Half Yearly Review of Human Rights in Tibet

This is a summarized report highlighting in brief the major instances of human rights violation in Tibet from January to September 2007

At the very beginning of the year, disappointment were expressed, and critical assessment on the state of human rights in Tibet were published in numerous reports and in surveys conducted world wide by the concerned Rights groups and governmental bodies. On 17 January 2007, USA based NGO, Freedom House in its survey report ‘Freedom in the world 2007’ has rated Chinese occupied Tibet as one of the two territories in the world with the worst political rights and civil liberties. Another rights group, Human Rights Watch in its ‘World Report 2007’ released on 11 January 2007 pointed that “China is moving backward” in human rights.

The state of human rights in Tibet remains as critical as before. Behind the seemingly prospering Tibet, there are brutal civil and political rights violations, with rising level of exclusion, poverty, illiteracy and social unrest. China’s response to these problems have been severe crackdowns and detentions, which further exacerbates the existing realities on the ground.

Reports trickling from Tibet point towards wide spread discontent among Tibetans from all walks of life. Tibetans expressing or known to be concerned about their political and religious identity are often labelled as ‘separatist’ and face threat from arrest and detention. The spiritual atmosphere in the monasteries and nunneries have now submerge into that of fear and anxiety, and the religious studies were replaced with political indoctrination, hence leaving no option for the monks and nuns, except abandonment.

Among the younger generations of Tibetan, the literate are suffering from favored Han job policies and the ‘special connection’ needed to get recruited in the service sectors, while the livelihoods of the illiterates, largely from rural pastoral and nomadic areas, are jeopardized by the ongoing ‘re-location’ drive. Simultaneous lost of their ancestral land and profession is compelling the rural ill-equipped and unskilled Tibetans to compete in the market economy in the towns and cities for an alternate livelihood. In many cases this is leading to the impoverishment of the families otherwise living at subsistence level.

If not worse, the situation is no better with the urban dwellers as well. The fact that the Chinese immigrants have swamped the urban areas is posing serious challenges for the Tibetans to find a place for their socio-economic, political and religious traditions and believes.

The so-called ‘harmonious and modernized Tibet’ as proclaimed by China is merely a propaganda phrasing to conceal the actual prevalence of instability resulting from the flawed political and socio economic policies and human rights repression imposed upon the Tibetans for decades.

Instances of rights violation
This half-year evaluation reveals no better situation as before in Tibet.

Political freedom

The strong sensitivity attached by the Chinese government to the matters regarding nationalism, separatism and state unity is leading to widespread practice of violent crackdown, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearance. The Tibetan protestors against mining were severely crackdown. On 5 June 2007 more than 400 local Tibetans of Pamenchu [Ch: Bamei], Tawu Township, Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan Province rioted against extraction of lead and zinc from a Shak Drak Lha Tse mountain which the natives considered as one of nine sacred mountains in the region. The crowd was brutally dispersed and many of the protestors were arrested. The whereabouts of the arrested ones are not known to date.

Scores of Tibetans are also arrested merely on suspicion and then imprisoned for varied terms after quick and imprecise summary trial. The sentencing of Penpa from Tsakor village, in Dingri County of Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) for three years term in February 2007 forms a classic example of the case. He was taken into custody in December 2006 after the Chinese official suspected his saving of animals from the butcher as an action inspired by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In another incident on 21 Feb 2007, where the Chinese police deliberately dressed in clothes of endangered animal strolling in front of Johkang Temple to trap a crowd of Tibetans, who on 19 Feb, have beaten two Tibetans wearing clothes designed with tiger and leopard skin, resulted in severe beating of the Tibetan crowd by Chinese police, and in addition 14 people went missing. Their whereabouts still remains unknown.

Fundamental freedom such as freedom of opinion and expression are practically non-existent in Tibet. Almost all the political prisoners languishing in the prisons across Tiber are arrested solely for exercising this basic right. More recently on 1 August 2007, the peaceful expression by Rongye Adrak, 52 years old from Youru Village, Lithang County, Karze TAP, Sichuan Province, calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and religious freedom, landed him in prison.

This was followed by the arrest of three of his nephews Adruk Lopoe, Adruk Nyima and Adruk Gyatso on 21 August for they have been the leading supporters demanding the release of Rongye Adrak.

