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Tibet: Human Rights Violations

Paper No. 5700                                        Dated 13-May-2014

Dr. Parasaran Rangarajan

Examining Tibet today, the first topic of concern to the international community is spread through the voice of H.H. Dalai Lama and Tibetan government-in-exile; human rights. One cannot overlook the frequency of self-immolations being committed by peaceful Tibetan Buddhist monks who seek to bring attention to the situation in Tibet.

 Latest figures indicate that over 131 monks have so far immolated themselves in the last two years[1]. These are only reported cases and more would have died in vain. Two points to make on this issue are:

1.      The Tibetans are able to immolate themselves for the cause despite very restrictive and strict security measures as well as arrest and imprisonment of the relatives of the victims inside Tibet.

2.      The immolations are also taking place outside Tibet proper.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report on April 30th, 2014 identifying China as a country of concern noting the self-immolations and detention of monks, forced renunciations of faith including the Uighur Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic communities, and discrediting of religious leaders which “merits a seat at the table with economic, security, and other key concerns of U.S. foreign policy.”[2]

The Tibetan government-in-exile has found a home in India residing peacefully for the past few decades but the government of India has done little beyond extending basic citizenship in terms of assistance to the Tibetan people to defend their human rights in China.  The question is could India do more?  How can a resolution in the United Nations, at an agency such as the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) be introduced to bring it to the world, the desperate situation of the people in Tibet?

The current Tibetan Administration has made great strides in establishing diplomatic relations with the rest of the world[3] who are sympathetic to the situation although certain countries such as the U.K. or Czech Republic have formally stated that they will not deviate from the “One China Policy”[4]. Norway has also refused to meet with H.H. Dalai Lama in fear of angering Chinese relations and bi-lateral trade[5].

There are some contradictions within the Tibetan Administration since H.H. Dalai Lama calls for the 17 point agreement and Middle Way[6], the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) claims this agreement ceding Tibet to China was done under duress and is not valid[7]. This is one of the reasons negotiations with the CTA have been rejected by China in full as it fears that it will lead to an independent Tibet as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will be subjected to conditions imposed by the administration in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR)[8].  This is because the 17 point agreement calls upon China to enter Tibet in agreement with the local administration. However, it is not justified in a moral sense to deny negotiations with H.H. Dalai Lama who has accepted the fact of ceding Tibet to China who is a spiritual leader.

Although it is not in immediate danger of genocide or war crimes such as the Central African Republic (CAR) at the moment, the TAR may very well be heading towards this direction if any agitation from the Tibetan people arises and genocide may have been committed in the past which legal scholars have made the case for. The U.N. has been rejected entry into the TAR as well which brings about more concern as to what is occurring amidst reports of human rights violations including why genocide is termed from a legal viewpoint expressed by scholars published via the Unrepresented People’s Organisation (UNPO)[9]. Any agitation in the TAR calling for upholding the rule of law or human rights will be quickly suppressed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and put to end without witness which draws fears of a genocide without eyes.

The UNHRC debated the Tibetan situation in 2012 but has taken no action as there was no resolution tabled although certain countries such as the U.S. and even those mentioned above who do not support the independence of Tibet called for China to respect human rights in Tibet including the U.N. itself[10][11][12].

Nearly 22% of funding to the United Nations and its agencies comes from the U.S.[13] increasing western influence in the international league of nations but this is countered by the majority that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) holds which can override decisions by 2/3rd vote. This is relevant to the human rights situation in Tibet because any resolution tabled at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on investigating alleged violations of international law will need to be financed and supported by member States.

The U.N. could draw additional support from western nations that could be positive but will also be strategically poised to support such a resolution calling for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct a “fact finding mission” due to expected foreign policy shifts through 2020[14]. Social media is virtually banned by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and military presence is ever increasing restricting the basic freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the right to procession, etc[15] in contrast to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)[16] which China is signatory to. Those who report on such human rights violations are also taken into custody by the CPC and military presence leaving very little room for the indigenous Tibetan culture to flourish, independent state or not[17]. Even private schools in Tibet are shut down by the CPC citing “political activities”[18]. Tibetan nomads also report medical diseases consistent with nuclear contamination as the area has been home to Chinese nuclear testing since the 1970's and nuclear tests on the Brahmaputra River which flows into India have been reported in 2013 increasing concerns[19].

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) would like to avoid the matter of negotiating with the Tibetan Administration in full although H.H. Dalai Lama has renounced his intention of seeking an independent Tibetan state which has never been recognised as he seeks the Tibetan Buddhist “Middle Way” approach with the 17 point agreement of 1951[20].

The many human rights reports on the Tibetan situation only add to the legal arguments that a cultural and structural genocide are taking place in the sense that indigenous Tibetan culture is being exterminated and this has been introduced in courts by various pro-Tibetan organisations such as the International Campaign For Tibet (ICT) as well as scholars of international law such as Prof. José Elías Esteve Moltó of the University of Valencia in Spain[21]. Spanish Courts have invoked the doctrine of universal jurisdiction of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as the tort feaser was a dual Tibetan-Spanish citizen so Spanish Courts were able to hear the case.

As such, indictments and arrest warrants for former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng for charges of not only genocide, but torture and crimes against humanity have been imposed reflecting the repression of the Tibetan people in the 1980’s and early 1990’s as martial law was forced upon Tibetans[22]. In addition, an investigation has been opened into genocide charges for former Chinese President Hu Jintao responsible for the application of the martial law and the death of a reported 500 Tibetans[23]. Judge Ismael Moreno has also ordered these individuals to be sent to Interpol as they no longer maintain diplomatic immunity but it is doubtful they will appear in front of a court in Spain but a trial may proceed as a “trial in absentia” just as it did for certain individuals in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) or International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) issuing convictions on the mentioned charges including genocide.

 A resolution at the UNHRC may be a good beginning to investigate the current violations in a traditional view as the past is being addressed. The world body could call on China to allow entry to the international community for preliminary examination of allegations of these serious human rights violations, not an “international investigation” in form of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) in cases such as Syria, North Korea or Sri Lanka, but an initial entry pass calling upon China to address the concerns of the international community and verify alleged violations in a “fact finding mission”.

Recently, H.H. Dalai Lama has also called for an outside inquiry on the self-immolations of monks[24]. In fact, pressure for such a “fact finding mission” in Tibet by the U.N. has been building for some time as just this year in the March 2014 sessions of the UNHRC, a joint report was released by several U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Arbitrary Detention, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, etc expressing concern with the human rights situation in Tibet[25]. To help the Tibetans, there must be the initiative by a UNHRC member State introduce a resolution for a OHCHR “fact finding mission” which can be done based on the U.N. current reports and indictments of genocide in Tibet handed out in Spain.



























(The writer is currently the editor of the International Law Journal of London and he is a consultant to South Asia Analysis Group.  He may be reached at