Today, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) commemorates the eleventh anniversary of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture to recognize the pain and suffering that victims and survivors of torture throughout the world has gone through.
In 1984, the General Assembly adopted the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which entered into force on 26 June 1987. It was an important step in the much-needed process of globalising human rights and acknowledging that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal and should not be condoned. There can be zero tolerance for torture. In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly decided to mark this historic date and designated 26 June each year as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.
In Chinese occupied Tibet, it has a long and reprehensive history of gross human rights violations abetted by a political culture of impunity towards past human rights violations. The torture and ill treatment are endemic in the wide network of prisons and detention centers across the Tibetan plateau. Torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment appears to have become a central element of state agents’ treatment of Tibetans perceived as being in opposition to the Communist regime and those attempting to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Tibetans who support the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama or have divergent views to those of the Communist regime have been primary targets of torture, ill-treatment or other forms of human rights violations. TCHRD notes that, Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) are repeatedly using torture as a means of intimidating, investigating and extracting information or confessions from real or perceived offenders and detainees.
TCHRD has recorded cases of more than 6,500 Tibetans arbitrarily arrested or detained and the deaths of more than 100 others, disappearance, torture, violent beating and ill treatment of Tibetan people by the Chinese authorities in Tibet since recent series of protests that broke out across Tibet. Additionally, the cases of thousands of injured Tibetans remain unaccounted for since 10 March Protests. Reportedly, many Tibetans have also died shortly after being released from Chinese custody, in which they were subjected to inhumane torture. For instance, Nechung, a 38- year-old mother of four children from Charu Hu Village in Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP”, Sichuan Province, died days after being subjected to brutal torture in a Chinese prison on 17 April 2008.
In another instance, Dawa, a 31 year-old Tibetan farmer from Dedrong Village, Jangkha Township, Phenpo Lhundup County, Lhasa City, “TAR”, died on 1 April 2008 after being severely beaten by Chinese prison guards. On 8 June 2008, Tsering Tsomo, a 27-year-old nun of Samtenling a.k.a Watak Nunnery was severely beaten and tortured by pounding her with iron rods, kicked and punched indiscriminately for staging a peaceful solo protest in Kardze County. In order to secure her release, more than two hundred nuns staged a peaceful protest but they too were meted out with brutal crackdown by the Chinese security forces by pounding with electric prod, kicked and punched, injuring scores of them.
In yet in another incident, three monks from Drango County in Kardze “TAP” were brutally crushed by the security forces for staging a peaceful protest in front of the County government headquarters that they were seriously injured from used of brutal force by security forces. One of them, Tsewang Dakpa, a 22 year old from Jangtha Township, Drango County, in particular sustained multiple and severe injury that eyewitness recounted slight chances of his survival. There were even rumour of Tsewang Dakpa’s death from torture he suffered and it could not be ascertained even today.
Thabkey, a 30 year-old monk of Labrang Monastery, arrested along with seven other monks who defiantly briefed a group of foreign media personal on a government managed tour in Labrang, was released after several days’ detention. Thabkey was released in a mentally unstable condition with bruise marks all over his body from severe beatings in the police custody.
Torture and ill-treatment being a regular feature in the Chinese administered prisons and detention facilities, the Centre is highly concerned about the well-being and safety of the political prisoners and detainees involved in political activisms upon whom the worst of torture is afflicted. It is important to note that torture is now considered a peremptory norm of international law, which means that its prohibition is absolute. International law states clearly that there are no circumstances under which torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment can be justified. Article 2 of CAT unequivocally states that:
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture”
However, electric prod, violent beating, pricking cigarettes on the face, beating, hand or thumb cuffs, feet manacles, aerial suspension, exposure to extreme temperature, long period of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced labour and forced exercise drills are few of the commonly used techniques employed by the Chinese authorities to defeat the nationalist spirit of the Tibetans and to break down individual’s personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. A subtle form of mental torture is being used on former political prisoners in Tibet. Life after prison for these prisoners are made extremely difficult as they are denied readmission into their monastery or nunnery, socially ostracized, are constantly harassed by officials and have no prospect of leading a normal life and therefore, many escape into exile for freedom and start a new life. Notwithstanding the increasing reports of torture and ill treatments, intimidation and human rights violations have taken a new, subtler and covertly violent form which has enacted a tangible climate of fear in the Tibetan population.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) signed the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment on 12 December 1986 and ratified the convention on 4 October 1988. The Chinese constitution does not contain an express prohibition of torture. The relevant provisions of the constitution in this context are Article 37 and 38 that protect the personal dignity of Chinese citizens. Chapter two of the constitution of the PRC covers several fundamental civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights but contains no explicit prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Although PRC outlawed certain forms of torture in the revised Chinese Criminal Procedure Law that came into effect in 1997, not a single change has been made to criminal or criminal procedure laws. Despite UN Special Rapporteur recommendation for changes in it’s 2006 report, such changes have gone unimplemented. Necessary changes would includes the provision of the comprehensive definition of torture in line with article 1 of the Convention against Torture and the adoption of fair trial guarantees as provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which PRC is a signatory.
In view of the current human rights situation in Tibet, TCHRD urges the government of the PRC to implement the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to eradicate torture and “to ensure torture survivors’ right to full reparation with special attention to medical and psychological needs”. And thoroughly investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of abuses when those abuses can be proven. The PRC should eradicate the widespread culture of impunity and perpetrators of gross human rights abuses should be brought to justice. The Centre also urges the international community to pressure the PRC to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment