Human Rights Situation in Tibet: Annual Report 2001

The events of 11 September 2001 caused a paradigm shift in international concern over human rights. While most states have measures in place to ensure the security of their citizens, others are taking advantage of the 11 September attacks to justify internal repression. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a distinct case in point.

TCHRD is concerned that China has taken advantage of this global crisis to step up government action against those it labels “separatists”: Uighurs, Tibetans and the Falun Gong. China is attempting to seek international justification and political sanction for its actions. Beijing chooses to draw no distinction between “terrorism” and “separatism”. Official manipulation of the new world order became clear at the 27 October 2001 Ninth Session of the 24th Meeting of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), where approval was given to the ruling State Council’s proposal that the PRC join the international campaign against “terrorism, splittism and fanaticism”. Addressing this meeting, Li Peng, NPC Chairman, said that, “The decision for China to join the global campaign is wise in the wake of ‘splittist’ activities in China and will be helpful to strike hard against terror created in the country by inside and outside enemies.”

TCHRD believes that the events of 2001 make it more vital than ever that the international community – including the PRC – honours the international conventions and universally-recognised laws which specify the rights to which all human beings are entitled. With the global spotlight currently on China, due to its entry into the WTO and its winning bid for the 2008 Olympics, the international community has an opportunity and a duty to increase pressure on Beijing to carry out the obligations under international conventions to which it is a party.

China’s widespread human rights abuses were a central feature of international opposition this year to its Olympic bid and its accession to the WTO. Ignoring world opinion, the Olympic selection panel and members of the WTO have in effect sanctioned Beijing’s clearly-documented abuses against its own populace and in territories it occupies including Tibet. In June 2001 the Fourth Tibet Work Forum was held behind closed doors in Beijing. This high-level meeting sets Beijing’s upcoming policy on Tibet; this session has placed top down “economic development” and “stability” over all other freedoms and rights of the people. It is evident from the testimonies of refugees fleeing to exile in India that the majority of Tibetans do not believe that they will ever reap the much-vaunted “benefits” from the mammoth “development” projects now being implemented on the plateau.

The White Paper issued on 8 November 2001 by the Information Office of China’s State Council – Tibet’s March Toward Modernisation – is crafted to further promote and enhance China’s image in the global arena. Brushing aside the accepted norms of civil and political rights as “Western notions”, China continues to call on cultural relativism to justify its human rights abuses. While still claiming that “economic development” supersedes all other rights, China ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in February 2001. Yet, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) remains to be ratified more than three years after PRC became a signatory to the document. In his 10 December 2001 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said that in this new century, “…the sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights” and ” …peace must be made tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need”. He called upon the world to consolidate its resolve to fight against injustice and human rights violations.

TCHRD has relied upon the framework of ICESCR and ICCPR to present and document the human rights situation in Tibet throughout 2001. At the heart of these two international covenants is the right of all peoples to self-determination, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Tibetans are recognised as a distinct people with their own history, culture, language, religion;their own ethnic identity and a strong connection to their own territory. In the context of the Tibetan people, the right to self determination must relate to the fact that Tibetans are a people under occupation and the cases of human rights violations documented in this report stem from this fact. During the PRC’s domination over Tibet’s political, economic, social, cultural and religious life for more than half a century, there has been a total disregard for the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination.

At the much-publicised September 2001 Durban World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, one of the main themes of discussion was economic, social and cultural discrimination based on race. TCHRD gained accreditation to this conference and presented the case that the discrimination suffered by Tibetans inside Tibet has its roots in the fact that Tibetans do not have the right to self-determination and are a race under occupation.
On International Human Rights Day, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, reiterated that the anti-discrimination agenda adopted at the Durban Conference should be “an integral part of efforts to safeguard against any erosion of human rights standards that might flow as an unintended consequence of measures to counter terror”. Her words of concern reflect on totalitarian regimes and their new-found interpretations of “terrorism”.

Based primarily on TCHRD’s interviews with recent arrivals from Tibet, and supplemented by secondary sources, this report furnishes clear evidence that during 2001 China has systematically violated the human rights of Tibetans through policies leading to acts and omissions. Additionally, official Chinese sources occasionally provide and publish information that gives insights into the real scale of human rights violations continuing across the Tibetan plateau.

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