Protection of Minority Linguistic Rights from the Perspective of Human Rights
May 11,2018   By:Protection of Minority Linguistic Rights from the Perspective of Human Rights

Protection of Minority Linguistic Rights from the Perspective of Human Rights

LI Meng*
Abstract: The protection of minority rights and the construction of a multi-ethnic country are two aspects of the same historical pro- cess. Language is one of the most prominent characteristics and sym- bols of an ethnic group. The diversity of languages is also the common wealth of the entire human race. Linguistic rights are an important part of the cultural rights of ethnic minorities. Recognizing and guar- anteeing the rights of ethnic minorities to live, study, and work and to enjoy and develop their own culture and language is the significant contents of their rights. The Chinese government has always attached importance to the protection of cultural rights and other rights of ethnic minorities, including language rights. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the National Regional Autonomy Law, and other laws and regulations as well as the National Human Rights Action Plan of China and other policy documents all have relevant provisions, which help to form a harmonious and diverse multi-ethnic development pattern.

Keywords: ethnic minorities linguistic rights human rights legal protection
The protection of minority rights and the construction of multi-ethnic countries are two aspects of the same historical process.1 Language is one of the most promi- nent characteristics and civilization symbols of a nation. Linguistic diversity is also the common wealth of the entire human race. Since the 20th century, it has become the consensus of the international community that linguistic rights are a human right. Linguistic rights are an important part of the cultural rights of ethnic minorities. Rec- ognizing and guaranteeing the rights of ethnic minorities to live, study, and work in accordance with their ethnic methods is one of the significant contents of their rights.2 The Chinese government has always attached importance to the protection of cultural rights and other rights of ethnic minorities, including their language rights. The Con- stitution of the People’s Republic of China, the National Regional Autonomy Law, and other laws and regulations as well as the National Human Rights Action Plan of China and other policy documents all have relevant provisions, which help to form a harmo- nious and diverse multi-ethnic development pattern.

Ⅰ.  Nomological Analysis of Minority Linguistic Rights

Linguistic rights are included in international ethnic minority human rights law. International and regional human rights standards, as well as national laws and prac- tices, have many interpretations of this right.3

A.   The origin of minority linguistic rights

The explicit protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights can be traced back to the period of the international coalition against fascism, which accelerated the devel- opment of modern international law. After World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations in 1948 ambiguously estab- lished the principle of prohibiting discrimination based on (but not limited to) linguis- tic differences4, in light of the divergent views of Europe, which advocated protecting the uniqueness of minority groups, and the United States, which advocated the assim- ilation and integration of minorities. After this, the international community gradually realized that the “principle of equality and non-discrimination” was insufficient to protect the rights of minorities. Therefore, Article 27 of the 1966 International Cov- enant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (including linguistic rights) specifically emphasized rights of ethnic minorities. With the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a number of new nation states were estab- lished. In order to protect the ethnic minorities in these countries from discrimination and to maintain their cultural identity, linguistic rights were put forward as a human right. The 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Eth- nic, Religious, or Linguistic Minorities (hereinafter referred to as the “Declaration on the Rights of Minorities”) on the one hand responded to the claims of minority (cultural) groups, and on the other hand it also ensured the continuity and integrity of the human rights protection system. Since the 1990s, the human rights standards for regional minority rights have been introduced, including the Copenhagen Document issued by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1990 and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (hereinafter referred to as “Language Charter”) adopted by Council of Europe in 1992, as well as the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (hereinafter referred to as the “European Framework Convention”) adopted in 1994. Since the 1990s, the UNES- CO-led protection of endangered languages and “linguistic diversity” has gradually become a common topic in the academic community.

The General Position Paper No. 23 on Article 27 of the ICCPR along with the European Framework Convention state that minority rights are not a matter of  adding or creating rights for minorities. The rights of ethnic minorities are based on their weaker position in relation to the dominant ethnic group and emphasize that they should enjoy universal human rights equality. That is to say, the rights mentioned in the European Framework Convention are not exclusive to a few people, while not-mentioned rights can also apply to a few people. This means that a right that is not mentioned above in a special minority rights protection convention or charter may still be subject to the relevant provisions of the educational and cultural rights in other conventions or charters such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (hereinafter referred to as ICESCR) based on the actual conditions of the State party.

B.    The contents of minority linguistic rights

Ethnic minority linguistic rights, as part of ethnic minority rights, have rich and extensive content. According to international or regional human rights standards such as Article 27 of the ICCPR and its General Position Paper, the Language Charter, and the European Framework Convention, it can be concluded that ethnic minority linguistic rights include five main aspects: the right to non-discrimination, the right to native language education, the right to use minority languages in community settings, the right to use minority languages in official settings, and the right to use the lan- guage in the media.

