Legal Materials on Tibet
United Nations

Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

Annex II.3
Habitat International Coalition: Analysis of the Situation regarding the right to adequate housing in Tibet [p.42]

1. Habitat International Coalition wishes to submit the following information concerning the housing rights of Tibetans in Tibet. Sources of this information include in-depth legal research; interviews with recent refugees from Tibet carried out in Dharamsala, India; discussions with other Tibetans in exile; coverage of these issues by various United Nations human rights bodies and various independent fact-finding reports concerning Tibet.

2. The ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by China has, under the terms of article 5 (e) (iii), created legal obligations on behalf of the Chinese State not to discriminate with regard to the right to housing. During China's most recent appearance before the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in August 1990, Committee members repeatedly referred to the acute discrimination prevailing in the field of housing in Tibet and the fact that Chinese in Tibet had access to modern, better equipped housing than the Tibetans, who were relegated to the poorer areas with inadequate sanitation and drinking water supplies.

3. China's ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, similarly obliges the Chinese government to ensure the right to housing for rural women (article 14 (2)). Moreover, the placement of the right to adequate housing within instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements. The Declaration on Social Progress and Development and elsewhere reveal the universal character of this human right, and thus its relevance for the government of China.

Housing Rights in Tibet since 1960

4. Since the Chinese illegal invasion and subsequent colonization of Tibet in 1949-50, the occupying authorities have promoted housing policies with the dual purpose of socially controlling the Tibetans, while simultaneously substantiating their own domination of the previously independent nation of Tibet. During the early years of the occupation, every house in Lhasa owned or occupied by opponents to the Chinese takeover was systematically searched by members of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The families of were either evicted or forced to live with the livestock in the ground floor stables, with all possessions of any value requisitioned without warning or compensation. The unlawful expropriation of Tibetan homes was also commonplace. The Chinese often moved into the stolen homes of Tibetans, and began strengthening their control over the territory they had recently occupied.

5. In 1960, the International Commission of Jurists' report Tibet and the Chinese People's Republic, in addition to finding that the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination had been violated by the Chinese, also examined, inter alia, the housing rights situation there. The following quote from this report summarizes the situation in 1960 and responds to frequently heard claims that China is "developing" Tibet and therefore has provided positive changes in Tibetan society:

The tremendous housing construction in Lhasa is of some considerable significance. Many Tibetans had been transferred from Lhasa and Chinese were living in the Potala and the Norbulingka. This in itself indicates a sizeable influx of Chinese, since these were mainly functionaries, and the doubling of Lhasa's housing at a time when Tibetans were being sent or taken away is a clear indication that the housing needs were created by a growing Chinese occupation in Lhasa. The feverish building reported can, therefore, scarcely be regarded as an advance in the social conditions of the Tibetan people.

In more than three decades which have passed since that statement, the social conditions of Tibetans, including their housing rights have declined yet further.

Contemporary Housing Rights Issued in Tibet

6. Habitat International Coalition is of the opinion that the housing rights of Tibetans living in Tibet are systematically infringed upon by the Chinese government and its authorities. The violations of the housing rights are not isolated instances, but rather the result of policies and laws which comprehensively discriminate against the Tibetan people. The following evidence substantiates these claims.

7. Most urban areas in Tibet provide a stark contrast between new and relatively well-equipped quarters for Chinese immigrants and settlers and rundown, traditional housing within the segregated Tibetan sector. Whereas the provision of toilets, running water and electricity to Chinese households is routine, the vast majority of Tibetan homes within urban areas do not have toilets or running water. Some Tibetans have electricity, but this is often subject to selective rationing--almost invariable affecting the Tibetan quarters of towns.

8. In rural areas, numerous reports indicate that Tibetan homes and villages are systematically circumvented in the provision of water and electricity, with these services made accessible only to Chinese government offices, settlements and military installations. A recent report states that, clinics, schools, electricity and other social services are all available in Chinese population centers but are often far enough away from Tibetan towns to make them marginally relevant to the lives of most Tibetans. Tibetans who happen to live near Chinese settlements are casual beneficiaries of government programs which would not exist in their present state but for the Chinese population.

9. A 1991 Report by the Australian Human Rights Delegation commenting on the living conditions in Tibetan villages remarked that the poor appearance of Tibetan villages and settlements, such as Taktse Dzong on the way to Ganden (monastery) and around Gonhker Dzong near the airpost, naturally raised questions of community health and hygiene.

10. Although housing space within Lhasa has increased dramatically since the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Tibetans continue to face systematic discrimination regarding the allocation, habitability and cultural adequacy of public housing units. Chinese settlers are guaranteed a housing unit upon arrival in Lhasa. Similar rights are not available in practice for Tibetans.

