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Reports

UN expert asks China to reassess policies on Tibetan nomadic herders


By Phurbu Thinley
Phayul
January 3, 2011

Dharamsala, December 29: A new report by UN expert has found that the nomadic herders in Tibetan and Mongolian regions are facing enough threats under relevant policies adopted by Chinese government to make them a "vulnerable group".

Nomad resettlement site in Darchen, Ngari prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. The majority of Tibetans live in rural areas, and for centuries many have sustained themselves through a nomadic herder lifestyle, uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions and fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau. (Photo: ICT)
Nomad resettlement site in Darchen, Ngari prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. The majority of Tibetans live in rural areas, and for centuries many have sustained themselves through a nomadic herder lifestyle, uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions and fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau. (Photo: ICT)
"Nomadic herders in Western Provinces and Autonomous Regions, especially in the Tibet (Xizang) and Inner Mongolian Autonomous Regions, are another vulnerable group," says UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, in a six-page report concluding his first official mission to China from December 15 to 23.

In his "Preliminary Observations and Conclusions" report from the mission relased today, the Special Rapporteur advises that the herders should not be compelled to, as a result of the measures adopted to protect grassland and to modernize the animal husbandry industry towards commodification, sell their herd and resettle.

The report, therefore, "encourages" the Chinese authorities to engage in meaningful consultations with herding communities, in order to assess the results of "past and current policies."

Taking note of the report, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has said: "It is Chinese government policy to implement policies of settling Tibetan nomads, confiscating their land, and fencing pastoral areas, which is leading to increasing poverty, environmental degradation and social breakdown".

Mr Schutter, who was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food in March 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council, conducted the mission at the invitation from the Chinese side.

His mission to China takes place at a time when the country's 12th Five-Year Plan to be adopted in March 2011 is under discussion, and while the drafting of the 2011-2020 National Poverty Alleviation Plan is underway, the report says. "It is the hope of the Special Rapporteur that these preliminary observations and conclusions can feed into these processes," it added.

The mission included meetings in Beijing, as well as field trips to the districts of Tongzhou and Changping, and to the areas of Jinan and Laiwu in the province of Shandong to assess China's efforts and policies on the right to food, building the social security system, protecting basic farmland and coping with the impact of climate change on agricultural production.

The Grassland Law adopted in 1985 both in order to protect grassland and to modernize the animal husbandry industry towards commodification has now been complemented by a range of policies and programmes, including tuimu huancao ("removing animals to grow grass") and tuigeng huanlin ("Returning Farmland to Forest"), says the report.

These programmes, part of the 1999 Western Development Strategy (xibu da kaifa), seek to address the degradation of pasture lands and control disasters in the low lands of China.

They include measures such as grazing bans, grazing land non-use periods, rotational grazing and accommodation of carrying capacity, limitations on pastures distribution, compulsory fencing, slaughter of animal livestock, and the planting of eucalyptus trees on marginal farmland to reduce the threat of soil erosion.

While the UN Special Rapporteur notes that there is little doubt about the extent of the land degradation problem, he advises that herders should not, as a result of the measures adopted under the tuimu huancao policy, be put in a situation where they have no other options than to sell their herd and resettle.

De Schutter points out that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights prohibits depriving any people from its means of subsistence, and the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity acknowledges the importance of indigenous communities as guarantors and protectors of biodiversity (Art. 8 j). China has ratified both of these instruments.

The Special Rapporteur, therefore, "encourages" the Chinese authorities to engage in meaningful consultations with herding communities, including in order to assess the results of past and current policies, and examine all available options, including recent strategies of sustainable management of marginal pastures such as the New Rangeland Management (NRM) in order to combine the knowledge of the nomadic herders of their territories with the information that can be drawn from modern science.

He also "encourages" the Chinese authorities to invest in rehabilitating pasture, and to support remaining nomads with rural extension.

"The potential of livestock insurance programmes should also be explored, as tested successfully in Mongolia," he states, adding: "Such programs, which pay nomads to restock and recover after a major disaster, encourage nomads to keep herds at much smaller scale as they would not fear losing their herding activity after such disasters if covered by such insurances."

Mr. De Schutter, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, will present his full report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council next year.

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