1.   The right to non-discrimination

Judging from the historical development of ethnic minority rights protection, no discrimination based on language differences is the basic content of ethnic minority linguistic rights. Article 2 of the UDHR expresses the spirit of the non-discrimination principle, and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter referred to as ECHR) and Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the ICCPR essentially provide the same protection. According to General Position Paper No. 23 on ICCPR Article 27, the protection of non-discrimination under Article 26 of ICCPR is even broader. Article 26 of the ICCPR, different from Article 14 of the ECHR, applies not only to the rights provided for in the ICCPR but also to all human rights and is therefore re- garded as an independent safeguard clause against discrimination. Article 4, paragraph 1, of the European Framework Convention also further reaffirms and reinforces the principle of non-discrimination on minority linguistic rights.

2.   The right to native language education

Education is the most fundamental means for the inheritance and development of group culture, including language. Native language education is the basis for the protection of other linguistic rights. Undoubtedly, education guarantees the long-term recognition of language. Although the Additional Protocol to Minority Rights of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter abbreviated as the “Minorities Protocol”) has not been passed and there is no binding force in national law, its Article 8(1) stipulates that ethnic minorities should have access to education in their native language, which has important reference value for the protection of their linguistic rights. The European Commission’s Language Charter has greatly expanded and deepened people’s understanding of what positive measures the country should take.5 The right to education set out in paragraph 2 of the Protocol 1 of the ECHR includes the right of a minority to have access to education in native language.

3.   The right to use minority languages in community settings

According to Articles 12 and 13 of the Language Charter, community settings can include cultural events and facilities, economic and social life occasions, etc. Cul- tural events and relevant facilities include but are not limited to libraries, cinemas, cul- tural activities centers, festivals, traditional festivals and bazaars. Economic and social occasions should include, but are not limited to, markets, hospitals, social health facil- ities, banks, etc. Most of these occasions or facilities are a part of daily live. Granting freedom of language use in these fields is both a natural human right and the consen- sus of the contemporary international community.

4.   The right to use minority languages in official settings

The right to use minority languages in official contexts helps to ensure that lin- guistic minorities fully understand the government policies that affect them, and then express their opinions and attitudes on other political rights such as freedom of speech. Paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the European Framework Convention stipulates that the State shall endeavor to ensure that ethnic minorities can use their language to commu- nicate with the authorities. Paragraph 3 of Article 7 of the Minorities Protocol is the only provision that extends this right to communication with the courts and executive authorities, making up for deficiencies in the ICCPR and ECHR. This right aims to ensure that ethnic minorities participate in public life and prevent ethnic minorities from being assimilated. In this regard, some international documents protect them from assimilation in the form of stipulating State obligations. For example, paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the European Framework Convention stipulates that the State shall protect the language from threats; Article 32 of the Copenhagen Document directly sets out the content of preventing ethnic languages and cultures from assimilation.

5.   The right to use language in the media

According to Article 11 of the Language Charter, ethnic minorities have the right to use ethnic minority languages to create radio stations, television channels, publish newspaper articles, record audio products, and audio and video products under the premise of independence and autonomy of the media. The effective exercising of this right can not only enrich the daily cultural life of ethnic minorities and increase the enjoyment of life; it can also record, preserve, and transmit minority languages by means of science and technology for a long period of time. It is also an important aux- iliary method for minority linguistic education. With the development of the internet and big data, this right will further derive new linguistic rights content such as intel- lectual property rights protection.

C.    National obligations to respect, protect and fulfill minority linguistic rights

What corresponds to rights is obligations, and what corresponds to human rights is the State’s obligations.6 According to the general classification of national obli- gations under the theory of international human rights law, state obligations can be divided into three levels: the obligation to respect, the obligation to protect, and the obligation to fulfill.

Corresponding to ethnic minority linguistic rights, the obligation of the State to respect those rights mainly involves the relationship between the State and the citizen, and requires the State not to promulgate or enforce laws that may infringe on the lin- guistic rights of ethnic minorities, and to correct or abolish the existing  infringement of existing laws. The State should further ensure that relevant policies, regulatory documents, projects, administrative procedures and public services do not infringe the minority linguistic rights, and otherwise, they should correct or withdraw them, and provide appropriate compensation if necessary. To this end, legislators should fully consider and pay attention to the minority linguistic rights before the legislation, during the legislation, and after legislation, and supplement the absent laws in a time- ly manner; law enforcers should act in accordance with the law and have the power and responsibility to uniformly protect the linguistic rights of ethnic minorities; the judiciary should be strictly based on facts and take the law as the criterion, and then impartially make their judgments in cases concerning ethnic minority linguistic rights. In other words, the main body of the obligation to respect includes all State agencies and their staff. The State shall be directly responsible for State agencies and their staff involved in any infringement of ethnic minority linguistic rights or the State’s  failure to perform its duties to prevent, investigate, punish, or redress violations of ethnic mi- nority linguistic rights.

