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UN expert asks China to reassess polices on Tibetan nomadic herders

December 30, 2010

Phayul [Wednesday, December 29, 2010 17:33]

By Phurbu Thinley

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”.

“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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