Human Rights Situation in Tibet: Annual Report 2003

The year 2003 opened on a note of great promise for Tibet. A new generation of Chinese leaders – largely technocrats with business backgrounds – formally took over the country’s helm in March 2003, with Hu Jintao as the new President. This, coupled with the Dalai Lama’s envoys’ visit to China for a second time in less than a year, and China’s growing participation in international affairs necessitating obligations to international codes of conduct, especially on human rights raised hopes among the international community, and Tibetans that a softer China policy on Tibet would bring about and a new beginning for the people of Tibet.

However, this was not to be. Throughout 2003, measures aimed at strengthening the rule of law and judicial institutions continued to be undermined by political campaigns against those suspected of opposing the Beijing government. Serious restrictions and repressions of the rights to freedom of expression, association and religion occurred. Arbitrary detention and imprisonment, unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment and execution saw no let up. Threats to nationalism, state security and social stability were used to justify crackdowns on the Tibetan people.

The execution of a Tibetan, Lobsang Dhondup, on 26 January and the sentencing to death of Trulku Tenzin Delek, a highly respected lama, saw the re-emergence of China’s hardline approach towards Tibet. The extension of the 2001 “strike hard” campaign in July for a third consecutive year gave continued legitimacy for the authorities to crackdown on activities deemed “splittist” or “endangering state security”. Tibetans continued to be at the receiving end of these broad and ambiguous reasons for detentions that China refuses to interpret.

For the Tibetans in Tibet, the closed-door trial, the death sentences and the immediate execution came as a frightening message reminding them of China’s potential for brutality. The nature of the trial and its proceedings left monitors in doubt over the fairness of the judicial process. This cast a shadow over progress in other areas that China claimed to be making. The sudden manner in which the execution was carried out by the Chinese authorities despite its assurances to the US, EU, and the international community for a lengthy judicial process, indicates that China will always follow its own agenda.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) strongly condemns China’s use of the term “state secrets” in its revised 1996 Criminal Procedure Law (CPL). The term is used as justification for denying suspects access to lawyers during the investigation stage. The CPL also grants enormous power to the police to detain suspected persons. A glaring example of the CPL failing to protect critical procedural rights for criminal suspects and defendants was the blatant denial in of independent legal counsel to Trulku Tenzin Delek by Sichuan Province People’s Court on the grounds that the case involved “state secrets”. It also explained the discrimination against “politically disadvantaged” defendants.

“The Chinese authorities have failed to explain publicly why the case is considered to be connected to state secrets, and the evidence used to convict him remains unclear”. Amnesty International Report : People’s Republic of China: Miscarriage of Justice? The trial of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and related arrests, October 2003.

China is paranoid about the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama’s continuing charisma is seen as a uniting force for Tibetans and a potential threat to the unity of the motherland. This fear is apparent in the control measures taken by the authorities to totally undermine religious studies and activities. Examples of some of the control measures are, the prohibition of display of the Dalai Lama’s portrait, closure of schools that are suspected to be teaching “splittist ideologies”, constant interference by the authorities in the religious and administrative affairs of monasteries and nunneries and the “patriotic re-education” of monks and nuns that teaches loyalty to the state above religion. These restrictions are in total contradiction to China’s own national constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and its practice.

Promises made by China during the year at bilateral and multilateral meetings on human rights simply ended in disappointment. In effect, these promises were simply tactics by China to buy time to deflect criticism. In August, the Bush administration accused China of backsliding on its commitments on human rights that were made in December 2002, which persuaded the US not to pursue a resolution condemning Beijing at the United Nations Commission on HumanRights forum in Geneva in March/April 2003.

“there were definitely promises made and they have not kept them. It’s not just abouthuman rights at this point. The question being raised now is, “How much can we trust commitments that are made by the Chinese?”, said John Kamm, a human rights activist in San Francisco, who monitors the PRC.

Beijing’s preference for bi-lateral discussions is simply aimed to halt public condemnation of its human rights record at multilateral forums when bilateral diplomacy necessitates a commitment on the part of those negotiating to set up measures of accountability, transparency, and repercussions for noncompliance.

“Until now the EU has been held hostage to China’s insistence on mutual respect and non-confrontation on human rights issues, locked in a formal ‘human rights dialogue’ that has produced no relief for the victims of human rights abuse in China, but in a mature relationship all parties recognize that the relationship has to achieve results”, according to Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International, EU Office, Brussels.