The State is required to protect ethnic minority linguistic rights from third-party violations through legislative, judicial, and law enforcement measures, and to provide remedies if violations cannot be corrected, such as setting up a national human rights institution to handle complaints of ethnic minority linguistic rights being violated and providing appropriate remedies.

The obligation of fulfilling minority linguistic rights means that the State should adopt all measures to facilitate, promote, and realize the minority linguistic rights. For example, the State promulgates laws and regulations for the protection and promotion of equality of ethnic languages. State agencies use both the common national lan- guage and local ethnic language as their working languages when they enforce their laws. Court decisions require schools to provide bilingual education to ethnic minority students in order to integrate society and acquire knowledge.

Ⅱ.   Legal and Policy Guarantees for Minority Linguistic Rights

China has been a unified multi-ethnic country since ancient times. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the State organized experts to conduct  a comprehensive survey of all the ethnic languages and words in the 1950s. In general, China is more conscious and active in fulfilling its obligations to protect the rights of ethnic minorities. At present, China’s current guarantees for ethnic minority linguistic rights include the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the National Re- gional Autonomy Law, and other laws and regulations, as well as the National Human Rights Action Plan and other policy documents.

A.    Legal guarantees for minority linguistic rights

1.   The stipulations of the Constitution on minority linguistic issues

At present, in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, there are three articles directly related to linguistic issues, namely paragraph 4 of Article 4, Article 121 and Article 134. See Table 1.
(1)  National equality principle in the Constitution. Marxism advocates ethnic equality on national issues and opposes all forms of national oppression and ethnic discrimination. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China is in line with this. The preamble of the Constitution and the first paragraph of Article 4 all affirm that “equality” is the primary principle for China to handle ethnic relations. All ethnic groups, regardless of their size, are part of the Chinese nation. They enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations in all areas of social life. This principle guaran- tees the right of ethnic minority languages in China to be free from discrimination and assimilation. The linguistic rights of ethnic minorities are guaranteed in the national principle of equality which encompasses ethnic minority languages not being discrim- inated against or assimilated. The equality of linguistic rights is an important content and logical extension of the principle of ethnic equality in the field of social culture.

Table 1 Provisions for protection of minority linguistic Rights in the Constitution of China
Article Content
Article 4(4)
All ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written lan- guages, and they have the freedom to maintain or reform their own customs and habits.
Article 121
In the performance of their functions, the autonomous organs in ethnic autonomous areas should use one or several local languages according to regulations set by the autono- mous areas.
Article 134
Citizens of all ethnic groups have the right to sue in their own language. The people’s courts and the people’s procuratorates shall translate for those who are not familiar with the local common language.
In areas where ethnic minorities are concentrated or where multiple ethnic groups live together, trials should be conducted in the local common language; indictments, judgments, notices, and other documents should use one or more local common languages according to actual needs.
(2)  The subject of linguistic rights in the Constitution. Article 33 of the Consti- tution “Human Rights Provisions” promotes and expands the scope and depth of mi- nority rights protection. The linguistic rights of ethnic minorities identified in the Constitution should be in line with the general content of human rights, which includes “collective human rights” and “individual human rights”7.
First, collective linguistic rights—with an “ethnic group” as the subject of lin- guistic rights. All ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own lan- guage, that is, linguistic rights are a kind of collective rights.8 This makes it possible for linguistic groups to protect their own language and words, and then protect their cultural identity with constitutional protection, which is of great and positive signifi- cance.

Second, individual linguistic rights—with “citizens” as the subjects of linguistic rights. Article 134 of the Constitution stipulates the right of citizens of all nationalities to use their own language in litigation, that is to say, the individual is the subject of linguistic rights. Different from the collective linguistic rights’ purported aim of safe- guarding the languages and cultures of ethnic minorities, it is stipulated that individual linguistic rights are to ensure each person’s freedom to choose a language.9 However, such regulations are inconsistent with China’s current level of economic development and may impose unnecessary burdens. For example, if fluent in the languages spoken by the courts in judicial proceedings, if ethnic minorities still insist on the freedom of choosing their language, that not only increases the court’s burden of hiring translators and their payments, it also leads to delays in litigation, or hinders the timely resolution of legal disputes and the resolving of social conflicts.

2.    Guarantee of minority linguistic rights in the National Regional Autonomy Law

The Chinese Constitution stipulates the implementation of the national regional autonomy system. The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law of the People’s Republic of China is the basic law guaranteeing the realization of this system. The Regional Eth- nic Autonomy Law has made comparatively principled provisions on various aspects of national regional autonomy. The articles and contents among them that highlight minority linguistic issues include: Article 21, that is, autonomous organs can use mi- nority language and words when performing their duties; Article 38, that is, respect ethnic minorities for the development of their cultural undertakings and support the protection of their books and cultural heritage; Articles 47, 49, and 53, which require that autonomous organs, courts and procuratorates respect the equal status of national languages and encourage staffs to learn and use local minority languages and to im- plement the language in their work. The above content is of vital importance for the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights, and provides a good legal basis for mi- nority languages to be compatible with Mandarin.

