Human Rights Situation in Tibet: Annual Report 2010

History was made this year! Liu Xiaobo, one of the leading intellectual activist of China was conferred the 2010 Noble Peace Prize. This might turn to be a watershed year for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the decades to come, people of the world and especially Chinese people will cherish the year as a turning point in modern Chinese history. In recognising his unrelenting struggle, a strong message has passed through the hearts and minds of theChinese people that the movement for human rights and freedom in China is highly respected by the international community. The Tibetan experience after the 1989 Noble Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama definitely shows that the award does bring a tremendous impact in the struggle of a people. With the rise of China after three decades of economic success, it has been increasingly taking leadership roles on the global stage. In becoming a global power,the nation needs to adopt bold visions and responsibilities. The time has come for the state to introduce genuine civil and political reforms for a sustained rise.
The year 2010 saw severe repression of human rightstaking place in Tibet. There is no let up by the government of PRC. As of 30 December 2010, there are 831 known political prisoners in Tibet out of which 360 are known to have been legally convicted by courts and 12 Tibetans are serving life imprisonment term. During 2010, 188 known Tibetans have been arrested and detained, out of which 71 have already been sentenced by the courts.
The crackdown on intellectuals and cultural figures continued to take place this year also. Since 2008, over 60 Tibetan writers, bloggers, intellectuals and cultural figures have been arrested.The cultural and literary resurgence that has emerged after the pan-Tibet spring 2008 uprising in Tibet is looked upon by the government as its biggest threat. Any expression of Tibetan identity is labeled as separatist and criminal activities and dealt harshly under the “endangering state security” laws. The so-called criminal activities has been largely an exercise of standard human rights practices in expressing one’s view against the flawed government policies or reporting and documenting human rights violations occur-ring in Tibet. The arrests and detentions of TashiRabten (pen name Te’urang), Druklo (pen name Shokjang), Tragyal (pen name Shogdung ) and Kalsang Tsultrim (pseudonym Gyitsang Takmig)etc during the year indicate strongly that the authorities view literary criticism as serious threat against the rule of the Communist Party of China and hence the crack-down. The authorities this year also targeted prominent Tibetan figures who were earlier looked upon as exemplary individuals. The sentencing of environment and cultural icon Karma Samdup to 15years in prison and Dorjee Tashi, the richest Tibetan who owns the Yak Hotel in Tibet to 15 years in prison, environment activists Rinchen Samdrup and Chemi Namgyal who were earlier awarded environment awards and were honoured by the government in international conferences were sentenced to five years prison term and 21-months of “reeducation through labor” respectively and so were their two other cousins to lengthy prison terms.
On 23 August 2010, the Chinese government made an announcement of reforms being carried out in the application of death penalty by removing the capital punishment for financial crimes. 13 out of the 68 crimes, all related to economic crimes, which carry the punishment were removed.
 Although this reform is welcome, it does not have any significant effect in Tibet. Since spring 2008 , nine Tibetanshave been sentenced to death with two already having been executed. The remaining seven are serving death penalty with two years reprieve.
This year threeTibetans, Sonam Tsering, Lama Lhaka and Sodor of Kolu Monastery in Chamdo were given death sentence with two years reprieve.In May this year, China issued new regulations saying evidence obtained illegally through torture cannot be used in death penalty cases and other criminal prosecutions.The regulations came into effect after the embarrassing high profile case of Zhao Zuohai exposed the corrupt system prevalent in China. He had spent 11 years in prison after being made to confess through torture of murdering a man who wasnt even dead. In a rare admission, the government admitted in a statement ‘since the system was not perfect, the standards on reinforcing the law were not unified and the law executors were not equally competent. Problems occurred in the handling of cases and they should not be ignored’. China theoretically banned torture in 1996 but evidence obtained through duress was routinely accepted as the definition of illegal acts was vague that police used various techniques to work around the ban. In restive regions like Tibet, torture is a regular feature in the detention centres and prisons. The police use in humane techniques and torture to present evidence before the courts. For instance, Karma Samdrup, a Tibetan philanthropist and environmentalist was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June 2010 on charges of grave robbing and dealing in looted antiquities. In his statement to the court, he said that during months of interrogation, officers beat him, deprived him of sleep for days on end, and drugged him with a substance that made his eyes and ears bleed, all part of an effort to force him to sign a confession. His wife estimated he lost at least 40pounds in police custody.
