China accused a panel of UN experts of making unfounded claims Friday after they accused Beijing of forcing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans into programmes that threaten their cultural identity and could lead to forced labour.
The panel of six UN special rapporteurs voiced concern in a statement on Thursday that so-called vocational training and labour transfer programmes in China were being used as a pretext to undermine Tibetan religious, linguistic and cultural identity, and to monitor and indoctrinate Tibetans.
Beijing hit back, insisting the Tibet region “enjoys social stability, economic development, ethnic unity, religious harmony, and people live and work in peace”.
“The alleged concerns of the special mechanism experts are completely unfounded,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.
“We urge these experts to respect the basic facts,” she said, warning the rapporteurs not to “become a tool or accomplice of some anti-China forces”.
Thursday’s statement was signed by the special rapporteurs on contemporary slavery, people trafficking, contemporary racism, cultural rights, minority issues and the right to development.
“Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have reportedly been ‘transferred’ from their traditional rural lives to low-skilled and low-paid employment since 2015, through a programme described as voluntary — but in practice their participation has reportedly been coerced,” they said.
The panel said the labour transfer programme was facilitated by a network of vocational training centres, “which focus less on developing professional skills and more on cultural and political indoctrination in a militarised environment”.
Special rapporteurs are mandated by the UN Human Rights Council but are unpaid, independent experts who do not speak for the United Nations.
The experts urged Beijing to clarify how Tibetans could opt out of the programmes, and to monitor their working conditions in new places of employment.
Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it “peacefully liberated” the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.
But many exiled Tibetans accuse China’s ruling Communist Party of repression, torture and eroding their culture.
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