Torture is rampant in detention centers and in prisons. In fact after arbitrary arrest, torture takes place at every stages of detention. The severe beating that the seven-arrested student underwent highlights the case. Around 7 September 2007, seven teenage Tibetan schoolboy belonging to nomad families and studying at Bora Middle School in Labrang County in Kanlho TAP, Gansu Province were detained for an alleged offence of scribbling graffiti calling for the Dalai Lama’s return or freedom for Tibet on walls. All the boys were aged between 14 to 15 years. While in detention they were severely tortured. Some of the boys were reportedly beaten with electric shock prods. The height of torture inflicted upon the children were clearly evident when one of the detainee named Lhamo Tsering, aged 14 has to be taken to hospital in Labrang for serious head injury resulting from beating. Another two boys, on around 24 September were released on the payment of 4,000 Yuan ($532) fine each by their parents.

This year, on 25 April, marked the 18th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima- the XIth Panchen Lama of Tibet but the world still remains unaware of his whereabouts. It is the twelfth year since his disappearance in May1995. The practice of enforced or involuntary disappearance is common in Tibet. In many cases the families of the detainees are rarely informed about the arrest.

Political participation

The fact that Tibetans being counted as one of the fifty-five national minorities under the People’s Republic of China (PRC) entitle them to self-governance and to all the minority rights. Ironically, this status of national minority is proving as a mechanism for exclusion and state control.

Instead of enhancing minority political participation, the Chinese government is going all strong in replacing the Tibetan officials in the government post with non Tibetan Chinese officials. The Tibetans serving in the government offices were often forced to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and have to often prove their loyalty to the Communist party and the government. Failing to do so result in their expulsion or demotion or in their transfer to remote areas.

Recent reports corroborate this fact. According to Hong Kong’s Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, since July 2007 Tibetan Communist Party Secretary from 54 of TAR’s 74 Counties have been dismissed and appointed in their place cadres from elsewhere in China. They also reported that China is beefing up numbers of non-Tibetan government personals by appointing 853 volunteers from 17 Chinese provinces and Counties to act as government cadres for three years. The group pointed China’s distrust in the ethnic Tibetan cadres and the recent criticism by TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli against the Tibetan cadres for not being firm enough in the campaign to “expose and criticize His Holiness the Dalai Lama” as main reason behind the above action.

Similarly, in the aftermath of Ronge Adraks’ demonstration in Lithang County, Karze TAP, Sichuan Province the Chinese authorities in September 2007 removed the Tibetan Party Secretary of the Lithang County who is known by his Chinese name Liu Xiao Kang, and appointed in his place an ethnic Chinese named Cia De Gui. Another Tibetan official whose Chinese name is Luo Yong Hong was also removed from his position and appointed an ethnic Chinese on his post.

Current trend of political exclusion is seriously undermining the Tibetan people’s rights to self-governance and self-determination.

Religious freedom

On 1 January 2007 the Chinese government put into effect the new “TAR Measures in Implementing the Regulations on Religious Affairs”. Yet again the so-called order no. 5, a new and more vigorous regulation on reincarnation was put into effect from 1st of September 2007. Each and every article of the new regulations indicate a harder and a more aggressive approach in controlling the religious activities – from contents of the religious text and teaching to the general management activities within the religious communities. Such regulation has placed even repairing to the structure of the existing monastery under the state control.

Article 36-39 of the January regulation and all the 14 articles of the later regulation strongly claim the state’s ultimate authority on selection, instillation and education of the reincarnate Tulku or Lama, thereby discarding the centuries old Tibetan tradition of religious practice.

No sooner the new regulation was put into effect than the Chinese government on 29 May 2007 started claiming in the official Xinhua news agency that all the religious artifacts in the places of worship in Tibet belongs to the State.

In another instance, in mid May, citing the violation of Article 13 and 48 of the new regulation, a colossal Guru Rinpoche statue nearing completion at the Samye Monastery, Dranak County, Lhoka Prefecture, TAR was forcibly demolished. In an attempt to avoid the leakage of the information, Chinese People’s Armed Police (PAP) immediately transported the rubble of the statue to an unknown place. PAP also banned pilgrims, devotees and foreign tourist from visiting Samye Monastery. Such regulation further strengthens state control on the religious freedom and empowers the official with legal backing to intensify repression.