TCHRD research shows that some of the commonly used techniques employed by the police in the detention centres and prisons include the use of electric prod, pricking cigarettes on the body, beating, hand or thumb cuffs, feet manacles, aerial suspension, exposure to extreme temperature, long periods of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, violent beating, forced labour and forced exercise drills. Besides the physical wounds, psychological and emotional scars are usually themost devastating and the most difficult to repair.
On 23rd December this year, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from En-forced Disappearance entered into force.The People’s Republic of China is not amongst the initial ratifying state parties. In a restive region like Tibet, political activists and human rights defenders are routinely disappeared by the police and other security agencies. Midnight knocks, arrest without warrant, denial of custody and information are a common practice. In light of prevalence of rampant practice of enforced disappearance in Tibet, it is of utmost importance that the PRC ratify this convention in order to curb this heinous practice by the law enforcement agencies.
This year the students in Tibet staged protests on several occasions in order to put forward their grievances and concerns over social and policy issues. The Tibetan medical students in Lhasa staged a sit-in in front of the authorities in Lhasa over the lack of concern by the government over traditional studies and shortage of jobs for the graduates in traditional fields of study. Traditional and cultural studies are being increasingly relegated in an environment where Tibetan language and traditional studies are marginalised in a market format where knowledge in mandarin and commercial studies are given highest priorities. Any expression of Tibetan identity is met with high handedness by the authorities. March and April 2010 saw a huge number of detentions and expulsions of Tibetan students and teachers from schools and academic institutions in eastern Tibet. These incidences took place in Machu Tibetan Nationality Middle School, Kanlho Tibetan Middle School no 3, Primary School in Driru county, Khar Primary School in Serthar County, Serthar Buddhist Institute, Barkham Teachers Training Institute and Northwest National Minorities’ University in Lanzhou. These expulsions and detentions are characterised by minimal tolerance showed by the authorities in regard to dissenting voices in academic institutions. In total contradiction of showing respect and addressing the grievances, the authorities held students as young as between 11 to 15 years old in detention and expelled several Tibetan school teachers from their jobs. In some instances there has been ethnic discrimination while implementing measures. In most of the incidences,the students simply showed their dissent over thegovernment’s portrayal of and dealings with fellow Tibetans. For instance, the protest by the Khar Primary School in Serthar County was sparked after the government’s parading of two monks in a vehicle for propaganda purposes. Such an exercise creates huge resentments in the society and the students reacted boldly despite their tender age. In some instances the teachers have been targeted solely for actions by the students of their respective schools in wearing Tibetan national dresses and holding prayers for the departed in their areas during spring 2008.The teachers have been alleged of brainwashing the young in promoting and preserving their Tibetan identity. The students lighting up of butter lamps for the dead and wearing Tibetan dresses in their schools are seen by the authorities as expressions of dissent and challenging the official view of the events of spring 2008. Teachers were alleged of giving encouragement to the students and hence became natural target of the official crackdown.
On 19 October 2010, thousands of Tibetan students from six different schools in Rebkong (Ch: Tongren)County, Malho “Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture”(“TAP”) in Qinghai, took to the streets to protest against the proposed changes in education system which intends to drastically sideline Tibetan language.The protests later spread to other areas in Tibet and as far away as in the Minzu (Nationalities) University in Beijing where around 600 Tibetan students on 22 October 2010 demonstrated for the protection of Tibetan language. The protests were sparked by an order by the Qinghai government that all lessons and textbooks should be in Chinese in primary schools by 2015 except Tibetan and English language classes. The government argued that the proposal of enforcing Mandarin in schools will bring the Tibetan students on par with the other citizens, avail opportunities in the economic life and integrate into the broader Chinese society. However, the Tibetans have been calling for the preservation of Tibetan language as an identity of the Tibetan race and the foundation of religion and culture which connects to the wider issue of cultural and ethnic identity. Unfortunately the authorities see the assertion and promotion of cultural uniqueness and pride as anti-state. The Tibetans see such change and strict enforcement as reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.The pressure on ethnic groups to learn Mandarin is part of a wider several decade old one-language policy pursued vigorously recently. The enforcement of mandarin as the first language will soon be applied across Tibet which will negatively impact the lives of Tibetans dramatically. According to Beijing based Tibetan writer-activist Woeser, the policies initiated by Qinghai Province as part of the education system change have an experimental character and are a little bit like the“patriotic education” advocated in Lhasa’s monasteries ten years ago, which today have already infiltrated all monasteries in all of Tibet. The centuries old Tibetan language is one of the primary attributes of Tibetans being a distinct people. In November 2008, during the eighth round of talks in the Sino-Tibet dialogue process, the Envoys of the Dalai Lama handed to the Chinese officials a Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People. As a basic of the Tibetan people, the memorandum states that language is the most important attribute of the Tibetan people’s identity. Professor of linguistics from the University of Provence and an expert on the Tibetan language,Nicolas Tournadre, during a US Congressional Executive Commission on China round table discussion said: “There is a real threat of extinction or very serious decline of the Tibetan language and theTibetan culture within two — or at the most three— generations. […] During the last 15 years, I have personally witnessed this decline. […] Languages are not neutral. They convey very specific social and cultural behaviours and ways of thinking. So, the extinction of the Tibetan language will have tremen-dous consequences for the Tibetan culture. The culture cannot be preserved without it. […] It is important because the Tibetan language and culture are extremely original. Forget about linguistics,medicine, or architecture; just take literature. Tibetan is one of the four oldest and greatest in volume and most original literatures of Asia, along with Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese literatures. So, that is a very good reason for the heritage of humanity to keep this culture.
