28 years since the enforced disappearance of Tibet’s Panchen Lama by the Chinese government 

Today, we observe the 28th anniversary of the Chinese government’s arbitrary detention and subsequent enforced disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Trinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo, widely recognised by his lay name Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who turned 34 last month.

On 17 May 1995, the then six-year old Panchen Lama and his family members were forcibly removed from their home in Lhari (Ch: Jiali) County, Nagchu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. Only three days earlier, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had recognised the six year old boy as the reincarnation of the previous 10th Panchen Lama.

“The unknown condition and whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, despite sustained advocacy and campaigns from the international community for more than 28 years, attests to the Chinese government’s direct involvement in the enforced disappearance of one of the foremost Tibetan spiritual leaders,” said Ngawang Lungtok, researcher at TCHRD.

“The Chinese government’s consistent failure to provide any verifiable information to ascertain the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and wellbeing is deeply troubling and yet revealing of the brutality and inhumanity that define the regime in Beijing.”

The Panchen Rinpoche holds a significant position among the spiritual teachers of Tibetan Buddhism. His unjustifiable captivity and absolute refusal of any visibility to his devout followers, all of whom hold him in the highest regard and reverence, constitute a blatant infringement of the fundamental right to freedom of religion and belief. 

The crime of enforced disappearance is an abhorrent act infringing upon numerous rights, including the right to liberty, security, and protection against torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Similar to torture, no conceivable justification can be made in favour of enforced disappearance.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the self-declared leader of the developing world, China has neither signed nor ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has consistently failed to provide reports to the UN treaty bodies on implementing the human rights treaties it had ratified, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Regardless of Chinese intransigence, the international community has exhibited unwavering determination and dedication to continue advocating for the release of Panchen Lama and his family members.Last month, a group of 30 Spanish senators called on the Chinese government to “immediately provide proof of life and a justification for the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his well being”. The senators representing various Spanish political parties are part of an alliance formed recently to “garner concrete support for the resumption of substantive dialogue between the Chinese leadership and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s representatives to ensure genuine and meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people.”

TCHRD reasserts its call to the Chinese government to promptly and unequivocally release the Panchen Lama, his family members, and all the Tibetan political prisoners. Without ensuring the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights, including their right to freedom of belief and religion, Chinese authorities can never hope to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans, let alone earn any legitimacy for its repressive policies and campaigns in Tibet.

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