China boasts of its huge investments and mammoth development projects in Tibet.It is customary that any development project must advocate the people’s right to self- determination including control over use of their land and natural resources. However, in Tibet, the Tibetans are excluded from consultation or effective participation. The urban development projects in Tibet are meant to consolidate China’s economic and political control over Tibet. The resultant influx of tens of thousands of Chinese settlers have further denied the Tibetan people their livelihood. TCHRD views the current development projects in Tibet to be assimilationist in nature. The acceleration of these projects will finally complete the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people.

In March 2003, China released a new policy document on Tibet entitled Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection of Tibet. The paper defends the PRC’s development plans for Tibet stating that it attaches great importance to the environmental protection of the land. However critics, including the Tibetan people, are skeptical over the ambitious projects and dismiss the report as propaganda, saying that in reality the economic development of Tibet is damaging the environment. Beijing dismissed the critics by saying that environmental concerns should not check economic development.

“Although public statements single out environmental priorities, in reality they come way behind strategic and economic concerns.” Kate Saunders, Tibet Specialist.

Beijing’s paper on National Minorities Policy and Its Practices in China, 2002, strongly opposes ethnic discrimination or oppression of any form and purports to respect and protect the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities and the use and development of spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities. Tibetans are labelled an “ethnic minority” by China.

Despite the policy, Tibetans continue to be discriminated against. Beijing’s intolerance towards the Tibetans’ practice of religion, and the closure of Tibetan schools which promote indigenous religion, culture, and written and spoken language, breaches its own policies as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which China signed in 31 March 1996, and ratified in 29 December 1981.

In May 2003, 18 fleeing Tibetan refugees were forcefully deported back to Tibet by Nepal at China’s behest. Amnesty International in its press release on 2 June, 2003 called the forcible return of Tibetans to China unacceptable and states

“This operation was carried out in blatant disregard for international human rights and refugee law standards”, and “We fear that these people could be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations and are calling on the Chinese authorities to provide immediate guarantees for their safety.”

In November the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Sun Heping, announced that his country will stop the future inflow of Tibetan refugees, calling them “illegal immigrants”. These measures will seriously hinder the freedom of movement of the Tibetan people in the future. With stepping up of restrictions over the borders it is feared that more Tibetans will be caught and arrested.

TCHRD views steps taken by the Chinese government to control the right of freedom of movement of the Tibetan people beyond their borders as also being a direct attempt to curtail the free flow of information to the outside world.

China’s Minister of Information, Wang Xudong, presenting a speech at The World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva on 10 December 2003, did not make a single mention of his country’s lack of – or the need to improve – the right to freedom of information, freedom of speech and or expression. Instead he spoke on development as the basis for building an information society. A clear demonstration of China deflecting attention from real issues.

Receiving and imparting information, exchanging ideas and opinions and discussing them are vital for change and improvement in any society. Conversely, in China several laws and regulations have been introduced since, 1993 that seek to curb the use of information technology. Amnesty International report : “The PRC: State Control of the Internet in China” 2002, states that as many as 33 people have been detained for using the internet to circulate or download information.

In Tibet the use of internet by Tibetans remains low compared to their Mainland Chinese counterparts; this could be partially attributed to the low education and literacy rate in Tibet. Nonetheless, control of other avenues of information, such as jamming of radio and television, remain in place. During the year many Tibetans received lengthy sentences for providing information to the outside world.


TCHRD considers the overall pattern of China’s human rights diplomacy by signing more and more human rights treaties, while continuing to repress the human rights of its people, as part of a coherent strategy. Beijing’s invitations to heads of state and international monitors, and its new openness to hosting international conferences from business to beauty pageants, remain just “indications” of openness and greater transparency. In reality, these “indications” did not result in visible signs of progress in China’s implementation of human rights.

TCHRD condemns this policy of deceit that China engages in to hide the brutal reality of the human rights situation of its people.

Despite changes and slow reforms, China is still an authoritarian regime that has done very little to initiate any real process of democracy or improve the civil and political rights of its people. China knows the key to improving human rights is democracy, but it is not making fundamental concessions towards democracy.

The SARS cover-up early in the year is a stark reminder that China is still a repressive regime that has been compulsively deceitful for more than 50 years. It also reminds one of the chilling reality of censorship under the communist regime – as well as the importance of the freedom of information in fostering transparency,ruleoflawandhumanrightsin China.

As China continues to reach out to the world, beefing up scores of political contacts, emerging as an active player in the international arena, expanding its influence and refining its diplomacy to become as one of the world’s great powers, the free world must remind itself that it also has a responsibility to ensure that China respects the human rights of its own people, the Tibetans, and others within its territory. China may have become smarter and more sophisticated but not necessarily kinder or gentler.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) believes that, so long as democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights are lacking, the PRC cannot claim genuine development.

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