Intervention on Population Transfer in Tibet

UN Interventions

Provisional Agenda Item 10

Mr. Chairman:

1. The Preliminary Report of the Special Rapporteur on Population Transfer (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1993/17) recognizes that population transfers, including the implantation of settlers, affect the basic human rights of inhabitants and settlers. We commend the Special Rapporteur on his Final Report (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/23) and would like to comment on certain aspects of it, particularly as it relates to the large scale implantation of Chinese settlers into Tibet.

2. The Final Report, in the Draft Declaration, defines unlawful population transfer as ‘a practice or policy having the purpose or effect of moving persons into or out of an area, either within or across an international border, or within, into or out of an occupied territory, without the free and informed consent of the transferred population and any receiving population.’ The Final Report notes further that population transfer, including the implantation of settlers, is unlawful even when ‘subtle and incremental’ and even when carried on under the guise of economic development. Such is the case in Tibet. Since 1949, China has maintained a practice and policy of moving ethnic Chinese into occupied Tibet despite the strong opposition of Tibetans. Unfortunately, the transfer of millions of Chinese into Tibet has resulted in grave and tragic human rights violations for the Tibetan people.

3. The Tibetan people have a distinct language, culture, religion and history. The Final Report observes that a people with a right to self-determination have a right to control their economic, cultural and political destiny free of domination by implanted settlers. So too the Tibetan people. In 1987, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said: ‘For the Tibetans to survive as a people, it is imperative that the population transfer is stopped and Chinese settlers return to China. Otherwise, Tibetans will soon be no more than a tourist attraction and relic of a noble past.’ Indeed, only this week, Chinese authorities revealed an Orwellian campaign to redefine who the Tibetan people are by criminalizing the opinion that Buddhism has been a significant contributor to Tibetan history and culture.

4. Tibetans are now a minority within their own country. The Chinese population within historical Tibet, an area much larger than the Chinese-designated Tibet Autonomous Region, or TAR, has increased since 1949 from only a few hundred thousand in the eastern Tibetan provinces to at least 5.5 million, according to Chinese census figures and independent observations, and perhaps to as many as 7.5 million, according to the Tibetan Government in Exile.

5. In contrast, the Tibetan population, estimated to be about 6 million in 1949, today remains the same according to the Tibetan Government in Exile, though Chinese census figures and independent observations indicate a decline to about 4.6 million. In major cities and towns in particular, Tibetans are becoming invisible.

6. The Chinese government has long had a policy and practice of moving Chinese settlers into Tibet and in 1994 finally publicly acknowledged that fact. Policies and programs to encourage migration include offering wages and benefits to relocated workers that are far more generous than are available in China; providing financial incentives to attract Chinese entrepreneurs to Tibet; guaranteeing employment to family members of relocating Chinese; and designating Lhasa as a ‘special economic zone.’ Indeed, the government’s 1997 Plan for Tibet emphasizes economic development in part by attracting private entrepreneurs from outside Tibet, recruiting or involuntarily relocating Chinese ‘cadres’ and technicians to support projects, and further integrating the Tibetan economy with neighboring Chinese provinces.

7. China also encourages a large ‘floating population’ to settle in Tibet. The government has built housing, schools, hospitals and even shopkeepers’ stalls to support the Chinese migration. It has relaxed regulations to make it simpler to open a private enterprise in Tibet. The government has been building and improving major roads connecting Chinese provinces with Tibetan cities and it is now working on railroad connections.

8. There are also an estimated 200,000-500,000 Chinese soldiers in Tibet. The government encourages families of soldiers to relocate to Tibet and offers incentives to retired soldiers to settle in Tibet. Soldiers have also helped build roads, airfields, farms and factories that have drawn more civilian migration into Tibet.

9. The massive transfer of Chinese settlers and soldiers has had a devastating impact on the economic, social and cultural life — and rights — of Tibetans. Tibetan farm- and grasslands have been confiscated and incorporated into collectivized and communal farms. The rapid increase in settlers and soldiers lead to the first famines in Tibet’s history, with the death of over 340,000 Tibetans, because the land could not support the rapid increase. Ill-conceived efforts to boost productivity of lands suitable only for nomadic grazing or limited farming has resulted in widespread desertification.

10. Economic development projects have been carried on with primarily Chinese workers, even in unskilled positions. Tibetans are not being allowed to participate in the economic development. The economic development has also created opportunities for more settlers to relocate to Tibet.

11. Housing, schools and hospitals are primarily being built for the inflowing Chinese population, not for Tibetans. In Lhasa recently, thousands of Tibetans were removed from their homes and relocated to the outskirts of the city so that their homes could be razed to build housing for Chinese workers. Elsewhere, the concentration of new housing and services in the major towns and cities where they support the majority Chinese population has left these services unavailable to most Tibetans who live in rural areas.

12. Discriminatory policies and practices that accompany the population transfer extend to language and education. Tibetan children are not being taught their language or their history and culture in the schools. In fact, under new regulations, most Tibetan children will have to study in Chinese. Most business and government is carried on in Chinese.

13. Perhaps the most insidious practice to accompany the Chinese migration into Tibet is the restriction on child-bearing. Reports confirm the practice of coerced abortions and sterilizations of Tibetan women, sometimes through campaigns conducted village by village. A recent Tibetan refugee reports that abortion and sterilization campaigns were active in the Lhasa area in 1996. These measures, in and of themselves, violate the Tibetans’ human rights. In the context of massive settler implantation into Tibet, they appear to be an effort to further marginalize the Tibetan people.

14. Population transfer is also having an effect on the health of Tibetan children. Recent studies have shown that, while the height of children in China (excluding Tibet) has been increasing in recent decades, the height of Tibetan children is declining. This is most likely a result of chronic undernutrition, beginning with the undernutrition of pregnant women. The causes of the undernutrition are uncertain, but appear to include: Chinese regulations determining the amount of wheat to barley planted (barley is the traditional Tibetan crop); Chinese regulations forcing Tibetans to sell food crops at controlled prices, leaving few crops with which to barter for meat (a traditional source of food) and little cash with which to buy food; and the introduction by settlers of ‘status foods’ (e.g., canned goods, candy, soft drinks) which are expensive and of poor nutritional value.

15. The Final Report notes that the implantation of settlers in pursuit of economic growth implicates rights set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which China has promised to ratify this year. Of particular note, according to the Final Report, is the right to self-determination guaranteed in those instruments; that is, the right of a people freely to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The massive population transfer into Tibet, with its accompanying economic and physical dislocation, discrimination, overburden on the fragile environment, exploitation of resources, restrictive child-bearing practices and threats to the physical health of Tibetans, is not just infringing on the Tibetans’ human rights, it is threatening the survival of the Tibetan people and culture.

16. The human rights dimensions of population transfer and the implantation of settlers raise complex issues, but the stakes in human rights terms are among the highest. We therefore strongly urge the Sub-Commission to pursue further the Special Rapporteur’s work by applying the principles outlined in his Reports to specific situations, including Tibet, and by developing further the Draft Declaration.