools and orphanages.
Efforts to assimilate Uyghurs at younger ages gathered steam after the Chinese government undertook a mass detention and internment campaign in 2017 that saw up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities incarcerated in a network of detention camps.
The U.N. experts said on Tuesday that they were recently informed of an “exponential increase” in recent years in the number of boarding schools for other Muslim and minority children in Xinjiang, the statement said. They’ve also learned that local schools where Uyghur and other minority languages were used for instruction have been closed.
The Chinese government’s actions are a violation of minorities’ right to education “without discrimination, family life and cultural rights,” the experts said.
“The massive scale of the allegations raises extremely serious concerns of violations of basic human rights,” they said.
‘Deserves more attention’
In response to the statement, the Uyghur Human Rights Project called on U.N. member states to vote against China’s upcoming bid for re-election to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“Uyghur children are torn from their parents as state policy,” the organization’s executive director, Omer Kanat, said. “It’s past time for U.N. member states to recognize this is a genocide.”
Also on Tuesday, the United States government said it had determined that “genocide and crimes against humanity continued to occur” in China’s Xinjiang region in 2022.
That announcement came as Washington blacklisted three more companies located in Xinjiang because of their use of forced Uyghur labor – a move that bans American companies from importing their goods.
Xinjiang region expert Adrian Zenz, who first reported on the boarding schools in 2019, said he was “grateful” for the U.N. experts’ statement.
“But I’m also wondering why it took so long – and why did it take the U.N. so long?” he told Radio Free Asia.
The U.N. should write its own report summarizing existing research on the issue, and the U.N. Human Rights Council could follow up with a resolution condemning China, he said.
“It just deserves more attention,” he said. “The international community has really paid no attention to this.”
The U.N. experts are Fernand de Varennes, a special rapporteur on minority issues, Alexandra Xanthaki, a special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, and Farida Shaheed, a special rapporteur on education.
Edited by Matt Reed.