Human Rights Situation in Tibet: Annual Report 2012

Persistent, long-term oppression can inflame the oppressed consciousness to act on radical measures to defend and assert their individual and collective rights. In Tibet this year, 82 Tibetans set their bodies on fire calling for the “return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet,” “freedom for Tibet” and “human rights in Tibet.” This has taken the total number of Tibetan self-immolations in Tibet to 95. Beyond statistics, the fact that human beings are pushed to end their own lives in order to escape government repression ought to unsettle the conscience of many.
The year 2012 witnessed key changes in Chinese leadership as the Chinese Communist Party on 15 November announced Xi Jinping as Party Secretary and head of the CCP Central Military Commission in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition. The new Standing Committee of the Politburo, which runs the People’s Republic of China, has seven new members as opposed to nine in the past. The 18th Party Congress this time was marked by relentless self-immolation protests by Tibetans, 11 of whom set fire to themselves before and during the meeting in an apparent bid to send a message to the new Chinese leadership. One of the self-immolators even called on Xi Jinping to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
It is difficult to predict whether change will come under Xi Jinping’s leadership given the entrenched policy of ‘stability maintenance’ (weiwen) and the dramatic increase in internal security budget, which surpassed the total national defence budget for the first time in 2010 during Hu Jintao’s tenure. In March 2012, China announced that its domestic security budget would increase by 11.5 per cent, that is, 701.8 billion yuan ($113 billion), more than the 670.3 billion yuan allotted for national defence. According to Xie Yue, a professor of political science who specialises in domestic security at Tongji University in Shanghai, the stability preservation structure has become so embedded in the system that it would difficult to expect changes under Xi’s leadership. “The whole model of stability preservation is part and parcel of the mode of rule, not the work of just one man,” Reuters quoted Xi as saying. During his visit to the Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2011, vice president Xi Jinping had said that stability in Tibet is crucial for the overall stability in PRC.
Despite criticisms against its human rights record, China continues to view ‘stability’ as a prerequisite for the enjoyment of human rights. The rationale of ‘national security’ is used ad nauseam to justify official crackdowns on dissidence and other human rights abuses. China’s rejection of the universality of human rights became more pronounced in its second National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-15), which states, “[t]he Chinese government respects the principle of universality of human rights, but also upholds proceeding from China’s national conditions and new realities to advance the development of its human rights cause on a practical basis.” Irrespective of other reasonable targets mentioned in the new plan, the above assertion essentially rationalizes eliminating all the aspirations of the second NHRAP. In other  words, China is saying that the universal right and freedoms entitled to all will only be granted to Chinese citizens when it is convenient for the state. This type of opting out of their own human rights action plan is a step in the wrong direction for human rights in Tibet and China.
During the March 2012 annual session, China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (“NPC”), approved proposed changes to its Criminal Procedure Law. While the latest amendments include for the first time the encouraging words “respect and safeguard human rights,” they fail to outlaw the persistent use of enforced disappearance as a tool to crack down on critics of official policies. Perhaps the most disturbing revision is embodied in Article 73, which essentially legalizes the secret detention of persons charged with perceived political crimes. The revised law allows authorities to detain suspects charged with “endangering state security,” crimes of terrorism, or large-scale bribery in an undisclosed location for up to six months without contact with the outside world or communications with family. Many fear that the terms “national security threats,” and “terrorism,”  will be loosely defined to further exploit the law to carry out repressive practices. Human rights activists and analysts have expressed the very real concern that article 73 of the revised CPL may lead to increased instances of miscarriages of justice against Tibetans and Chinese citizens in general.
On 9 October 2012, the Information Office of the State Council or China’s cabinet released a white paper concerning judicial reform. The goal of this  white paper is to highlight “the progress that has been made in safeguarding justice and protecting human rights” with the focus on “maintaining social fairness, justice and human rights protections.” The white paper admits that the Chinese judicial system is in urgent need of reform and recognises that “judicial impartiality is a significant guarantee of social justice.” Despite these stated goals, what is troubling is that the white paper says nothing about core problems that beset the Chinese  judiciary. According to Stanley Lubman, a long-time specialist on Chinese law, “the lack of judicial independence or the legal culture of police, judges and prosecutors that lingers from the Maoist period and fosters widespread disregard of laws already in effect” are missing from the white paper. Nonetheless, the words of the white paper need to be more than just rhetoric and propaganda, and should be followed with serious implementation and practice.