Judging from the National Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law itself, the formula- tion of the law has its special historical background, and subsequent amendments are also more in line with changes in national conditions. In general, the Regional  Ethnic Autonomy Law has relatively full legislative provisions on ethnic issues, and can be timely updated in accordance with changes in times. It is the most important basic law for ethnic issues except the Constitution.10 Since the promulgation of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, the party committees, people’s congresses, governments, and all departments at all levels have attached great importance to the implementation of this law from the central to the local level. The law has achieved positive results. The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law has become one of the most important laws to protect minority linguistic rights.

3.  Protection of minority linguistic rights by other laws

In addition to the provisions on linguistic rights in the Constitution and the Re- gional Ethnic Autonomy Law, some laws also contain provisions on ethnic minority linguistic issues in accordance with the Constitution. For example, Article 12 of Ed- ucation Law, Item 11, Paragraph 1, Article 22, of the Copyright Law, Article 6 of the Law of the people’s Republic of China on Resident Identity Cards and Article 22 of Accounting Law, etc. These provisions involve language use in specific matters and are indispensable for the protection of minority linguistic rights. They also have strong applicability in specific cases.

B.    Policy guarantee for minority linguistic rights

Since the launch of reform and opening up, especially in the 21st century, China has established a set of policies and institutions to support social and cultural develop- ment in ethnic regions. For example, in 2000, the Ministry of Culture and the National Ethnic Affairs Commission jointly launched Views on Further Strengthening the Cul- tural Work of Ethnic Minorities. In 2010, the State Council issued Several Opinions on Further Prosperity and Development of Minority Cultural Undertakings, which systematically stipulates goals, measures and mechanisms for promoting the develop- ment of ethnic minority culture11. These policy documents have stipulated relevant pro- visions for the protection and development of ethnic minority languages and words, and are an important part of the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights.

Since 2009, the Chinese government has successively formulated three national action plans with the theme of “human rights” as a systematic policy document for the development of human rights in China. These contain relevant expressions on ethnic minority linguistic rights and safeguard measures proposed by the Chinese govern- ment, involving the training of specialized personnel, the expansion of radio coverage, the establishment of an endangered language database, the strengthening of bilingual teaching and the protection of the right to use ethnic languages for litigation, etc.12.

1.   Cultivate minority linguistic professionals

In order to train ethnic minority linguistic talents and ethnic cadres, the National Ethnic Affairs Commission and ethnic colleges under the jurisdiction of some ethnic Provinces and autonomous regions have set up Chinese minority language and litera- ture majors. In addition to training, the employment and growth of minority linguistic talents are also an important part of the long-term development of ethnic minority lan- guages. However, it is understood that the ethnic minority linguistic talents cultivated in ethnic colleges have a narrow employment channel for their majors, and there are fewer opportunities for undergraduates to further their studies in minority  linguis- tic and literature studies. Therefore, minority talents training should have a training mechanism that provides them with improved employment skills and employment competitiveness.

2.   Broaden radio and television coverage of minority language

According to the official website of the State Administration of Press, Publica- tion, Radio, Film and Television, China has achieved regional coverage of 24 ethnic minority languages broadcast programs in Mongolia, Tibet, and Uighur at the pro- vincial, city, and County levels. Vigorously developing the minority language broad- casting industry will not only greatly enrich the daily cultural life of ethnic minorities, but also play an irreplaceable role in ensuring and implementing protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights. However, at present, ethnic minority radio and television are mainly in languages such as Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Zhuang and others that are used by a relatively large number of people in densely populated areas. Other minori- ty nationalities and ethnic groups have a late start in broadcasting and television and their languages have not been well promoted.

3.   Establish an endangered language database

In November 2014, the Expert Consultation Committee on Ethnic Languages of State Nationalities Affairs Commission launched a Study on Endangered Language Protection Standards project. Subsequently, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region took the lead in adopting advanced technology to record human voices, stories, and daily dialogues. The voices were collected in the field, and then transcribed for long- term preservation. At present, how to make the database of endangered languages widely available to some minority languages with a small number of users, such as the Hezhe language in the northeast and the Mulam language in the southwest, is still  an urgent issue to be solved.

4.   Strengthened bilingual education in ethnic areas

In June 2013, the “Bilingual Education in Ethnic Regions” project issued by the CEAIE indicated that at present four bilingual teaching modes have been formed in the minority areas in China.14 However, it has been observed that in some areas, such as southern Guizhou Province, at least at the County-level public school education, there are no required courses for minority languages and no corresponding elective courses have been set up since the beginning of elementary school. Education in the Chinese language has become the mainstream in the region, which indicates that the implementation of the bilingual education policy in the country is still lacking.