Series of ban were imposed against visiting places of worship and participating in incense burning ceremonies on the occasion the Chinese authority deems sensitive. This year, apart from the usual ceremonial ban, a week-long ban, starting from 14 March 2007 was imposed upon Tibetans from all walks of life. Despite the ban, on 14 March, huge crowd congregated at Bumpa Ri in Lhasa to burn the incense and to offer prayers. This resulted in the arrest of a 42-years old woman from Kham Jamdo (Chinese: Jiangda) County of Chamdo Prefecture, TAR and the assault of another women in her 60s.

The general suggestion that there is more relaxation of religious freedom in the Tibetan areas outside TAR stands challenged as scores of arrest and detention, and severe crackdown were reported from those areas.

The Labrang Monastery, historically important and a major monastery in Gansu Province is under full swing of “Patriotic re-education”. Political indoctrination has overtaken religious studies and refusal by the monks to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama is resulting in expulsion of hundreds of monks. The numbers of monks have shrinked to 1,300 from 4 to 5 thousand before the Chinese overtook. Jigme Gyatso, a monk from the Labrang monastery reveals through phone in March 2007, that “year by year, the practice of teaching and studying of the Dharma [the Buddhist religion] is deteriorating. It’s not getting better.” The confiscation by the Chinese authority of the basic sustenance of the monastery formerly derived from its herds of cattle and sheep, grazing-land and woodland, has made the monastery dependent upon donation from tourists and pilgrims.

In mid May 2007, apart from the ordinary monks, the chief abbot Khenpo Tsanor, (70) of Dungkyap Monastery in Gade County, Golok Prefecture, Qinghai Province was forced to step down from his position as chief abbot after refusing to sign document denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

On 18 July 2007 the Chinese authorities disrupted the ceremonial inauguration at Kham Nalanda Thekchen Jangchup Choeling Monastery in Lithang County, Karze ‘TAP”, Sichuan Province. The Chinese authorities entered the monastery, and immediately banned the monks from carrying out such activities and from placing the portrait of Tulku Tenzin Delek onto the throne of the newly build prayer hall (Tib: Dukhang). Following the incident, authorities from Lithang County deployed People’s Armed Police (PAP) and put the monastery and the surrounding areas under severe restriction.

A day later, on 19 July, Nyakchuka County Public Security Bureau arrested two Tibetan women Odho and Apha Bomo, both in their late 50’s, belonging to Othok Village, Nyakchuka County, Karze ‘TAP’, Sichuan Province on alleged crime of instigating people to join their call for the release of Tulku Tenzin Delek. However, both the women were conditionally released from Nyagchuka County PSB Detention Centre on 27 August 2007.

The situation is equally tense in other parts of Lithang. In the aftermath of the peaceful demonstration staged by Rongy Adak on 1 August 2007, repression in and around Lithang has intensified.

The Chinese authorities have resorted to imposing restrictions and beefing up security measures in Lithang and surrounding counties and summoned the leaders of townships and monasteries in and around Lithang to commence the Patriotic Education Campaign in the first week of September 2007 which will be carried out over a period of three months.

In conjunction to the ongoing massive patriotic re-education campaign, a monk of Lithang Monastery, named Lobsang Phuntsok, aged 30, was arrested on 15 September 2007 following sudden raids carried out in his monastery residence by Lithang County PSB. It was unclear on what charges Lobsang was arrested

Enforcement of such adverse religious policy is gradually reducing the value of the religious institutes to a mere spot of tourist attraction. Religious freedoms of the Buddhist Tibetans are intensely targeted to bring an enforced stability in Tibet.

Development

The new roads and highways constructed either branch off to railway routes or the airport or to the site of the mining industries. The new airports and train introduced facilitates easy excess to the tourists and migrants into Tibet. Dams constructed have diverted the flow of rivers and hydro energy into the Mainland China. The hydropower projects are designed largely to provide power and other benefits to the Chinese population and industries both in Tibet and China. Oil and gas are piped away from Tibet to fuel Beijing, Shanghai and other costal cities. Instead of benefiting, the booming State or foreign mining industries in Tibet often referred as ‘pillar industries’ are further impoverishing the region.

China announced 100 billion Yuan in 180 projects in TAR by 2010. Infrastructure and capital have been invested in Tibetan region, but they are channelled toward the development of Mainland China. Benefits invested from Tibet are rarely reinvested in human and social development, for instance in local health and education etc. Tibet still remains one of the poorest region under PRC.

