Legal Materials on Tibet
United Nations

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

Annex II.5
5. International League for Human Rights: Human Rights Violations in Tibet [p.46]


1. In this submission, the International League for Human Rights summarizes its concerns relating to the human rights situation in Tibet, focusing in particular on patterns of arbitrary arrest and detention, the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and coerced sterilizations and abortions.


2. Following a seven-year period of liberalization beginning in 1980, human rights conditions in Tibet deteriorated markedly as Chinese authorities moved to crush a resurgence of nationalistic demonstrations beginning in September 1987. Government officials have responded to this renewed pro-independence activity with what one Chinese official is said to have described as a policy of "merciless repression".

3. Dozens of demonstrators in Lhasa, the capitol of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), were killed by security forces during several pro-independence demonstrations in 1987, 1988, and 1989. In a number of cases, these killings were carried out against entirely peaceful demonstrators without warning and without provocation. In March 1989, troops of the People's Armed Police reportedly fired without warning at unarmed demonstrators and, during subsequent periods of violent unrest, at bystanders and local residents. Between 70 to 150 Tibetans were killed in these incidents, according to private estimates. No independent judicial inquiry has been conducted into these killings, and the findings of any official inquiry that may have been undertaken have not been published.

4. On 8 March 1989, following three days of demonstrations protesting Chinese rule of Tibet, martial law was imposed in Lhasa and surrounding areas. The official justifications for imposing martial law were "to safeguard the unity of the motherland, ensure the safety of citizens and personal property and protect public property from violation." In the period immediately following the imposition of martial law, more than 1,000 people are believed to have been detained in Tibet.

5. Although Martial law was lifted at midnight on 30, April 1990, Chinese authorities have continued to use harsh measures to suppress dissident activities in Tibet, including:

(a) The arbitrary arrest and detention of an estimated 100-200 Tibetans, including children, Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay people;

(b) Torture and other harsh treatment of Tibetans detained on political grounds;

(c) The trial and sentencing of some individuals under procedures that fall short of international standards of due process, and the assignment of larger numbers of individuals to detention for lengthy periods without charge or trial because of their advocacy of Tibetan independence; and

(d) Censorship of the news media; restrictions on Tibetan's speech including with foreigners; and the denial; of access to information from independent sources.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

A. Arrest and detention on the basis of non-violent activities

6. Between three to four thousand Tibetan nationalists are believed to have been detained since September 1987. Most Tibetan political prisoners are imprisoned because of their advocacy of Tibetan independence from China or for proclaiming allegiance to the Dalai Lama. The majority of those arrested whose charges have been published by the Chinese Government have been detained for non-violent activity in support of Tibetan independence, such as "splittist" activities, "disseminating counter-revolutionary propaganda," or participating in "underground reactionary organizations." The longest prison sentences imposed for purely political offences--ranging up to 19 years--have been rendered against persons accused of these offences.


7. Many others have been detained because of their participation in pro-independence demonstrations. On 17 April 1991, the official New China News Agency (Xinhua) reported that 1,025 individuals in Tibet had been arrested during pro-independence demonstrations since 1987. Of this group, 807 were released "within legal detention time," according to the agency, while 218 were either sentenced by courts or "sent to receive re-education through labour," an administrative sanction (see paras. 24 and 25). Unofficial reports put the number of detention at least twice as high as the official figures.

8. Although some of those arrested have been charged with committing violent acts against security forces or government property, many have been detained solely on the basis of peaceful participation in demonstrations. Further, a number of allegations about the use of firearms by Tibetans protestors appear accusing Tibetans of using guns during demonstrations on 5 and 6 March 1989 have been contradicted by independent reports. In January 1988, the Chinese Government told the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions that, during a demonstration on 1 October 1987, "some rioters had snatched guns from public security officers and fired into the crowd ... neither fired nor counter-attacked." But according to eyewitnesses, only the police had guns, and they killed the demonstrators. The Government of China's initial allegations were implicitly withdrawn in March 1988. In a statement before the commission on Human rights, a Chinese representative said that, "at about 11 o'clock policemen were forced to ... fire into the air ... Three people died of bullet wounds."