Ⅲ. An Empirical Study on the Use and Protection of Minority Lan- guages

The research on the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights depends not only on the macro-level protection to ethnic minority linguistic rights provided by national laws and policies, but also actual investigations, from a certain minority and from the bottom up, to analyze the use and protection of minority languages. The Bouyei people are ethnic minorities in southwest China, and they mainly live in Guizhou Province. According to data from the sixth national census in 2010, the total population of the Bouyei people in China is 2,870,034, accounting for 0.22 percent of the country’s total population and ranking the 11th largest ethnic group in China.15 The Bouyei language used by Bouyei people is actually equivalent to the northern  dialect of the Zhuang people and belongs to the northern Tai branch of the Dong-Tai language family. Some foreign scholars call it the “Northern Thai” language, which is one of the major languages in China.16 In view of the fact that the protection of the linguistic rights of the Bouyei people is representative, this paper takes the Bouyei language in Guizhou Province as an example to conduct field research and empirical analysis on the use and protection of ethnic minority languages in China.

A.    Basic situation of research

This paper selected eight townships in Libo County, Guizhou Province as the re- search sites. The research findings of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission’s research project, Study of the Current Situation in the Use of Languages in Southwest China’s Ethnically Diverse Areas, led by Professor Zhou Guoyan of the Central University for Nationalities, in which the author participated in 2012, and the data of a two-week field visit in 2017, are used as the empirical evidence to analyze the protection of the Bouyei linguistic rights.

1.   Research methods

The research methods of language use and protection in this paper mainly include questionnaires, field observations, and interviews. The questionnaire survey consisted of two parts: One was the random survey and the other was a household survey. The content of the questionnaires and interviews mainly covered the following two points: first, the basic information of respondents, including the survey location, name, gen- der, age, ethnic group, experience of outside employment, working hours, occupation, education, and native language; second, the use of spoken and written native language and related issues, including the proficiency in the native language, the use of it with- in the family, community, inter-community, and other occasions, the attitudes of the homo loquens to their native language, dual language, and inter-ethnic speech.

B.    Research results - minority language usages

1.   Data of minority languages usage

The research found that in Libo County, the Bouyei people mainly use their native language in exchanges among their own ethnic group and to a lesser extent when communicating with other ethnic groups. Within families and communities, the proportion of using the native language is higher, and the proportion of using native language in official situations is lower. The specific investigation results are shown in Table 2.
Table 2   Research results on the usage of Bouyei language
Usage occa- sion Communica- tion object Number of subjects The use of the native language The use of other lan- guages
Number Percentage
Mainly Chinese dia- lects
One’s own ethnic group  
Mainly Chinese dia- lects
Other ethnic group
Including Chinese dialects and other mi- nority languages
One’s own ethnic group  
Mainly Chinese dia- lects and Mandarin
Mainly Chinese dia- lect and Mandarin
Mainly Chinese dia- lects
Judicial depart- ments    
Mainly Chinese dia- lects
Working places outside home- town  
One’s own ethnic group
Including Chinese dialects and other mi- nority languages
2.   Attitudes toward minority language usage

The research found that in Libo County, the Bouyei people have a strong sense of self-confidence and identity through using their own languages, and they have rel- atively strong inclusiveness for other languages such as Chinese dialects, Mandarin, etc. The specific findings are shown in Table 3, Table 4, Table 5, Table 6.

Table 3   Research results on question “what’s the most fluent spoken language”
Number of sub- jects Bouyei language Chinese
Number Percentage Number Percentage
42 41 97.62% 1 2.38%

Table 4   Research results on question “what’s the most pleasant language to hear”
Number of subjects Bouyei language Mandarin Chinese dialects
Number Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage
42 31 73.81% 8 19.05% 3 7.14%
Table 5 Research results on question “is there Chinese communication between children”
Number of subjects No Yes. And it doesn’t matter. Yes. But I will feel uncomfortable.
Number Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage
23 14 60.87% 6 26.09% 3 13.04%
Table 6 Research results on “how do you feel when children give up their native language after working outside the hometown”
Number of subjects Disgusted A little uncomfortable Indifferent
Number Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage
19 4 21.05% 5 26.32% 10 52.63%

C.    Research results - minority language protection

The research found that with population mobility and economic and social de- velopment, the use of Chinese dialects and Mandarin among the Bouyei people in Libo County has gradually become a trend. Because the written Bouyei language does not prevail, almost all local official documents use Chinese characters. The pro- tection of minority linguistic rights cannot just rely on ethnic identity and feelings. Individual and collective awareness of rights protection and legal coercive measures are both indispensable factors for the realization of the ethnic minority rights of the Bouyei group, and they are also the appeal and hope of the international community to achieve linguistic diversity.

