Commentary: Major Powers Fall Flat at UN Committee on Linguistic Minorities

By Justin Doane (Reuters) & Gabrielle Rivas (Asahi Shimbun) 

BOSTON, Mass. (Reuters, Asahi Shimbun) – In an annual conference held in Boston by the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee of the United Nations, or SOCHUM, a number of delegations from across the globe met to discuss ways of improving the lives of citizens worldwide.

Though the committee opened up on Thursday with high expectations from a number of delegates, proposed solutions seem to have reached a standstill among committee members. In one notable press conference, the delegation of the United States of America was quoted as having said, “…within our own country’s borders, not including our colonies…” prompting jeers from committee members in attendance.

The delegation of the USA stated initially that they were hoping to improve the lives of linguistic minorities, but that before creative solutions could be found, a definition for what exactly constitutes a linguistic minority must be made.

“We are not allowing people to say that a national minority does not exist if they are harming these people, we believe that this transcends sovereignty when you are hurting your citizens,” the delegation said.

On the issue of censorship being used to silence linguistic minority opinions, the USA was asked if they believed this constituted “hurting your citizens.” In response, they said, “In our linguicide clause we include all laws that are intending to censor specific languages,” though one correspondent did point out that many laws in the United States prevent public schools from teaching a second language, further questioning their exact stance on preserving linguistic minorities.

In addition to the contradictory opinions and actions of the United States within the committee,

As the delegation of the United States’ contradictory opinions remained in question, another problem arose from the delegation of the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese delegates spoke of their desire to create an inclusive country, however this directly misrepresents beliefs and actions of the Chinese government in the past. The Chinese government has shut down schools where students learn Tibetan, and the Chinese communist party also only permits Mandarin in schools.

The Chinese occupation of Tibet is an international concern due to China’s presence in the nation. For Chinese delegates to say they support inclusion and the integration of linguistic minorities within the committee contradicts the ways China has interacted with countries they preside over. “We want to bring nations together by having an office language, along with giving other minorities the ability to understand their language,” a delegate of China said.

It is strange for the delegation of China to speak about inclusiveness and on improving the lives of minorities when in the past the Chinese government has acted differently. Many Tibetans feel as if the Chinese have taken over their country, and are trying to erase their culture.

For instance, the Chinese government has controlled language use and religious practices in Tibet for as long as China has claimed possession of the region. The U.S. State department in 2016 reported China has repressed religious practices through “extrajudicial killings, prolonged detention without trial, torture, and arrests of individuals.”

Although these actions are clear acts of persecution, Chinese delegates again said “we as a country are against separatism and that’s what we are trying to get at.”

Moving forward the delegations of China and the United States will hopefully address these concerns before the annual meeting ends on Sunday.

 

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