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

Annex II.4
International Fellowship of Reconciliation: Violations of human rights in Tibet: a social and cultural perspective [p.44]

1. The aim of this note is not to catalogue the on-going repression which is evident from reading the yearly reports of the Special Rapporteurs. Rather we wish to put these repressions and violations of human rights into a wider socio-political perspective and to highlight the danger to the very identity of the Tibetans as a people and as a distinct culture.

2. Although we will stress the current situation, it is useful to have a few reference points on the evolution of the historical situation in Tibet:

(a) 1950-1959: A period from the entry of Chinese troops into Tibet to the exile in India of the Dalai Lama and some 100,000 Tibetans including many of the most advanced monks and teachers.

(b) 1959-1965: In 1959, the Dalai Lama, conscious that he was no longer able to protect the people through his presence, fled to India. There followed a period of "Democratic Reforms" during which there was widespread destruction of monasteries; monks and nuns were forced to return to civil status. Economic and social policies were imposed from the central Chinese authority with no consideration for local conditions. Ecologically unsound policies were imposed, leading to widespread famine. In 1965, the Tibetan Autonomous Region is created. The TAR is the area that is historically central Tibet. Other Tibetan-majority areas are attached to the contiguous Chinese provinces.

(c) 1965-1976: The "Cultural Revolution" takes place in China and Tibet.

(d) 1980-1986: Dawn of a period of economic and social liberalization with emphasis on economic development. Chinese from other areas come (or are sent) to Tibet looking for economic opportunities. This period creates problems of economic domination of Tibetans by non-Tibetans, but politically there are some improvements.

(e) 1987-1991: There is a "Conservative" backlash with a crackdown on religion in Tibet. There is an increase in ideological propaganda attacking "Bourgeois liberalization" in Tibet> In March 1989, martial law was imposed from Beijing. Although the martial law was lifted in May 1990, the military has attempted to consolidate its politics in the field of culture, religion, education, security and policing despite its inability to improve the economic and social conditions of the Tibetan people.

3. The implementation of repressive policies concerning religion varies in degree depending largely upon geographic factors. In remote rural areas there is less social and political control than in Lhasa and other centres. We can divide the analysis of repressive policies on religion into two: those concerning monasteries, monks and nuns and those concerning lay people.

4. Historically the monasteries of Tibet have been the centre of political, cultural and religious values. The monasteries encompassed the teaching of literature, art, drama and music. They were the nation's schools--a system of primary to higher education with an emphasis on philosophy, metaphysics, logic but also medicine and astrology. Monks were looked upon as guides for spiritual development and human happiness. Historically certain monasteries, especially those around Lhasa, had political influence and large land holdings. Thus the monastic system was considered by the Chinese as a principal support of "the old system" and was largely dismantled during the "democratic reform" period 1959-1965 and during the most violent phase of the "cultural revolution" 1965-1973.

5. In 1980, Hu Yaobang, then General Secretary of the Communist Party, visited Tibet and publicly recognized part of the devastation the Chinese policies had wrought on the area. There followed in 1982 the writing of a new Constitution of China which protects "legitimate religious activities" and prohibits the State from "forcing anyone to believe or not believe in religion". During the period of 1980 to 1987 there was a slow but carefully watched revival of the monastic system. Lay people and monks worked together to rebuild destroyed monasteries and temples. Some religious art was returned; some religious texts were published. The revival was under the close control of the Religious Affairs Bureau, which is the principal government organ for administering religious policy in China and Tibet. The monasteries themselves are under the control of Chinese-created "Democratic Management Committees"--replacing the historic monastic hierarchy under an abbot.

6. This revival of religious activity still fell far short of internationally recognized standards. Thus in 1985 International Fellowship of Reconciliation began to raise the shortcomings in the Commission on Human Rights but called for the Commission to request the Advisory Services of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights to help the Chinese Government to define policies and practices in Tibet which would have led to meeting the international standards. Unfortunately, no action was taken by the Commission in this period which, we see with hindsight, was a period with a relatively liberal policy when such advisory services might have been accepted.

7. With the conservative-military backlash, the policy on religion has hardened. Monks and nuns have been expelled, from their monasteries or have been arrested and kept in prison without trial. The monasteries, through a lack of qualified teachers (many were killed or fled to India), are not in a position to play the cultural and moral role which they did in the past. What makes the situation particularly tragic is that there has been no secular replacement of the monastic educational system. The current secular educational system primarily serves Chinese living in Tibet, and Tibetan culture is treated as folklore without value in a modern society. No alternative secular or acceptable civic values are taught. Thus there is a real danger of a moral breakdown, especially among the young.

8. Monks and nuns have played a leading role in the defense of human rights in Tibet. They have initiated almost every nonviolent demonstration in Lhasa since September 1987, and their woodblock printing presses have produced some of the most important independence literature. Thousands of lay Tibetans have joined them in the major demonstrations reflecting the fact that the movement for human rights in jointly led by the monastic and lay communities. The more persistent the movement for human rights has become since autumn 1987, the more intense has been the government resolve to eradicate all signs of Tibetan nationalist sympathy.

9. It is often said that freedom of religion in Tibet consists of the freedom of lay people to perform a variety of ritualistic observances and that the restrictions are aimed at the monks and nuns. However the restrictions on lay people--the great majority of Tibetans--strikes at the heart of Tibetan culture. The Tibetan religion is characterized by a vast array of rituals which are utilized in many ways, on many levels, and for a wide variety of practices. To enliven and empower these rituals, deep wisdom and expert guidance are essential. Otherwise, the rituals and practices can collapse into superstition. The wisdom and guidance are personified in the advanced lamas. By obstructing genuine transmission of knowledge, the Chinese are severing the root of the Tibetans' spiritual wisdom and energy without which the infrastructure will become withered and impotent.

10. Currently teaching, i.e., the analysis of religious texts, is prohibited outside of religious sites. Yet traditionally, Tibetans would receive teachings in their homes or in public places other than monasteries. Without the thorough and careful instruction available from skilled teachers in the more profound aspects of a ritual, ordinary practices of religion such as the recitation of mantras (sacred words or sounds), circumambulation of religious monuments, prostration, and the turning of prayer wheels can degenerate into repetitive but meaningless actions. Birth, marriage and death in Tibetan society were traditionally marked by elaborate rites for which monks were employed. Such rites were considered important to the future state of the persons involved. There is a real danger that for lay people the ritual and symbols of religion survive, but the substance is gone. The effect is to make Tibetans look like a backward, superstitious people, bowing down in inherited faith to images which have lost their meaning.

11. For a living religious tradition to evolve, to meet the needs of a fast-changing world, there must be freedom, freedom to discuss, to question, to find new approaches to essential questions. Religious liberty can only go hand in hand with the freedom of expression, the freedom to publish, the freedom to meet and discuss a wide range of options for the future.

12. As a movement based on spiritual insights, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation is convinced of the need to liberty so that the most profound truths of religious traditions can come to the fore. We believe that such liberty will be of benefit to all. It is the duty of the Commission on Human Rights to help all States develop this world society of dialogue, of the investigation of ideas, of understanding and cooperation.

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

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