China’s White Paper on Human Rights: A Whitewash

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) considers 2003 as the year of grave human rights violations in Tibet committed by authorities of People’s Republic of China (PRC). The information gathered by TCHRD gives clear picture of systematic and continued violation of Tibetan people’s right to civil liberties, religious freedom, and socio-economic rights.

On 30 March 2004, the Chinese State Council Information Office released a white paper titled “Progress in China’s Human Rights Cause in 2003”. The White Paper contained eight chapters: The people’s right to subsistence and development, civil and political rights, judicial guarantee for human rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights and interests of women and children, equal rights and special protection for ethnic minorities, the rights and interest of the disabled and international exchanges and co-operation in human rights. 

The White Paper has hailed the inclusion of “the state respects and safeguards human rights” in the Chinese Constitution at the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC) as “the first time ever”. TCHRD welcomes this amendment, as this is an indication of China attaching importance to human rights principles. Chinese Constitution has guaranteed its citizens of right to exercise freedom of expression, association and religion. But this constitutional guarantee has failed to avert human rights violations from occurring in Tibet as evidenced by refugee testimonies. If similar policies and patterns are to be followed, then this new amendment will remain a mere stipulation and does not act as legal safeguard on the practical ground. Therefore, TCHRD strongly urges the Chinese Government to strictly adhere to its constitutional guarantee and to respect human rights of its citizens.

The White Paper is a study in contradiction with China claiming “progress in human rights” as well as conceding to the fact that “there is still much room for improvements of the human rights condition…. Chinese Government will continue to take active and effective measures to steadily improve China’s human rights conditions and earnestly raise the level of human rights enjoyed by the Chinese people.” TCHRD finds Tibet rarely cited in the white paper although it has been one of the worst affected regions from the perspective of human rights record.

China has claimed “significant progress in judicial guarantee for human rights” and further stated “Public Security Organs have practised strict enforcement of the law and emphasised law enforcement in the interest of the public..firmly dealt with violations of human rights involving the extortion of confessions by torture, the abuse of guns and police instruments and other coercive measures”.

In Tibet, torture and other forms of ill treatment is endemic in every stage of the incarceration process: upon arrest, during transport to detention facilities, in detention centres and in prisons. Various forms of torture are commonly used to extract confessions and force prisoners to reveal the names of “accomplices”. The Chinese Government privately sanctions these actions and has inadequate safeguards to protect the rights of Tibetans accused of crimes. Tibetans continue to die from torture and continue to be denied adequate medical care.

China accepts the prevalence of extended detention when it mentions in the White Paper “In 2003, cases of extended detention involving 25,736 people were corrected”. TCHRD has received information that Champa Chungla, Secretary of the Search Committee for the reincarnate XIth Panchen Lama, is still being held in detention though he should have been freed by 16 May 2003. Unofficial reports in April 2003 suggested that Chadrel Rinpoche, Chairman of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the XIth Panchen Lama, is still being held under house arrest beyond his prison term of six years.. Extended detention of Tibetan prisoners is applied against those whose position and personality stands to draw more attention from the international media and rights group.

Another highlight feature in the White Paper is the government’s guarantee of citizens’ right to receive legal aid with administrative statute “Regulations on Legal Aid” which was formulated and promulgated in 2003. The year 2003 saw the summary execution of Lobsang Dhondup and upholding of death sentence with two-year reprieve for Trulku Tenzin Delek on alleged charges of involvement in a string of bomb explosions in eastern Tibet. While Lobsang Dhondup’s execution revealed China’s new strategy to internationalise non-violent freedom struggle of six million Tibetans as an “act of terrorism”, the court’s decision has also highlighted shortcomings on the Chinese judicial system. Both men were denied fair and adequate judicial representation. A close analysis of the events after their arrest shows reveals how China fails to implement the new judicial guarantee enshrined in the amended Criminal Procedure Law.

The Civil and Political Rights of the White Paper mentions that China “follows the principles of putting people above all else” which if true is a landmark change. Over the years, the official rhetoric has emphasised on “national stability and unification of motherland” as overriding condition in China. China’s concern over national stability in Tibet is evidently clear from “endangering state security” charges in its Criminal Procedure Law. The term’s ambiguity is used to suppress multiple legitimate rights including the right to freedom of expression, opinion, speech and religion.

TCHRD documented 27 known arrests in 2003 due to political incidents. A significant portion of the arrests happened in Kardze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture (“TAP”) indicating that the Chinese leaders are determined to heighten surveillance and suppressing Tibetans outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (“TAR”). The execution of Lobsang Dhondup and death sentence on Trulku Tenzin Delek indicates that China suppresses peaceful pro-independence activities as “endangering state security” and “splitting the motherland”.