11. Both the right to freedom of movement and the right to freely choose one's residence (inherent elements of housing rights) are frequently denied to Tibetans. Whereas major efforts have been made by public authorities to accommodate Chinese settlers in urban centers such as Lhasa, Chamdo and Shigatse. Tibetans wishing to move to these urban towns, often in search of employment, are prevented from doing so. In general terms, it is extremely difficult for Tibetans to obtain permission to change their place of residence within Tibet, and thus to partake in the economic changes that are occurring in Tibet.

12. Lhasa residents must carry identification papers at all times. Several reports have noted that this measure applies in practice only to Tibetans. For instance, on 21 March 1989, all Tibetans without residence permits were forcibly removed from Lhasa. There have been no reports of such evictions effecting Chinese settlers without residence permits.

13. Up to 10 percent of the remaining traditional Tibetan two-story stone housing, much of which is over 200 years old, was demolished by the Chinese authorities during the first part of the 1990 as part of a plan to lay out new streets in the Old City. Five large blocks of land to the north and east of the sacred Jokhang Temple were bulldozed in an effort to replace the traditional housing and streets of the Tibetan part of town with wide, straight and easily accessible roads for use by the Chinese and their military forces. These particular demolitions led to over 1,300 Tibetan families being forcibly rehoused into housing units wholly distinct from and incompatible with the cultural significance of traditional Tibetan housing. The Chinese authorities justified the evictions by claiming the old houses were "unsafe and unhygienic". The reasons why Tibetan homes have fallen into decay, and the absence of public support for maintenance, restoration or renovation of these dwellings, have not been addressed. The housing rights of Tibetans, including the right not to be arbitrarily or forcibly evicted from one's home against their will have clearly been infringed with this and other demolition programs. Consultations with those evicted, adequate warning periods, the payment of adequate compensation, negotiations about rehousing options and other components of housing rights have been ignored by the public authorities.

14. In mid 1990, at least 1,500 Tibetans from the Barkor area were living in temporary accommodation outside the town awaiting relocation in Chinese-built dwellings. Efforts to rebuild the Barkor area of Lhasa, following the widespread and severe demolitions of Tibetan dwellings has increased suspicions that crowd control now dominates the Chinese approach to town planning and housing policy in Tibet.

15. The Tibetan part of Lhasa now constitutes only 2 per cent of the total area of the town, which currently consists mainly of modern Chinese commercial buildings and dormitory blocks. Although only 40 per cent of Lhasa's population is officially admitted to be Chinese, the shrinking size of the Tibetan quarter lends graphic support to Tibetan claims that Chinese settlers are now a majority in the city. In Master Plans of Lhasa in the year 2000, the Tibetan quarter is totally absent, thus generating additional fears that the Chinese authorities intend to fully convert the Tibetan capital into a Chinese city.

16. In another area of infringement of housing rights, Tibetans have been subject to dramatic and excessive fines for having unauthorized persons residing in their homes. Fines have also been levied against Tibetans for building unauthorized rooms, even though these additions have often not been intended for human habitation. Reports assert that some families have been fined up to 600 yuan on these grounds--the equivalent of one year's rent or eight months' salary for an unskilled labourer. Homes of Tibetans have been subjected to random and sometimes daily searches by Chinese authorities; harassment of occupants by the police have been reported on a wide basis. Such realities must be examined in light of the right to privacy and respect for the home.

17. New Chinese housing projects have clearly been designed with social control as a priority objective. Traditional Tibetan housing, consisting of a walled courtyard surrounded by two-story residences, has been replaced with poorly-built, bastardized versions of traditional housing, complete with Tibetan facades, but cheap and culturally inappropriate; because of low-quality building methods, the construction of housing without the traditional thick walls has proven unsuitable to the cold climate of Tibet. The winding maze of small streets which characterized Lhasa prior to the Chinese invasion is disappearing. The courtyards are now only accessible through guarded gates, which are locked in the evening.

18. Based upon the information available, Habitat International Coalition concludes that the right to adequate housing, widely recognized under international human rights law and contained in treaties ratified by the Chinese Government, is subject to widespread and systematic violation by China in the occupied territory of Tibet. The prevalence of the following Chinese actions and policies against the Tibetan people in terns of housing rights substantiate this allegation:

(a) Racial discrimination in the housing sphere;

(b) The intentional denial of essential services;

(c) Selective housing investment which disproportionately benefits Chinese settlers;

(d) The unlawful expropriation of homes and property without compensation;

(e) Demolitions of housing;

(f) Forced evictions from dwellings;

(g) The imposition of unfair and excessive fines for groundless reasons;

(h) Illegal searches of homes;

(i) The general absence of dweller control of housing; and

(j) The overall decline in Tibetans' housing and living conditions.

Habitat International Coalition strongly encourages the Government of China to fully respect the housing rights of the Tibetan people.

Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

Tibet Justice Center Home | Legal Materials on Tibet | United Nations