1.   To look at the protection of minority linguistic rights from the subject of rights

(1)  Strong sense of collective linguistic rights protection. In Libo County, the Bouyei language is spoken by generations of families and communities of the Bouyei ethnic group, and it is a common and indispensable language for communication. When the locals return home after working outside their hometowns, and the young Bouyei people go home after studying outside, the Bouyei language is the preferred language between acquaintances and family members. It can be seen that the preser- vation of the Bouyei language has a strong emotional attachment and a long history. The direct benefit is that people have a strong sense of protecting linguistic rights of the Bouyei ethnic group.

(2) Weak sense of individual linguistic rights protection. The research also found that more and more young Bouyei people have given up studying and using their own native language. On the one hand, with the leap-forward development of economic and social development in the western region, inter-regional population mobility has increased, which has led Bouyei people to move to other places and the Bouyei people in Bouyi areas who are dealing with outsiders unconsciously or even forcedly  switch to Chinese and other languages. On the other hand, under the strong influence of the Chinese language, many Bouyei people in ethnically concentrated areas also have a certain degree of native language crises and faults. Therefore, the protection and dis- semination of the Bouyei language is facing a crisis. Many Bouyei do not have the awareness of individual linguistic rights protection, and gradually become “ Bouyei people only on their identity cards”.
While stressing the effective exercise and protection of collective linguistic rights, we should also pay attention to the protection of individual linguistic rights. Without the awakening of individual consciousness and the determination of rights protection, the demise of language will be inevitable. Once the native language is de- stroyed, it will be irreversible.

2.   To look at the Bouyei linguistic rights protection from the content of linguistic rights

(1) Achievements. In Libo County the use of the Bouyei language is not discrim- inated aginst, and the right to use Bouyei language within the family and community, and on official occasions, is well achieved. On the one hand, the Bouyei language is used by the main local ethnic group, so its use is basically not discriminated against by other ethnic groups, which can be seen from the local people’s confidence and identifying with the Bouyei language. The Bouyei language is well protected in the process of inheritance and use, and there is no unreasonable difference in treatment. On the other hand, within families, in bazaars, schools, hospitals and on community occasions, the use of the Bouyei language varies from person to person. That is, the Bouyei language is the preferred choice for exchange among Bouyei people, who account for more than 90 percent of the local population. Meanwhile, on official oc- casions such as government and the judiciary matters, officials fully respect the use of the Bouyei language by the Bouyei ethnic group, and can use Bouyei cadre to provide bilingual translations to protect the use of the Bouyei language.

(2)  Problems. First, there is a lack of education in minority languages. The re- search found that there is no systematic education for the Bouyei language in Libo County. The local acquisition of the Bouyei language is mainly carried out through family, marriage, neighborhood, etc. There are no Bouyei language courses in pri- mary and secondary education. One reason is that the succession and use of the lo- cal Bouyei language is widespread, so there is no need for special learning. Such a situation is also related to the limited local teaching resources, limited knowledge of language values, and lack of effective legal remedies. Second, minority languages are used less in local media. The main sources of traditional local media—newspapers and televisions—generally concentrate on the County, autonomous prefecture center, or provincial capitals. Chinese has a dominant position in the content of television programs, while Bouyei language is less used. As young people are increasingly exposed to the internet, the influence of Chinese in the media will grow. The use and dissemination of the Bouyei language in the media is urgently needed to raise awareness of the Bouyei lan- guage, increasing funding and policy support, and broadening legal remedy channels.
The main reason for these problems lies in the incomplete coverage of laws and policies and inadequate implementation. At present, no laws have been formulated at the national level to specifically protect the language of ethnic minorities, and rel- evant departments and localities have not introduced regulations and laws to protect minority languages. At present, China’s laws or policies to protect the minority lin- guistic rights mainly rely on the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the National Regional Autonomy Law, and the National Human Rights Action Plan. The relevant provisions are still not specific enough and lack op- erability. At the same time, the related provisions of other laws and policies have not been effectively implemented. For example, Article 12 of the Education Law stipulates that the State must provide conditions to support bilingual education, and Article 49 (2) of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, states that cadres proficient in two or more local languages should be awarded. They should be further implemented in practice.

Ⅳ. Suggestions on Strengthening Protection of Minority Linguistic Rights

In his speech at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party China, Gen- eral Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping proposed that “cultural con- fidence is a more fundamental, deeper, and more lasting force in the development of a country and a nation.” He also emphasized the need to “enhance the legal protection of human rights and ensure that people enjoy a wide range of rights and freedoms in accordance with the law.” Strengthening the protection of human rights of ethnic mi- norities, including linguistic rights, is an inherent requirement for upholding compre- hensively governing the country according to the law, of adhering to the core values of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and of securing a decisive victory in   building a moderately well-off society in an all-round way and ensuring that ethnic minorities also live a well-off life in line with the whole nation.