Education

Illiteracy rate in Tibet continues to be highest in PRC with 54.86% against the national average of 10.95%. On 21 February 2007, Ministry of Education admitted that 93 counties in the PRC, mainly in the poor areas of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang remained without proper schooling facilities. The poor government funding and exorbitant school fees are among the factors resulting in poor standard of education and literacy in Tibet.

The education policies implemented in Tibet bears strong influence of China’s integration policy. For instance, bilingual education is limited only till primary school. In the middle and higher school the medium of teaching changes to Mandarin. Such policy is directly intended to linguistic assimilation.

Instead of building or upgrading schools and universities in Tibet, the best and the brightest of the Tibetan students are sent to Chinese cities for educational purpose at tender age. This places the children in a completely Chinese and mandarin-speaking environment, away from families and traditional surroundings at secondary school age. A report on China’s online Tibet news service Tibetinfor.com on 22 March says that by the end of 2006, 28 inland universities have launched Tibetan classes and over 90 inland colleges had recruited senior middle school graduated from Tibetan classes. It also says that till date inland Tibetan classes have recruited 331,000 students.

Political indoctrination is rampant in schools. The contents of the textbooks, educational curriculums and the observation of the ceremonial occasions are all determined in accordance with Communist Party ideology. For instance, on 14 May 2007, Lhasa City Committee members specifically called for a meeting among the parents of the school going children and issued a stern notice to the school children against visiting monasteries and Barkhor area, or circumambulating or wearing amulet threat during Saka Dawa. The Committee also warned that failing to abide by the order would face expulsion from school.

With the arrest of Odho and Abha Bhumo on 19 July 2007 on alleged crime of instigating people to join their call for the release of Tulku Tenzin Delek by the Nyakchuka County PSB, Odho’s son Kalsang Sungrab and Tenzin Tsoknyi were barred from attending their respective schools. Tenzin Tsoknyi who was attending a private school in Lithang was not only banned from school, the authorities even put restriction on his movement. The children of the political prisoners and activists are often targeted and face discrimination in the hand of school authorities, who in turn are pressurized by the state authorities.

Resettlement and Poverty

Over the last few decades thousands of Tibetans are displaced from their ancestral dwelling for mining, for hydropower project and construction of dams or for the construction of highways, roads and railway routes etc. There are hundreds of cases where the displaced are rarely compensated.

More recently, in the last few years the Tibetan herders based in the pastoral regions are facing eviction from their traditional places into the new towns and urban areas. In new settlements the movement of the herders and their livestock are restricted to the fenced grassland provided to them. This led to the reduction in the number of livestock. Firstly, because the government has issued strict notice on the number of cattle the herders can keep once shifted to the new towns and that number is twice or thrice less than they usually keep. Secondly, the area provided is too limited for the cattle to graze through out the year. Hence many died and many had to be slaughtered to abide by the order. To the nomads no cattle means no livelihood.

On that the officials are collecting fines for the livestock that stay beyond the fenced areas and disputes amongst Tibetan herders are on the rise as the grazing areas become increasingly scares.

The Chinese Constitution and the law guarantees the right to consultation and compensation to those who are to be moved off their land or are to have their property confiscated. But in the case of the Tibetan nomads neither are they consulted nor are they compensated as per law. From the interviews conducted with the newly arrived Tibetans belonging to the nomadic family, it is clear that everything is decided from the top and they simply receives notice and orders to comply with.

The government cited environmental protection and development as the sole reason behind the resettlement of the nomads. For centuries, the Tibetan nomads have been the efficient custodians of the pastures and the most able managers of its fragile ecology. The same government committing itself to the eco protection is the one encouraging the expansion of heavy industries in the same area. For instance, since the launch of Western Development Program, on one hand mining activity has greatly increased while on the other the nomads were evicted on environmental pretext.

The case of the development of nomads and their livelihood by involving them in the market economy stands challenged, because if not all, most of the Tibetans from the nomadic regions are not only illiterate but also hardly posses any skill other than rearing livestock. Before forcing them into new towns or urban settlements or before introducing them to the market economy, the nomads were not given any vocational training or workshop of any kind to be able to opt for an alternate livelihood. On that their inability to speak Chinese language is posing a serious problem in seeking a sustainable job.

