General comment No. 20: Non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights (art. 2, para. 2, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

In his report, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, provides a clear working definition of the concept of a minority in order to guide his activities and those of the United Nations. He describes a series of initiatives, including three regional forums that complement the Forum on Minority Issues. In the thematic section of his report, he sets out the often misunderstood language dimension of education for minorities, which emanates from the proper understanding and implementation of international human rights obligations. He describes the parameters of the application of human rights, and in particular the principles of equality without discrimination, as of primary importance for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education for all, including linguistic minorities such as users of sign languages.

China’s education policy in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is significantly reducing the access of ethnic Tibetans to education in their mother tongue. The government policy, though called “bilingual education,” is in practice leading to the gradual replacement of Tibetan by Chinese as the medium of instruction in primary schools throughout the region, except for classes studying Tibetan as a language. Since the 1960s, Chinese has been the language of instruction in nearly all middle and high schools in the TAR, where just under half of Tibetans in China live, but new educational practices introduced by the government in the TAR are now leading more primary schools and even kindergartens to use Chinese as the teaching language for Tibetan students.

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