The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) condemns the recent shooting of Tibetan refugees by the Chinese People’s Armed Police (PAP).
Thirty refugees were arrested after continuing to flee. Fourteen of these were children, the youngest of whom is five years old. Of the refugees who were not injured or arrested, some are missing, whilst 41 (27 minors below eighteen years) have reached Kathmandu, Nepal, where they are under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
After international press coverage of the event, the Chinese government has taken the unusual step of issuing an official statement on the shootings. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that several Tibetans had been injured in a border incident, but denied anyone was killed as a result of gunfire. The authorities claim one of the injured succumbed to ‘oxygen shortage’ in hospital. The official news agency, Xinhua, stated that when asked to turn back, Tibetan refugees ‘refused and attacked the soldiers’ so ‘[t]he frontier soldiers were forced to defend themselves and injured two [refugees].’ The Foreign Ministry agreed with the claim that any violence on the part of the PAP was in self-defense.
However, eyewitness accounts of nearby Everest mountaineers testify that the refugees were running uphill, away from the shooting.According to mountaineering website, MountEveres t.net, an American climber reported, ‘Without warning, shots rang out. Over, and over and over. The line of people started to run uphill – they were at 19,000ft. 2 people were down, and they weren’t getting up.’ There are no reports of any Tibetans carrying weapons. A British climber reported that climbers ‘could see Chinese soldiers quite close to Advance Base Camp kneeling, taking aim and shooting, again and again, at the group, who were completely defenseless.’ while Romanian climber Sergiu Matei, reported, “The Chinese militias were hunting Tibetans onto the glacier… shooting them like rats, dogs, rabbits – you name it.”
The actions of the PAP violate a number of international and national laws. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides ‘everyone the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees also accords legitimate refugees with the same human rights as those enjoyed by nationals.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s claim of self-defense is also illegitimate under international law. Whilst Article 51 of the UN Charter does enshrine a right to self-defense, this right can only be legitimately exercised if a national is under armed attack. Foreign national eyewitnesses confirm that the refugees were not armed. The 27 July 2006 ‘Prevention of human rights violations committed with small arms and light weapons’ report, submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur Barbara Frey, further clarifies the rights of states in self defense: ‘Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations applies to States acting in self-defense against armed attacks against their State sovereignty. It does not apply to situations of self-defense for individual persons.’ She adds that ‘[s]tate officials must refrain from violations [of human rights] with small arms’.
TCHRD calls upon the UN Human Rights Council and the Mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights to seek justice for the Tibetan refugees shot in the Nangpa La incident, and to ensure that the Tibetans arrested from the fleeing group are freed immediately and without harm.