Authorities in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region are considering adopting new rules to boost the use of the Mongolian language, following a proposal by ethnic minority lawmakers.
The proposed rules are aimed at making existing regulations on promotion of the Mongolian language more explicit, including by setting language proficiency standards for officials and adding guarantees that Mongolians can use their native tongue.
The proposals are expected to be considered for adoption by Inner Mongolia’s regional government this year, according to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), a U.S.-based group that monitors rights developments in the region.
“Mongolians are demanding this and they will be able to use these [new rules] as a weapon to defend their rights,” SMHRIC’s director Enhebatu Togochog told RFA.
“They can use these rules to continue to pursue their lawsuits and complaints.”
Authorities informed ethnic Mongolian lawmakers in December 2012 that they could proceed with writing up proposed articles to tighten existing laws and that they would be included in the regional government’s legislative work plan for 2013.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region—which borders the country of Mongolia in the north and is home to some 4 million ethnic Mongolians—adopted its current Regulation on the Work of Usage of Mongolian Language and Script in 2004.
The regulation, which went into effect a year later, set out requirements for regional government organs to promote the use of the language.
The new rules, if adopted, will require government officials to have the ability to communicate in Mongolian and will help ensure equal treatment in government employment for native Mongolian speakers, among specifying other requirements, Togochog said.
Togochog said that existing laws promoting and protecting native language rights lack teeth because they are too general and ethnic Mongolian lawmakers were proposing the detailed stipulations in order to make the existing regulations more binding.
“China is not a country of rule of law. Even if [laws are] passed, there is a problem of implementation.”
“That’s why Mongolians are concerned that every article [in the new rules] be detailed, addressing specific issues instead of general statements,” Togochog said.
In response to the text of the new rules circulated online to solicit public feedback, one commenter, G. Sainbayar from Heshigten banner (county) in Ulaanhad (in Chinese, Chifeng), said more specific rules were needed to strengthen the current regulation.
“Due to their lack of legally binding features and accountability to responsible parties, the Mongolians’ legal rights can hardly be protected by the regulations,” the commenter said, according to a translation provided by SMHRIC.
Others posted suggestions that the new articles should include provisions for the creation of additional Mongolian-language schools, stipulations that the heads of government organs must be ethnic Mongolians, and requirements that officials who don’t use the language be dismissed.
Scholars say the number of Mongolian speakers is difficult to determine—though some have estimated around 3 million—because China provides no figures and the number is declining under the influence of Chinese language.
“The use of the Mongolian language is largely neglected by the Chinese authorities,” Togochog said, even though the 2005 regulation requires that state organs carry out their duties using mainly the Mongolian language.
The existing regulation also says all levels of government in the region should encourage use of the Mongolian language.
Another complaint among Mongolians is that college graduates educated in the language have a hard time finding jobs, Togochog said.
“Ordinary Mongolians who speak Mongolian are discriminated against,” he said.
In 2011, thousands of university and high school students in the region demonstrated to call for better rights protection for Mongolians, following protests sparked by the death of a Mongolian herdsman run over by the driver of a mining company’s coal truck in a grassland area.
Authorities clamped down on the demonstrations by putting schools under lockdown and closing Mongolian-language websites.
In recent years, Mongolians in the region have used existing laws to challenge restrictions on the use of the language rights, including by forcing government agencies to use and accept documents and signatures in Mongolian instead of Chinese and advocating for more use of Mongolian in schools.
In one case, a man sued the postal service several for failing to deliver mail with addresses written in Mongolian on the envelope.
Togochog said he hoped the new rules could be used as a tool by ethnic Mongolians to further defend their rights.
“There will not be a huge change because China is not a country with the rule of law. But still, it’s better than nothing,” he said.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.