Recent detention

9. Detention of Tibetan because of their peaceful participation in demonstrations and other non-violent political activities continues. At least ten protest incidents were reported to have taken place in August-September 1991, and at least 28 individuals reportedly have been arrested as a result of their non-violent participation in these protest activities. For example, on 4 August 1991, Kelsang Phuntsog, a monk from Sera, was arrested when he began to hand out leaflets in the alleyway that encircles the main temple in Lhasa; the leaflets called for Tibetan independence and for human rights for Tibetans. On 18 August 1991, five nuns from the Chubsang Nunnery who participated in a demonstration near the temple were arrested. The nuns--Tsultrim Sangmo, age 22 from Meldro Gyama; Ngawang Youdron, age 23 from Toeling; Ngawang Tseten from Nyethang; Gyaltsen Ngodrup, age 24 from Lhasa Phunkhang; and Gyalsen Damchoe, age 22 from Penpo Lhundrup or Phenpo Phomdo--reportedly remained detained in Gutsa prison as of October 1991. On 4 September 1991, two monks and four nuns staged demonstration near the temple; the monks, leading the demonstration, carried a Tibetan national flag. Although the nuns escaped arrest, the monks (Phuntsok Tsering, 22 years old, and Phuntsok Samten, 23 or 24 years old) were arrested by Public Security Bureau officers. On 10 September 1991, six monks from Drepung monastery, ranging in age form 16 to 19 years old, staged a demonstration in Lhasa, carrying a Tibetan flag. Public Security officers arrested two of the demonstrators on the spot, and reportedly apprehended four more later that night. Six monks form the Drepung monastery were detained as a result of their participation in a demonstration in Lhasa on 14 September 1991, and five monks were arrested because of their participation in a demonstration in Barkor square on 27 September 1991. As elaborated below (see paras. 28-32), public security forces have used extreme violence in effecting some of these arrests.

B. Legal framework for arbitrary arrest and detention

10. There had been no official announcement of formal charges against most of the Tibetans arrested during demonstrations and for other political activities, and numerous persons are detained without recourse to formal criminal procedures (see paras. 24 and 25). Many of the individuals detained appear, however, to have been arrested pursuant to provisions of the 1980 Chinese Criminal Code--which apply in the TAR, as throughout China--that provide a legal basis for imprisoning individuals for the exercise of internationally-protected rights to freedom of expression and association, such as the provisions establishing crimes of "counter-revolution." These individuals appear to have been accused of one or more of the following illegal acts, according to reports from former prisoners of questions asked by interrogators: (a) "printing leaflets"; (b) "forming counter-revolutionary organizations"; (c) "spying/passing information to the enemy"; (d) "criticizing the Party while speaking to foreigners"; (e) "encouraging reactionary singing"; (f) "hoisting Tibetan flag/demonstrating"; (g) "damaging property during a demonstration. " While many of these charges have been brought against participants in demonstrations, some have been brought on the basis of private forms of expression, such as conversation or private correspondence, about political issues or about the detention of others. Such forms of expression may be punishable under provisions of the Criminal Code on "counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation."

11. The Government of China's rules of criminal procedure contain numerous provisions that violate international standards of fair judicial process. Further, procedural protections afforded by law have frequently been disregarded in practice. In Tibet, these abrogations of domestic legal guarantees have occurred by three principal means: (a) abuse of the protections existing in the formal criminal process; (b) suspension of some of these protections during the period of martial law; and (c) circumvention of procedural protections by use of administrative, "non-criminal" sanctions.

Arrest and preventative detention

12. Under the 1979 Arrest and Detention Law and the 1980 Code of Criminal Procedure, public security authorities may hold someone suspected of a criminal offence in preventative detention for up to ten days. When detaining someone in this manner, the public security officials must produce a warrant and notify the family or work unit of the detained individual within 24 hours of the reasons for detention and the place of custody. But the law allows the authorities, at their discretion, to dispense with such notice when "notification would hinder the investigation or there is no way to notify." By law, a detainee must be released after 10 years unless the public security authority has received a formal arrest authorization from the procuracy, in which case it may formally arrest the suspect under production of the arrest warrant.

13. The overwhelming majority of Tibetans detained on political grounds since 1987 have been held for anywhere between several weeks and nine months, and have then been released without charge. In most cases in Tibet, families are not notified until many months after a relatives's arrest, and often receive no notice.

Pre-trial investigatory detention

14. By Law, a suspect should be held for a maximum of approximately six months between the time of formal arrest and the opening of a public trial. But the Chinese law allows a variety of extensions to this period, some of which are indefinite and can be authorized at the sole discretion of the investigating authorities (when, for example, cases are particularly "complex" or distances involved in investigating cases are especially large.)

Unfair trials

15. Although many Tibetans detained on political grounds are not formally charged or tried for criminal offences, Chinese authorities have brought a number of Tibetan political prisoners to trial since August 1989. These individuals have been denied internationally recognized rights to fair process. There is no known case of a Tibetan accused of political offences being acquitted.

A. Right to counsel

16. Under Chinese law, the right to be represented by a lawyer or other responsible person attaches only at the eleventh hour--one week, or in some cases, even less before the opening of the public trial. By this time, the prosecution has had a long period in which to build its case against the suspect; typically the verdict has essentially been decided; and the role of the defendant's representative is generally limited to arguing mitigating circumstances that might reduce the defendant's sentence.

17. Tibetan's are not, in any event, entitled to be represented by independent counsel. Virtually all criminal defence lawyers in Tibet, as throughout China, are employed by State legal advisory offices, and can exercise little independence of state policy in political cases.

B. Due process during trials

18. Chinese law does not establish a presumption of innocence. This principle, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 11 (1)) and other human rights instruments, is not recorded in the 1982 Chinese Constitution or in criminal legislation, though it is not necessarily rejected by Chinese jurists and legal officials. Police, the procuracy and the courts in Tibet apparently share a widespread belief that a person would not have been detained if he/she were innocent.

