Human Rights Situation in Tibet: Annual Report 2011

2011 was a year of increasing tensions between the Tibetan people and the Chinese government. The  Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East and the third anniversary of the Tibetan uprising in 2008 set the tone for the events in Tibet. After Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated in Tunisia leading to the  Arab Spring, the Chinese government ramped up efforts to control dissent at home in an effort to prevent its spread onto Chinese controlled soil. 
On 16 March 2011, coinciding with the third anniversary of the Tibetan uprising in 2008, Phuntsog, a 21-yr-old monk self-immolated. The Chinese government preemptively instigated some of the toughest security measures that Tibetans have faced in some time. Since then, a total of twelve Tibetans have self-immolated within a span of 9 months in protest. The self-immolations are symptomatic of the greater plight that Tibetans find themselves in throughout the Tibetan plateau.
Despite the increasing frequency of self-immolations, the Chinese government refuses to admit any responsibility and has instead increased the level of oppression in Tibet, especially in monasteries, all the while continuing to violate its international human rights obligations. China is a party to five of the eight major international human rights treaties, and has an obligation to fulfill in good faith its international obligations. However, international organizations continue to rank the PRC as one of the worst human rights offenders, even as the Chinese government continues to refuse cooperation with international human rights bodies. When the Chinese government does implement new laws or policies, designed to alleviate human rights abuses, these unfortunately only amount to window-dressing.
In China, the government does not serve the people, but rather the people serve the government. Tibetans have no meaningful way to influence official decisions. When local Tibetans are installed  with decision-making powers, these powers are mere puppetry. Within the Chinese leadership, there is a culture of homogeneity, where no one questions the decisions of one’s superior, leading to a country ruled by only a handful of men. In the end, “unity” and “stability” become more important than the livelihoods of individual Tibetans, or even Chinese for that matter. Freedom of expression, access to justice, and many other inalienable rights are denied.
 When the authorities are not ignoring the grievances of Tibetans, it is outright suppressing them. The claim of “state secrets” is used liberally to violate the rights of individuals. “State secrets” lead to the suppression of exculpatory evidence, detention without cause, the silencing of media and academics, and the quelling of any criticism of official activities, such as corruption, collusion, and other abuses of power.
It is no wonder then that press and academic freedom are foreign concepts in China. Domestic journalists are mere mouthpieces of the government, with the imposition of ideological study a prerequisite for continued employment. Detention, imprisonment, and torture are not uncommon fates for those  journalists and writers who dare to resist the party line. Foreign journalists are frequently denied access to sensitive places such as Tibet, and even find themselves detained with their work confiscated. 
When the Chinese government cannot dictate to the media, it turns to censorship to suppress facts inconvenient for the party. The Great Firewall of China is an effective tool to ensure only a select perspective on the world and China is shared with people inside the country. Some foreign companies assist China in denying their citizens the basic right of freedom of expression, a right that the owners of these companies enjoy at home. 
When people peacefully assemble on the streets, the Chinese government sends out its security forces. Under international standards, security forces are only allowed when strictly necessary, but in China, the government directs its security forces to suppress any show of peaceful dissent, often beating peaceful, unarmed protestors. 
When a Tibetan is picked up and brought through the official justice system, their rights are circumscribed. Lawyers are intimidated into not representing sensitive cases, lest they become a case themselves. When lawyers are available, the rights of the accused are limited, being subject to interrogations before representation, and not allowed private meetings once representation begins. Meanwhile, local government officials influence judges by controlling appointments, influencing funding, and engaging in other forms of collusion. The PRC justice system takes more pride in its 98 percent conviction rate than its ability to determine the truth.
The number of known prisoners of conscience in Tibet, as of 2011, is estimated to be 830 , out of  which 403 are known to be legally convicted by courts. In year 2011, (as of 15 December) 230 known Tibetans have been arrested and detained.
Torture is an ongoing problem in Tibet, as evidenced by the past experiences of Tibetans who flee into exile each year. While the Chinese government has proposed a new law to make evidence from torture inadmissible in court, there are still many loopholes that allow for torture to occur unchecked. Torture is often used as a punishment in itself, more to dissuade future dissent than to gain any new “evidence” from the past. The PRC has now drafted new laws to legalize enforced disappearances of those deemed security threats.
Historically, the clergy has played the leadership role in Tibetan society. Before China invaded Tibet, monks and nuns were political, social, and spiritual leaders. Because of this, the Chinese government looks to Tibetan Buddhism with a great deal of suspicion. As a result, Tibetan Buddhism is one of the biggest targets of official oppression. The Tibetan people still look up to their religious leaders, thus it is no wonder that it is monks and nuns who have led most of the protests that occurred in Tibet this year.
The Chinese government looks to Tibetan Buddhism, as it does to all religions, with complete disdain. Seen as a backward mode of thinking, the government does everything it can to suppress and shape Tibetan Buddhism so that it can more closely fit its own political ends. The government believes that it can educate the Tibetan people out of religion and doesn’t understand why Tibetans protest when the government tries to dictate  what can and cannot be understood as a part of Buddhism. Though the Chinese government is atheist, it supports its own Buddhist Association of China, which it uses as its main tool to shape Buddhism to fit its ideology.