On the whole, China’s adoption of the Constitution, the Regional Ethnic Au- tonomy Law, and other laws and regulations and the National Human Rights Action Plan and other policy documents to build a framework for the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities, including linguistic rights, is effective, which has been proven by the research on the protection of linguistic right for the Bouyei in Guizhou Prov- ince. In order to strengthen the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights, it is necessary to implement major decisions of the 19th CPC National Congress, proceed from the perspectives of respecting and safeguarding human rights and fulfilling state obligations, and start from the aspects of legislation, judiciary and law enforcement, formulate laws and regulations on the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights, establish mechanisms for linguistic rights infringement complaints and relief, improve the promotion and implementation mechanism of the cultural development of ethnic minorities, and achieve a higher level of protection on the rights of ethnic minorities.

A.    Stipulate laws and regulations on the protection of minority linguistic rights 

The Constitution establishes and upholds the principle of respecting and safe- guarding human rights. The spirit and principles of the Constitution must be embodied and implemented in specific laws. With respect to the protection of minority   linguistic rights, we should enact relevant laws for the protection of ethnic minority spoken and written languages and improve the legal order of ethnic issues, which will help strengthen the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic minorities and better protect the vital interests of the people. The formulation of laws and regulations for the protection of ethnic minority languages is an important way for the State to actively legislate and fulfill its obligations. In this regard, it is possible to explore and formulate a nationwide and special law17 that protects the minority linguistic rights and promotes the development of ethnic minority spoken and written languages, such as a Law on Minority Languages and Words. The preliminary framework for such a law is tentatively envisaged below

1.   Legislative purpose

Under the premise of not violating the Constitution and other higher laws, a Law on Minority Languages and Words would aim to promote the standardization, normal- ization and healthy development of ethnic minority languages and words, accelerate the prosperity and development of ethnic minority cultural undertakings, and realize the purpose of promoting the economic and cultural exchanges in various regions and various ethnic groups. This law should be combined with the Law on the National Common Language and Characters to protect China’s languages.

2.   Legislative principles

The enactment of a Law on Minority Languages and Words should uphold the basic principles of openness, inclusiveness, voluntary choice, solidarity, and unity. China is a unified multi-ethnic country, and all ethnic groups have the freedom to learn, use, develop, their own languages and other ethnic languages. This allows all ethnic groups to uphold open and inclusive attitudes and principles when learning and using ethnic languages. The State shall respect the right of ethnic minorities to choose the language they study and use, respect their right to choose to use or not use a lan- guage, and the right to use their own language, other minority languages or national common language, and ensure the right to choose independently is not interfered with by State departments, other organizations or individuals. At the same time, what needs to be emphasized is that the guarantee of the ethnic minority linguistic rights cannot be interpreted as a reason to undermine national sovereignty, or split the nation or country.

3.   Legislative content

The language protection content of a Law on Minority Languages and Words should include the sources of international and domestic laws, as well as the subjects, content, infringement forms, and infringement penalties of minority linguistic rights. International legal sources include UDHR, ICCPR, and the Minority Rights  Declaration, and domestic legal sources including the Constitution, the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law and other laws. The subject of minority linguistic rights is the minority identified and recognized by the ethnic affairs departments since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The content of rights include, but are not limited to the rights of ethnic minority languages to non-discrimination, the right of ethnic minori- ties to acquire native language education, and the right to use minority language in communities, official occasions and media.
The linguistic rights of ethnic minorities are a human right, and the correspond- ing obligatory subject is the State, that is, the State has the obligation to respect and guarantee the realization of ethnic minority linguistic rights. The infringement forms include, but are not limited to, the acts or negative acts of the State in the phenome- non of the endangerment of ethnic minority languages and the absence of bilingual education. Legal liability clauses may require the State to make specific legislative or administrative actions that will decrease the scope or impact of the infringement of minority linguistic rights.

B.    Establish an infringement complaints institution for minority linguistic rights

China needs to establish a national human rights institution to protect human rights including the linguistic rights of ethnic minorities. On the one hand, this mea- sure will make up for the shortcomings in China’s current judicial remedy for ethnic minority linguistic rights, such as the lack of legal basis and complex litigation proce- dures. On the other hand, it will make people’s channels for appeals more diversified and more convenient. Judging from the current situation of China’s national institu- tions, those that exercise human rights supervision and protection in substance do not have the nature and functions of a specialized institution for the protection of human rights. To establish a national human rights institution in the strict sense,  especially a relatively independent national human rights institution, it is necessary to integrate and coordinate the human rights protection functions of all relevant agencies so that the institution can meet the requirements of the Principles on the Status of National Institu- tions on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (i.e. the Paris Principles) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, and can also be adapted to domestic institutions.