In one brief paragraph under the Civil and Political Rights of the White Paper, the Chinese Government has affirmed that its “citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law and normal religious activities are protected”. Nevertheless, TCHRD has found that in 2003 Chinese authorities have intensified the anti-Dalai Lama campaign in Tibet and have imposed restrictive measures on observance of traditional religious practices and belief resulting in violation of religious rights of the Tibetans.

Beijing’s attempts to promote atheism in Tibet with political drives such as the “patriotic education” campaigns and the anti-Dalai Lama campaign have led to degeneration of Tibetan Buddhism in terms of debating, meditating, writing, thinking and listening. Four monks from Khangmar Monastery were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment terms ranging from eight to twelve years for conducting prayer ceremonies for the Dalai Lama. The residents of Kardze and Lithang counties were threatened with land confiscation if they fail to hand over portraits of the Dalai Lama to the local authorities within a month. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the XIth Panchen Lama recognized by the Dalai Lama in May 1995, continues to be detained by the Chinese authorities for the eighth consecutive year.

China has reiterated that “economy in ethnic minority areas has been developing rapidly, and the local people’s living standard has improved greatly. Of these regions, the gross output value of Tibet and Ningxia exceeded 11.5 per cent…” In reality, Tibet remains one of the poorest regions in the world. The much-hyped Beijing’s subsidy into Tibet is channelled in the tertiary sector of occupation. Tibetans dominate the primary sector where government subsidy is minimal therefore Tibetans continue to live in abject poverty. Tibetans in Tibet have very limited or no access to healthcare facilities because of which they are dying from illnesses that could be easily treated. This is contradiction to China’s claim of “improvement in people’s right to subsistence and development.”

In addition, China’s development plans to modernize Tibet are devoid of Tibetan participation thereby denying the “right to self-determination” of the Tibetan people. These economic and development projects do not respect the sentiments of the Tibetans with regard to their land, culture and religious identity. In the name of ‘environmental protection’ under the Western Developmental Program, many local Tibetans are forcibly evicted and resettled against their will. Serious concerns raised by Tibetans, and critiques on development projects that could have disastrous impact on the environment and ecological balance of the region, have been ignored. The influx of ethnic Chinese settlers into Tibet creates huge livelihood problems for the indigenous Tibetans.

The White Paper has claimed to have “enhanced the educational level of citizens of ethnic minority origin”. Nevertheless, the UN Special Rapporteur on Education, Katarina Tomasevski, described education in Tibet as “horrendous” at the plenary session of the ongoing 60th UNHCHR. Earlier in 2003, after her official visit to China, Ms. Tomasevski gave a harsh critique of the country’s education policies, blasting the government’s ban on religious schooling and a system of arbitrary school fees that force many families into debt. She was very critical of the role of “minority education” in Tibet, stating that education imposed upon minorities violates their human rights when it denies their religious and linguistic identity.

The Chinese authorities fear religious schooling and as a result ordered the closure of Ngaba Kirti Monastic School which imparts monastic education to 800 novice-monk students. Education policies in Tibet are used as a means to indoctrinate communist ideologies. Students are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, taught Chinese version of history, and the medium of instruction in most schools are Chinese.

TCHRD considers the release of China’s White Paper as another feature of its diplomacy tactics to avert public condemnation of its human rights record at multilateral forums such as ongoing 60th United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Geneva.

The United States has decided to table a Resolution on China’s Human Rights Record at the Commission where the member states will either criticise, condemn or condone China’s human rights abuses if the Resolution passes through with the required majority. Between the period of 1990 and 2002, ten Resolutions on China were tabled at the UNHCHR and all were defeated by China’s No-Action Motion, which necessitates member states from voting either in favour or in against. The year 1995 saw China’s No-Action Motion resulting in a tie and later the Resolution was defeated by one vote — 20 in favour, 21 against and 12 abstentions.

TCHRD has found hardening of State policy with continued restrictions and repressions of right to freedom of expression, association and religion. Arbitrary detention and imprisonment, unfair trials, torture and ill treatment and execution saw no let up. Threats to nationalism, state security and social stability were used to justify crackdowns on the Tibetan people. China’s development projects in Tibet are termed assimilationist in nature since Tibetans are excluded from consultation or effective participation. Despite official claims of high living standards of its citizens, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) maintains that Tibet remains one of the poorest regions in the world. The mode and medium of education is sinicised and Tibetan education is effectively sidelined.

With evidences of gross human rights violations in Tibet, the Chinese Government cannot make claims of progress in human rights cause in 2003. As China continues to reach out to the world, beefing up scores of political contacts, emerging as an active player in the international arena, expanding its influence and refining it diplomacy to become as one of world’s great powers, the free world must remind itself that it also has a responsibility to ensure that China respects human rights of its own people, the Tibetans and others within its territory. TCHRD believes that so long as democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights are lacking, China cannot claim genuine development

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