UHRP Statement during UN CESCR 66th Pre-Sessional Working Group

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CESCR Committee (66th PSWG)
Date: March 8, 2021
Speaker: Peter Irwin
Organization: Uyghur Human Rights Project

Thank you.

I want to raise three issues affecting Uyghurs in China: cultural rights, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living.

In 2014, the Committee recommended China ensure the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights for Uyghurs.

The exact opposite has taken place.

Satellite imagery shows clearly the widespread destruction of mosques, graveyards, and shrines. One study found that over 8,000 mosques in the Uyghur Region have been demolished since 2017 (that’s one third of the region’s total). Other mosques have been forced to remove Islamic architecture, symbols, or Arabic writing, including the crescent moon or domes. Some of these mosques have been converted into shops, housing, and even bars in some cases.

The same study found that one third of all significant historical shrines, cemeteries, and pilgrimage routes have also been destroyed.

One recommended question to the government: How does China intend to protect cultural rights embedded in the Covenant while destroying Uyghur mosques, shrines, and cemeteries?

In addition to destruction of tangible culture, the government has interned, imprisoned, or disappeared at least 435 Uyghur intellectuals as part of a campaign to suppress cultural expression across generations.

In 2014, the Committee noted its concern about “severe restrictions” on the right to use and teach the Uyghur and Tibetan languages, and recommended China “take all necessary measures” to “ensure the use and practice of their language and culture.”

The opposite has happened.

The Hotan Prefecture Education Department banned the use of the Uyghur language “at all education levels, in favor of Mandarin.” Evidence indicates that this is the case across the whole region in every primary and secondary school that Uyghurs attend.

Another recommended question: How does the government ensure Uyghur children are able to study in their mother tongue?

Finally, Uyghurs are very often left out of development projects and suffer from much higher rates of unemployment and lower incomes.

So we’d repeat a call made across Treaty Body Committees, which is for China to release disaggregated data on this by ethnic group.

We would appreciate focus from the Committee on:

  • Severe restrictions on cultural and religious expression;
  • The complete ban on Uyghur-language teaching at all education levels; and
  • Equitable development, including disaggregated data.

We also have deep concerns over:

  • Plummeting birth rates;
  • Forced sterilizations; and
  • Forced labour.

Thank you.

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