The human rights situation in Tibet during the year 2012 recorded a new low as Tibet remained closed to independent media, UN monitors, international delegations and visitors. The Chinese government effectively blocked journalists, visitors and pilgrims in order to maintain “stability and harmony”, reiterating the call for increased security measures to control and manage events affecting the “social stability” and economic development of the PRC. Even the inaccessible North Korea boasts more international media presence than the Tibetan capital Lhasa. Despite heavy restrictions, individual Tibetans continued to let the world know about the real situation in Tibet often at great personal risk.  As the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food told the Human Rights Council session in March 2012: “We know that regularly the communication systems: Internet, the phones, SMS’s are blocked and Tibet is completely closed to independent observers, including the media.”
Restriction and surveillance of the Internet were stepped up. Internet users in TAR are required to furnish ‘second-generation’ citizen ID card and ‘other documents’ to register their identities at Internet cafes. The new ‘second generation’ ID cards record more personal information about a person than its previous avatar making it easier for the authorities to control online activities. All Internet cafes in Lhasa had been ordered to install the second- generation ID Card reader.
The Chinese government continued to label all expressions of Tibetan aspirations and grievances as ‘splittists’ and lock them up on ‘national security’ grounds. Those who shared information about human rights abuses in Tibet with outsiders  were charged of violating State Secrets Law and imprisoned following dubious trials.
Crackdown on self-immolation protests continued all through 2012 as local authorities, particularly in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Ngaba (Ch: Aba) TAP, Kardze TAP, Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) TAP in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), mobilized government cadres and ‘work teams’ to hold political education campaigns and carry out punitive measures against not only protest self-immolators and their family members but also the villages they belong to.
Mass arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported from Lhasa and other Tibetan areas outside TAR after self-immolation protests. Three days after Lhasa self-immolations, on 29 May 2012, the head of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Public Security Bureau ordered the security personnel manning police stations and security checkpoints, including patrol personnel, to be on high alert. On 31 May 2012, at a video conference held to discuss the work situation on social stability, Hao Peng, the TAR vice Party secretary, responsible for ‘stability maintenance,’ stressed the importance of safeguarding ‘social stability’ by crushing even the slightest stirring of instability or disturbances – and to strictly ensure that matters, however small, medium, or big, are dealt with and not allowed to gain momentum.
Tibetans from Kham and Amdo provinces are required to go through a lengthy and intrusive process to gain necessary permission to visit Lhasa for pilgrimages or any other purposes, thus severely restricting their freedom of movement. In early February 2012, hundreds of Tibetans returning from the Kalachakra religious teachings given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Bihar state of northern India from December 2011 to January 2012 were detained in various ad hoc detention centres in Tibet where they were subjected to interrogations and political education sessions. On 29 January 2012, during an inspection tour around Lhasa, Lhasa Party chief Qi Zhala told the police officers that they should strive to realize the goal of ‘’no big incidents, no medium incidents and no small incidents to occur’’ and to ‘’strike hard at all the separatists.’’ Qi also stressed on stepping up security and increasing the number of police officials along national roads and ‘’key monasteries.’’
The year 2012 also saw the Chinese authorities stepping up party propaganda work and political education campaigns in monastic institutions and lay communities in remote villages. On 11 March 2012, the official Tibet Daily newspaper reported that the TAR government had selected more than 20,000 cadres and established 5,451 ‘work teamsto stay permanently in neighbourhood committees in the TAR, as well as more than 13,000 cadres into more then 1,500 work-teams who will permanently stay in TAR prefectures and counties. In addition to monitoring the movements and activities of the Tibetan masses, the ‘work teams’ and cadres are also given the responsibility to inculcate party ideology and to increase party membership in Tibet.
The intensity and severity of party propaganda campaign in Tibet was evidenced by the provocative statements of the TAR Party secretary Chen Quanguo, who at the Second Plenary Session of the Eighth TAR CPC Committee on 26 June 2012, called on party members to ensure that “the party’s voices and images be heard across 1.2 million square kilometers of the vast territory [of TAR]” and that “no voices and images of the hostile forces and Dalai clique can be heard and seen.”
 In May 2012, the TAR authorities launched a new wave of ‘patriotic re-education’ and ‘legal education’ campaigns targeted at Tibetan monastic institutions in the name of maintaining stability, enhancing unity, and promoting harmony in Tibet. At the “Mobilization Meeting on In-depth Legal Education Campaign in Tibetan Buddhist Temples” held in Lhasa on 11 May 2012, the TAR governor Pema Thinley said that widespread ‘legal education’ campaigns had been launched in all the monasteries and nunneries in TAR.