Hence the resettlement program in its totality is impoverishing the Tibetan nomads who were otherwise living at subsistence level. According to the official Xinhua news agency’s report on 2 October 2007, by the end of this year, 60,000 Tibetans will have been moved into new towns in Qinghai, with the number to grow to 100,000 by 2010. Despite the fact that, similar resettlement project implemented in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang in the 1990s has resulted in considerable impoverishment, the project is implemented with full vigour in the Tibetan regions.

The Railway, posing daily challenges in the lives of the Tibetans

Prior to the construction of the railway, seven to nine million Chinese settlers already lived in Tibet. The impact is marginalization of Tibetans in every walk of life.

The Golmud Lhasa Railway has transported 1.7 million passengers into Tibet in its first year and it is expected to transport more than 3.5 million in its second year. Apart from the tourists, many of the passengers transported were Chinese migrant coming into Tibet to seek a new fortune. A telling case in point is thousands of Chinese, left homeless by the recent unprecedented floods in south and south-east China, pouring into Lhasa by the Qinghai-Tibet railway. Since the beginning of July 2007, Lhasa City witnessed an enormous increase in the proportion of Chinese migrants. An immediate impact has been the spiralling inflation, leading to soaring price of the commodities and essential goods, there by stirring anxiety among the local Tibetans about their daily livelihoods.

The flooding of migrants have tremendously raised the competitive pressure on the daily life of the Tibetans. These migrants were known to do any kind of work given to them by their client or they start by doing any kind of petty business on the streets of Lhasa. This is narrowing the livelihood opportunities for the Tibetans. For instance, a group of Tibetan traders staged a sit in protest at the Lhasa municipal government office to protest against the relocation of their stalls in front of Tibetan Medical Center in the Central Cathedral area to the third level of a new business complex in the Bakhor area. The protest resulted in the detention of six Tibetans on 13 September 2007. The protestors admitted that ‘all the good business locations in Lhasa are going to the Chinese and the Tibetans are losing them”.

In a move to impress the flooding tourist, the Chinese government forced the Tibetan peasantries particularly those who live next to main roads in the Lhasa-Shigatse-Nyingtri triangle to demolish their old homes because they don’t convey a good impression in the eyes of the tourists. They are compelled to build new house to meet the government standard, which cost around US $5,000-6,000 and the government loans amounts only to about $ 1,200. Nearly all must therefore supplement these funds with considerable bank loans, and those who default on their loans will forfeit the right to occupy the house they have build or started to build. This is indebting the Tibetan villagers within the areas with heavy loans to pay.

With railway boosting the tourist industry and the Chinese government realizing the financial value of displaying the distinct Tibetan culture to the Chinese and other foreign tourist flooding into Tibet, the government is now heavily marketing the Tibetan culture for tourism purposes. The value of the rich Tibetan culture and the cultural sites are now reduced to a source of tourist attraction. Hence only those cultures or cultural sites are protected that fetches economic benefit.

Directly or indirectly, the new railway is swiftly escalating the pace of internal colonization and threatening the Tibetan people’s way of life.

Conclusion

In light of the current wave of control and repression imposed against the Tibetans, the enjoyment of the basic human rights is extremely limited in Tibet. In fact exercising the fundamental rights such as freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful demonstration is resulting in the arrest and torture of scores of Tibetans. Politically, the national minority tag that should empower self-governance by the Tibetan has indeed become a mechanism for exclusion and control.

Highly inequitable development policies, guided by political aims and economic benefit to the centre, have neglected Tibetan’s basic needs. Within this context of political exclusion and economic exploitation, integrationist strategies threatens to erase Tibetan identity by attacking cultural practices, religious preference and Tibetan language etc.

Considering the Chinese response to the existing political and social problem, and its treatment of the poor human rights record in Tibet, the hope for any real improvement in the situation inside Tibet remains bleak. Rather than addressing the problem with suitable and need base solutions, the government is focusing on crack down and repression, using scare tactics to ensure that no one dares to act to speak out. China’s promises to the International Olympic Committee for a more transparent government, protecting minority nationality rights and ensuring media freedom etc. remains unfulfilled. In fact, the Chinese government is using the Olympics to misrepresent the unique culture of Tibet as Chinese. With Beijing Olympics nearing upon it is likely that China will deal severely with any dissenting voices to project a peaceful and harmonious image in the international arena. Under such cucumstances, human rights abuses will continue if not worsen. .

Report prepared by: Sonam Choenzom (UNO & EU, Human Rights Desk)