China’s laws protect and promote the ethnic minority languages, however, the reality suggest otherwise. Article 4 in the Constitution of the PRC guarantees the freedom of all nationalities “ to use and develop their own spoken and written languages…”In order to use and develop Tibetan as a language, the Tibetan language must be respected as the main spoken and written language. The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) promulgated in 1984 stipulates that ethnic minorities’ languages should be protected and allowed to be freely used and developed. The law states that the language of minorities should be used in textbooks and as language of medium of instruction. Evidently the proposed change by the Qinghai government goes contrary to the REAL. Article 121 of the Constitution states,“the organs of self-government of the national autonomous areas employ the spoken and written language or language in common use in the locality.”Moreover, Article 10 of the Law on Regional National Autonomy (LRNA) provides that these organs “shall guarantee the freedom of the nationalities in these areas to use and develop their own spoken and written languages....” International Law lays intense emphasis on minorities languages with the state having the prime responsibility in the protection and promotion of minority languages. Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which PRC is a signatory party states “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”In light of China’s constitution, national and international laws, the state of PRC has the responsibility protect the Tibetan language. The proposed change in the education system by the regional government of Qinghai absolutely contradicts all the legal provisions.
During the year, practice of centuries old traditional Tibetan Buddhism and the monastic community faced yet another strike by the CCP and the government. After the notorious Order no 5 issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs(SARA) in 2007 giving a legal instrument for the government to strike at the core of Tibetan Buddhism belief system by making any Tibetan Buddhist teacher and lama illegal if they haven’t been approved by the CCP, in September 2010 the SARA issued Order no 8 – ‘Management measure for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples’. The 44articles regulation which entered into force on 1 November 2010 obstructs the centuries old traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, restricts relationship between students and masters, and provides a strong legal support for the authorities to control the monastic institutions as well as monks and nuns.This regulation is a reinforcement legal instrument to curb primarily the influence of the Dalai Lama and other heads of Tibetan Buddhism most of whom live in exile pursuing their religious propagation and teachings. Since most of the heads of schools of Tibetan Buddhism reside in exile, the regulation is specifically aimed to obstruct transmission of teachings and traditional practices of Buddhist hierarchy.The relationship between Buddhist teachers and students and traditional Buddhist studies will be affected negatively by the regulation. This regulation applicable to the whole of Tibet will further tighten the control on the monks and nuns and enable the authorities to implement policies uniformly across the monastic institutions in Tibet.
In what can be construed as an escalation of control in the monastic institutions in Tibet, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) conducted a meeting on the democratic management of the monastic institutions from 14 – 15 August 2010. The meeting held at Shigatse drew heads of monastic institutions and local UFWD heads in the “TAR” as well as Tibetan areas in four provinces to tighten religious institutions in Tibetan areas. During the meeting, the head of the UFWD, Du Qingli, remarked that the patriotic and legal education should be strengthened in order to make the monks and and nuns abide by the laws of the country and voluntarily protect unity of nation, nationalities and social stability. Halso called the monastic leaders to be result oriented in the democratic management, monks and nuns observance of law and produce leaders in opposing the splittist forces.Du Qingli also urged the leaders of the monastic institutions to put the people first by producing charismatic monks and nuns trustworthy in politics, excel in Buddhist studies, and elect and appoint smart monks and nuns in the monastic institutions administration. During the meeting the DMC of the monastic institutions across Tibet shared their experiences and planned effective communications between the institutions in order to better manage and control the monks and nuns in the monastic institutions in future.