The establishment of a national human rights institution in China should proceed from its own national conditions, adhere to the principles of gradual and orderly prog- ress and differentiation, exercise its powers in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and laws, and coordinate the development of the country’s human rights cause. As far as the protection of minority linguistic rights is concerned, the initial national human rights institution can focus its work on international human rights exchanges and cooperation and domestic human rights education. Through the coor- dinated formulation of ethnic minority linguistic rights protection legislation, it can promote the development of the cultural undertakings of ethnic minorities, increase awareness of ethnic minority linguistic rights and create necessary conditions for the protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights. When the conditions are relatively ma- ture, the national human rights institution will independently assume the responsibility of accepting and handling complaints of infringement of ethnic minority linguistic rights and safeguarding collective and individual linguistic rights.

C.    Improve the development and promotion mechanism for the cultural undertakings of ethnic minorities

Negative rights and positive rights together constitute the main content of mod- ern human rights. With the development of society and the changes of the times, hu- man rights protection not only requires the State to protect the civil and political rights from infringement in a passive manner, but also requires the State to adopt positive and effective measures to ensure the realization of economic, social and cultural pro- tection.19 The protection of ethnic minority linguistic rights is not only reflected in the respect of relevant rights by the State, but also requires the State to take effective mea- sures to guarantee the realization of cultural rights of ethnic minorities. On the one hand, it is necessary to integrate the relevant forces of ethnic affairs departments, ed- ucation administrative departments, cultural administrative departments and other na- tional departments, and establish joint conferences and deliberation and coordination mechanisms to formulate plans for the development of cultural undertakings of ethnic minorities, in particular the development of language and character undertakings, and to change the behavior of ethnic minorities to the study, use, and dissemination of mi- nority languages into a conscious action for the country to promote the  development of ethnic minority language and character undertakings. On the other hand, it’s neces- sary in accordance with the provisions of ICCPR and other international treaties and domestic requirements to strengthen and innovate social governance and nurture and support non-government organizations such as autonomous language organizations and language research groups through legislative management, administrative exam- ination and approval, and judicial relief, financial subsidies, social benefits and tax relief.

It is worth emphasizing that supporting the establishment of non-government or- ganizations such as language autonomous groups, may rationalize many issues in the protection of minority linguistic rights. First, ethnic minorities and linguistic groups are not completely equivalent concepts. There are many cases of multilingual  groups or many ethnic groups sharing one language, and using ethnic groups as units may not accurately achieve the linguistic rights of language groups. Second, “group” is the subject of collective linguistic rights. However, “group” cannot form its own will, nor can it exercise collective linguistic rights. The power organ of one ethnic autonomous region cannot represent the interests of the people. Besides, to let a national first-level administrative organ to exercise a linguistic human right is inconsistent with the coun- try’s corresponding obligations. Third, compared with the construction of the “group” as the subject of rights, language autonomous groups can not limit the actual users of the language, which will also bring together more “private” resources for the salvation and protection of certain endangered languages and gain more experts and scholars on the protection of minority linguistic rights.

D.    Promote the assessment and evaluation of the protection of minority linguistic rights

In November 2013, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee put forward “the establishment of a scientific index system and evaluation   standards to legal construction”. In October 2014, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee put forward “putting the achievements of legal construction as an important part of measuring the performance of the leadership team and leading cad- res at all levels and integrating it into the performance evaluation index system”. Since the 18th National Congress, the executive meeting of the State Council has repeatedly heard evaluation reports from third-party in related fields. In July 2011 and June 2016, the Information Office of State Council successively issued evaluation reports on the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010) and the National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015)20. Practice has proved that the grad- ual transition from internal evaluation to third-party evaluation has gradually  become an important trend in the evaluation of modern legal construction and social governance. Third-party evaluation has become an effective mechanism for achieving governance modernization goals and an important means for testing the effectiveness of governance.21

In the protection of minority linguistic rights, we must draw on existing expe- rience at home and abroad to conduct a comprehensive third-party evaluation of the effectiveness and problems of protection. On the main body of the evaluation, the broadness of the main body should be highlighted. We should recruit experts and scholars from national ethnic affairs departments, education administrative depart- ments, cultural administrative departments, jurisprudence, ethnology, linguistics, and pedagogy to participate in the evaluation and widely absorb the wisdom and strength in all areas to promote the improvement and development of the minority linguistic rights protection. On the principles of the evaluation, the neutrality should be empha- sized. The unique value of third-party evaluation lies in its neutrality and profession- alism, which breaks through the interest disputes between the evaluation subject and object to a certain extent, and avoids the lack of persuasion resulting from arguing for oneself. Third-party evaluations of the protection of minority linguistic rights should be distinguished from general news propaganda, and problems should be discovered and resolved from a constructive perspective. On evaluation data, the objectivity should be highlighted, and third-party evaluations of minority linguistic rights protec- tion should establish a scientific evaluation index system, speak with objective data, truly reflect the protection of minority linguistic rights, and avoid subjectivity, which will make the evaluation result distorted and lose its value.

(Translated by LI Man)

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