EU Parliament calls on China to abolish Tibetan boarding schools

Resolution accuses Beijing of using Mandarin-only schools to erase Tibetan culture.
By RFA Tibetan
EU Parliament calls on China to abolish Tibetan boarding schools Tibetan students head to the canteen for a meal at the Shangri-La Key Boarding School during a media-organized tour in Dabpa county, Kardze prefecture, Sichuan province, China, on Sept. 5, 2023.
(Andy Wong/AP)

UPDATED at 14:38 ET on Dec. 15, 2023.

The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution condemning the “abduction and forced assimilation of Tibetan children” by the Chinese government, according to an official press release.

The resolution accuses Chinese authorities of using state-run boarding schools in Tibet to “eliminate the distinct linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions among Tibetans and other minorities.”

As of 2023, nearly 1 million Tibetan students attend these boarding schools. A February U.N. report found that young Tibetans are often forcibly removed from their homes, separated from their families and compelled to participate in a curriculum that assimilates them into the majority Han culture. 

At these schools, students are not permitted to learn about or discuss Tibetan culture, history or religion. Classes are taught exclusively in Mandarin.

The resolution, introduced by Salima Yenbou from the Renew Party, who visited Dharamsala in March as a part of a parliamentary delegation, calls on Chinese officials to immediately abolish state-run boarding schools and allow for the establishment of private Tibetan schools. 

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 477-14, said Vincent Metten, the E.U. Policy Director of the International Campaign for Tibet. “This shows the growing international attention [on] the boarding school system in Tibet.”

Sikyong Penpa Tsering from the Central Tibetan Administration said he believed the resolution would "make an impact," pointing out that text in the resolution instructs the president to forward it to the Chinese government. 

“Along with the coercive boarding school system, the Mandarin-only policy for the college entrance exam is also a major part of Beijing’s plan to eliminate Tibetan culture and sinicize the region," he said.

"I urge the European Union to adopt and act upon these resolutions adopted by the European parliament members, similar to policies adopted by other nations which addressed the challenges faced by Tibetans. Then I think it will have a real impact on the Chinese government."

Culture risks ‘being erased’

The adoption follows a debate among European lawmakers on Dec. 13 concerning the “continuously deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet under Xi Jinping,” the Central Tibetan Administration reported.

“[These schools] can ultimately have long-lasting effects on Tibetan language and Tibetan culture, which risks being erased,” High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell stated during the Wednesday plenary session.

Officials walk in the compound of the Shangri-La Key Boarding School during a media-organized tour in Dabpa county, Kardze prefecture, Sichuan province, China, on Sept. 5, 2023. (Andy Wong/AP)

“[Chinese authorities in Tibet] are systematically restricting the freedom of religion or belief, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

He went on to emphasize the E.U.’s “deep concerns about the human rights situation in China, notably, systemic human rights violations in Xinjiang and Tibet.”

The resolution calls on European lawmakers to follow in the U.S. government’s footsteps and adopt targeted sanctions against Chinese officials tied to the boarding school system in Tibet, as well as raise the issue of human rights at “every political and human rights dialogue with the Chinese authorities.”

The Council of the E.U. website states that the purpose of a resolution is to “express a political position or appraise an international event in the name of the E.U.” Resolutions are not considered legally binding documents.

Representative Rigzin Choedon Genkhang of the Office of Tibet in Brussels “welcomed the resolution and expressed appreciation to the European Parliament for the timely resolution.”

“The resolution shines a spotlight on the continuous and severe violations of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people, including the right of the child, by the Chinese government,” he said in a statement to the Central Tibetan Administration.

Edited by Claire McCrea and Malcolm Foster.

Adds quote from Sikyoung Penpa Tsering.


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