International law allows for the manifestation of one’s religious belief to be placed under certain limitations, but the Chinese government ignores the line where protections start. Like other rights in PRC, religious rights are also subservient to patriotic duty. The government allows “normal” religious activity, which it then limits to anything that goes against official thinking.
While the Chinese government has spent over a quarter of a billion US dollars restoring temples and other cultural sites in Tibet, it has done so mainly for tourism. These renovations merely support the façade of religious freedom in Tibet.  When tourists visit Tibet, their whole experience is carefully orchestrated, and monks who do not cooperate are punished.
The government controls the movement of monks and nuns. It installs security cameras in some monasteries and police stations either next to or inside others. The authorities direct monks and nuns what they may do with their daily lives, often placing party cadres in management positions at monasteries. All but three monasteries have thus far undergone the strict patriotic reeducation program,  which forces monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama and imposes ideological strictures on Tibetan Buddhism. Some areas impose an identity card system that makes it easy for security forces to determine how cooperative a particular monk or nun has been. Monks and nuns must obtain permission to perform certain public ceremonies.
The authorities continue to interfere with the reincarnation process for religious leaders in Tibet.  While the Panchen Lama has perhaps been the most obvious example, the authorities interfere in many monasteries that are home to a tulku, who is a holder of thousands of years of knowledge and skills passed on through an ancient lineage system and reincarnates every generation. The Chinese government has insisted that it will pick the next Dalai Lama.
The Chinese government sees its actions as  justifiable because it sees Tibetan Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy as direct threat to Communist ideology and the Communist Party. With this point of view, the government couches all its actions on national security grounds, invoking national security exceptions to any human rights commitments it has made. The reality is these exceptions cannot be invoked to violate one’s basic religious rights.
Religious education is also heavily proscribed in Tibet. Monks and nuns are unable to travel, making it difficult to seek education in Buddhist concepts not available at their home monasteries. Further, the Tibetan cadres are pressured into not giving their children a religious education. Where religious education is allowed, the government controls the curriculum. Chinese law on religious education is full of qualifications that undermine any true independence for religious teaching in Tibet.
The educational atmosphere fostered by the government stifles critical thinking, innovation, and opportunities for learning. It closely monitors activities in schools and universities, increasingly limits the availability of the Tibetan language as a medium of education, and restricts the rights of Tibetans to seek religious education. Chinese is already being introduced in rural preschools in an attempt to relegate the Tibetan language to a mere subject. A culture is one step closer to extinction if its language is rendered irrelevant.
Tibet’s best and brightest students are sent to universities in China where their exposure to Tibetan ideas can be limited and controlled. Instead of building schools in rural areas, the Tibetan children are taken away children to schools far from their families. Not only is education subservient to official ideology, but also the official education policy can be seen as one that tries to replace Tibetan culture with Chinese culture.
The PRC is expanding its Student Informant System, which monitors activities in schools and universities across PRC. By using informants, the government hopes to divert discussion in schools and universities away from criticism of government policy by imposing an atmosphere of white terror,  where students and teachers never know if what they say can be used against them.
 At universities, students and professors must attend political indoctrination sessions. Curriculum is often controlled by the government to ensure a sanitised version of controversial topics such as history and politics, and students must pass ideological tests in order to graduate. Meanwhile, the Chinese government places pressure on foreign universities through the spread of its Confucius Institutes, whose Chinese staff is directed to not allow Tibetan related events or curriculum.
The PRC plans to spend USD 47 billion in Tibet over the next five years, most of which is earmarked for infrastructure. However, the Tibetan people are not consulted, instead the government decides what it thinks is best for Tibetans. The result is that while economic indicators in Tibet sometimes look good, the benefits largely accrue to Chinese migrants and Chinese companies – not the Tibetans, who are being increasingly marginalized in their own land.
The only chance that Tibetans have to voice their concerns is often through public protest. But the Chinese government does all it can to intimidate and harass Tibetans into not voicing their concerns. Because authorities consider these protests to be political in nature, it is not uncommon for them to be beaten, arrested, and even shot at.
Tourism is largely orchestrated in Tibet, with most proceeds benefitting Chinese companies. Tour guides are vetted through an ideological screening process, which tests their knowledge of the Chinese version of Tibetan history. Tibetans with education abroad are often automatically excluded from work as guides because they are deemed corrupted by foreign influences.
Tibetan nomads are forcibly relocated, or tricked into moving off their land, in the name of protecting the grasslands and forests. While the Chinese government uses environmentalism as an excuse when real reasons lie elsewhere. The government ignores the fact that for many millennia, nomads have been an integral part of the natural environment. It ignores the decades of failed policies that have damaged the natural environment.
The official solution to environmental problems is to replace the traditional nomadic pastoral way of life with industrial husbandry. This solution requires the destruction of Tibetan nomadic culture that has existed for thousands of years. As a result, thousands of nomads are forced to make a living in an environment that is completely foreign to them, and with no choice to return to the life that they know. If the Chinese government to find a real answer to environmental problems on the Tibetan plateaus, it needs to embrace the knowledge and experience of Tibetan nomads instead of eliminating it.
Like many Chinese government policies and practices, proclaimed benefits for Tibetans are really doublespeak to disguise the slow, methodical attempt to replace the Tibetan way of life with one that is more dominant and familiar to party cadres that live in Beijing.

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