Monastic institutions of Tibet are primary targets of the authorities in inculcating loyalty by striking hard and control through a chain of commands from the central government religious bureau, regional religious bureaus and the DMCs within the institutions itself. The numerous rules and regulationsimplemented in the monasteries and nunneries tocontrol the monks and nuns restrict their movement. In some areas even to seek medication in hospitals and to visit families they are required to seek permission from the authorities at various levels; county, township and monastery, depending on the duration of time. The Lhasa Municipality Religious Affairs Committee issued a monastic code of conduct in April 2009. Article 5 of the code of conduct states that monks and nuns expelled from monastic institutions, leave the monastery on their own or withdrew upon advice by others should be expelled in written document by the DMCs of the monastery or nunnery. The DMC should register the names of the expelled monks and nuns to the religious affairs office in the higher levels. The expelled monks and nuns are put under strict vigilance by the Public Security Bureau and they are not allowed to indulge in religious activities as well as enroll in other monastic institutions. Monks and nuns under suspicion of political activities are especially put under strict vigilance and their movements restricted.
Beijing’s discourse on Tibet always had two strands, one that of “development” and “stability” on the other hand. The government insists on spending billions of dollars in development works in Tibet including huge state subsidies, however, the “TAR” and the other Tibetan areas incorporated into four provinces continue to remain poorest in China. The Western Development Strategy [Ch: xibu da kaifa] launched in 1999 and described as “leap over” model of development of Tibet provide special assistance to overcome Tibet’s “backwardness”. With intense emphasis on heavy and hard infrastructure projects in Tibet, little priority has been given to investments in local agriculture and livestock, as well as soft infrastructure including health, education, employment and local participation. With over 80 percent of Tibetans living in rural areas, the benefits of WDS have not been accessible to the large majority of ethnic rural Tibetans. Little of the development money has trickled down to the poorest sections of the society. While China claims to prioritise economic rights of its people, it has failed to employ rights based and need based approach to development in Tibet thus rendering extreme difficulties in the lives of nomads and farmers with long term implications of turning them beggars in the urban towns and cities which is already evident quite prominently.
The search for answers to the great floods of 1998 and repeated dust storms in urban Chinese cities have led to blaming the “ignorant” and “selfish” Tibetan nomads for the degradation of the grassland. Afte rMao Zedong’s ascent to power his campaign to uplift the proletariat led to the great famine of 1959 to 1961 costing 45 million lives across China according to latest research. Two decades of communisation had disastrous consequences setting of a series of grassland degradation. Since discussion of Cultural Revolution were forbidden and past policy failures are taboo topic, the pastoral nomads were blamed for causing grassland degradation thereby saving the state of its causation. The government citing watershed protection, scientific rationality and climate change mitigation, ordered Tibetan nomads to be removed from their pastures. The government officially claims that there is a contradiction between grass and animals and the policy is fundamentally based on oversimplified logic that more the animals, less the grass; less the animals, more the grass. The nomads do not have the right to speak up or organize themselves to put forward their griev-ances.