In 2012, TCHRD recorded a total of 269 known political prisoners in Tibet. Out of them, 29 were sentenced without procedural guarantees and due legal process while the fate of 218 remains unknown. An overwhelming number were detained, disappeared and sentenced on obscure charges of ‘leaking state secrets’ and ‘endangering state security’. The total number of known political prisoners according to TCHRD database is 988.
With the increased security build-up along Tibet-Nepal border, the number of Tibetans fleeing Chinese rule in Tibet dropped drastically in 2012.  As opposed to about 600 Tibetans who arrived in India in 2011, there were only 374 Tibetans who successfully evaded arrest at the hands of Chinese border guards and reached India in 2012. China continued to pressurise Nepal to crack down and forcibly repatriate Tibetans fleeing its rule. Since Nepal is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Torture, China is, in effect, pressurising the Nepalese government to undermine its own international treaty obligations. It is a known fact that the continuation of Chinese aid to Nepal is contingent on the Nepalese government’s ability to suppress Tibetan activism.
TCHRD’s 2012 Annual Report takes a hard look at some of the key human rights issues in Tibet viz., language and education, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, development, and crackdown on self-immolation protests. In light of major new campaigns and policies implemented by the Chinese authorities to restrict and repress religious freedom in Tibet, TCHRD has prepared a separate special report on religious repression. The report is an in-depth analysis of the internationally protected right to freedom of religion and belief, and the  ways in which the government of the PRC is continuously and systematically violating it in the context of Tibetan Buddhism.
 An Eight-Point Petition from Tibetan Students and Teachers in Qinghai
On 5 October 2012, exile Tibetan media published an eight-point petition written by Tibetan teachers and students in Qinghai Province. The petition encapsulates major concerns and grievances and suggests ways and means to defuse tension and thereby achieve real stability and harmony in Tibet. The following petition was translated into English by the International Campaign for Tibet:
“First, in pursuit of social harmony and ethnic equality, and to end political suppression and economic marginalization, we call upon the central government to create an environment that respects different ethnicities and does not oppress them.
“Second, we call for the government to seriously consider giving Tibetan language equal status with Chinese in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and in the various Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties.
“Third, in consideration for Tibetan grassroots development, which cannot just be limited to housing construction and material goods, we call for more Tibetan professionals and meritocracy in the Tibetan Departments of the different Nationality Universities, and for opening courses on Tibet’s history, politics, law, economy, science, and sociology.
“Fourth, we must change the policy of implementing Chinese-based teaching in Tibetan secondary schools, because this constitutes a serious case of ethnic discrimination.
“Fifth, Tibetans place far greater emphasis on mental values, not material values, and therefore  we request more respect, freedom, and rights for religious belief in Tibetan regions.
“Sixth, stop strengthening the Party’s ideological management of Tibetan monasteries, and train Tibetan cadres and officials to exercise real power.
“Seventh, many Han and Hui people are immigrating to Tibet, such that Tibetans, the true masters of Tibet, are becoming a minority, which makes many Tibetans worried.
“Eighth, we call for implementing laws from the central government regarding ethnic autonomy, and changing the policies of unlimited mineral exploitation and forced nomad resettlement policies  which trample on traditional Tibetan culture and customs, and which fill Tibetan hearts with unbearable pain.”
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy suggests China implement the following recommendations:
1. Investigate the real causes of Tibetan self-immolation protests and refrain from criminalising those who engage in such protests
2. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into domestic legislation.
3. Sign and ratify into domestic law the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
4. Amend the 2012 amendments of the criminal procedure code to disallow enforced disappearances.
5. Hold itself accountable to both its international and domestic law obligations. China should start enforcing its own laws.
6. Refrain from including opt-out clauses in any future National Human Rights Action Plans
7. Release all Tibetan political prisoners held in detention centres, prisons, and labour camps
8. Allow free movement of Tibetans from Kham and Amdo provinces wishing to travel to Tibet  Autonomous Region particularly the Tibetan spiritual and cultural capital, Lhasa 
9. Stop political education party propaganda campaigns and anti-Dalai Lama campaigns
10. Respect Tibetan people’s right to self-determination and their right to preserve and promote their culture, identity, religion and language
Click here to read the full report

to top