The Tuimu Huancao (“removing animals to grow grass”) policy implemented strongly since 2003.Since then hundreds of thousands of nomads have been removed especially in the area where three great rivers; the Yellow, Yangtse and Mekong all rise in glacier melt on the Tibetan plateau. Although the exact number of how many pastoralist nomads have already been removed is hard to quantify for the lack of independent monitors or a system and the nomads being gagged by the government, experts estimate about one million nomads out of the total two million already having been affected by the policy so far. Almost all of Tibet’s nomads will have become displaced persons by the year 2013. With little experience in rangeland management, the state has recently directly intervened in livelihoods of nomads on the Tibetan plateau. The nomads whohave been removed have had their land rights documents cancelled. They have become landless with no training in skills to survive in a modern economy and become dependent on the state for subsidised rations given for a set period. For many families, the compensation has been inadequate as the inflation shoots up the cost while the subsidies remain the same. Such a policy thrust by the state on the nomads is in direct contravention of article 6 and article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which requires the state to ensure everyone to freely choose or accept his living by work as well as an adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,Olivier De Schutter, after his mission to the PRC between 15-23 December 2010 in his preliminary observations and conclusions told the government that nomads should not be forced to sell off their livestock and resettle.The expert report read:
While there is little doubt about the extent of the land degradation problem, the Special Rapporteur would note that herders should not, as a result of the measures adopted under the tuimu huancao policy, be put in a situation where they have no other options than to sell their herd and resettle. The International Cov-enant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pro-hibits depriving any people from its means of subsistence, and the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity acknowledges the importance of indigenous communities as guarantors and protectors of biodiversity (Art. 8  j). China has ratified both of these instruments. The Special Rapporteur encourages the Chinese authorities to engage in meaningful consultations with herding communities, including in order to assess the results of past and current policies, and examine all available options, including recent strategies of sustainable management of marginal pastures such as the New Rangeland Management (NRM) in order to combine the knowledge of the nomadic herders of their territories with the information that can be drawn from modern science.The government of PRC should heed the recommendations of the UN expert and respect the right of the nomads to refuse resettlement. In light of research conducted by the universities of Queensland, Arizona, Montana and Qinghai in concluding that the Tibetan nomadic pastoralism is sustainable and viable to the high plateau ecology, the removal and sedenterisation of nomads should be put to an end and the nomads already removed should be allowed the chance to return to their pastures according to their wishes. Instead of ordering slaughtering or selling of livestock, the government could well introduce insurance programs on livestock so that the nomads’ herds remain small in size and insured against natural calamities etc.Despite the fact that the state pumped in billions of dollars in aid money in development projects after Beijing’s rule over Tibet since 1959, the spring 2008 uprising in Tibet shook the central government and the authorities in Tibet, who have been believing their own propaganda that the Tibetans are happy under the benevolent rule of CCP, to face the reality. After a decade since the last work forum, the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was held in Beijing from 18-20 January 2010. President Hu Jintao and more than 300 of China’s most senior Party, government and military leaders attended the meeting. Hu Jintao stated “we must also soberly understand that Tibet’s development and stability are still faced with many difficulties and challenges and have encountered many new situations and new issues.”In an unprecedented development, unlike previous four work forums on Tibet the Fifth included all Tibetan areas incorporated into Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Although not much is known, the forum indicates the regional integration of policies across all Tibetan areas of the PRC.After a decade of the ambitious Western Development Strategy, the authorities seem to have acknowledged that the inequality between the rich and the poor has widened, social services are not uniform and the education level of the people uneven. The Fifth Tibet Work Forum indicates to be focusing on accomplishing improvements in rural Tibetans livelihood. “This time we are really focusing on improving livelihood, whereas previous policies were mostly concerned with industry and infrastructure”, said Lobsang Dramdul, a development economics specialist at the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing, in an interview with the Reuters. Unlike past forums, the work forum did not reveal mega projects lists although it may well be because the high expenditure projects will be announced in the 12th Five Year Plan for the years 2011 to 2016. Zhang Yun of the China Tibetology Research Centre said “it used to be said that first should come fast economic development and then livelihoods. But now the focus is much more on people’s wellbeing.” When the 11th Five Year Plan was launched in 2006, the rhetoric was similar with promises of shifting capital expenditure in Tibet from heavy infrastructure, towards meeting needs of the rural Tibetans by improving housing and raising incomes in the rural areas. People First (Ch: Yiren Weiben) strategies were publicised much in the past also. However, the reality indicates that the State prioritises full speed growth and wealth accumulation rather than pushing for rural upliftment and address the long forgotten rural poor, health, education and income generation. The inclusion of allTibetan areas in present day China besides the “TAR”in development programs is expected to make some positive impact in the attitude of the leaders at all levels of administrative units although the Tibetans will hardly benefit as they are a minority amongst other extremely poor minority communities within the larger mainstream Han population dominated provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.The cadres well practiced in diverting funds away from Tibetan areas will strongly resist the inclusion of all Tibetan areas during the Fifth Tibet Work fo-rum.During the year thousands of lives were lost during the earthquake in Kyegudo (Ch: Jyekundo) and the mudslide disaster in Drugchu. While it is commendable that the government provided good support in the relief efforts for quake struck Kyegudo, it is unfortunate that the state did not allow the Dalai Lama to the area despite his direct request for a visit to the area to say prayers and console the grieving families. The government would have won much admiration by the Tibetan people as well as internationally had it set aside politics and let the human emotions and spirituality connect. The key to win over hearts and minds of the Tibetan people lies in connecting with the Dalai Lama. The state should have a bold vision in resolving the issue of Tibet through dialogue with Dalai Lama in order to ensure a stable environment where in the people of Tibet and China live harmoniously.

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