The "public" trial

19. Criminal suspects are entitled under the Chinese Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure to a "public trial". But in law and practice, the legal assurance of a public trial falls short of the standard required by international law. The Code sets forth several exceptions to the general assurance of a public trial, which can be readily used to keep politically sensitive cases out of the purview of public scrutiny. In practice, many trials are closed to the public. Further, when trials are not held in camera, attendance typically is limited to specially selected audience; no foreign observers are permitted to attend.

Martial Law Procedures

20. During martial law in Tibet, Chinese authorities abridged normal judicial procedures. The second Martial Law Decree issued in March 1989 instructed judicial organs to "make investigations of the crimes as soon as possible ... and give [p.cases] heavy punishment". They are to "handle cases without delay," in accordance with a 1983 Chinese law allowing for summary trial proceedings of those who "gravely endanger public security." This law shortens various times for the delivery of indictments, subpoenas and notifications, with the result that the already short seven-day advance notice of defence counsel before the start of a trial may be reduced to as little as one day. It also reduces the time limit for appeals against the death sentence from 10 days to 3 days.

Sentencing practices

21. There have been a number of unofficial reports of prisoners' sentences being increased while they are in custody. By law, sentences for prisoners may normally be increased only if new offences are committed or discovered during the prison term, and then only upon formal prosecution and trial in accordance with the Code and Criminal procedure. No information is available as to what procedure has actually been used in the reported cases. These include the cases of six prisoners involved in a political protest in Sangyip prison on 20 May 1991. The sentences of five of these prisoners (Wangdu, Lhakpa, Phurbu, Sonam Dorje, and Phurbu Tsering) are reported to have been increased from two or three to seven years each. The sentence of a sixth prisoner, Tendar Phuntsog, who is said to have presented a petition during the protest, reportedly was increased from three to nine years. In 1989 and 1990, the sentences of two prisoners in Drapchi prison, Tanak Jigme Zangpo and Lhundrup Kelden, reportedly were increased from 12 to 19 years and from three to nine years, respectively, because of "slogan shouting" in prison.

22. In several cases, defendant's pro-independence activities may have been a factor in their receiving sentences of execution. Two Tibetans were executed shortly after a mass sentencing rally of 24 September 1987. Although the government described the two as common murderers, many Tibetans believed that they were political activists executed in response to the Dalai Lama's unveiling of the "Five Point Peace Plan" in Washington, D.C. three days earlier. Two other prisoners, Migmar Tashi and Dawa, were executed on 17 May 1990 for organizing a prison escape and because they "resist reform," according to official published accounts. But the procuratorate's indictment, which was not published, emphasized the political activity of the defendants, and said that they had carried out pro-independence activities within the prison. No actual escape or attempted escape took place, and the executions therefore appear to have been carried out for political offences. Another alleged co-conspirator, Dhundup Tsering, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve.

Independence of Courts

23. Severe sentences for crimes based upon non-violent political activity, such as crimes of "counter-revolution", are one manifestation of a problem that pervades the administration of justice in China, and whose impact is particularly noticeable in political cases--the judiciary's lack of independence from the dictates of the Chinese Communist party. Although the Chinese Constitution states that courts shall be free from interference by "administrative organs, public organizations and individuals", none of these categories is interpreted to include the Communist Party. Many members of the judiciary are members of the Party and are therefore subject to party disciplinary control over their actions. Reports suggest that Party political-legal committees, generally consisting of the senior judge of the local people's court, a representative from the public security and the procuracy together with the local Party secretary, determined in advance the outcome of trials in cases of political interest. Despite some progress in the past decade in disassociating the Party from routine court decisions in ordinary cases, in cases of "counter-revolution" and other political offences, cases are routinely, decided in camera by Party committees before the trial even begins.

Administrative sanctioning

24. In addition to the formal process of arrest, investigation and trial under the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure Chinese authorities have at their disposal a complex parallel system of administrative detention, investigation and sanctioning. A major component of this system is "rehabilitation" or "re-education" through labour (loadong jiaoyang). This sanction should be distinguished from "reform though labour," which is used against persons sentenced under the formal criminal process. The rules governing "rehabilitation though labour" permit the sentencing of an individual to up to three years in a labour camp (extendable by one year) in a purely administrative proceeding dominated by the public security authorities, with no public hearing, no right to counsel, and no limits on the period of investigation. Applicable legislation permits this sanction to be employed against "those counter-revolutionaries and anti-socialist reactionaries who, because their crime are minor, are not pursued for criminal responsibility..."

25. According to official Chinese sources, between September 1987 and 1991, 97 Tibetans, including many young nuns, were assigned without trial to "re-education though labour". Some detainees have been assigned to administrative detention for up to three years without charge or trial for peacefully advocating Tibetan independence.

Violations of physical integrity

A. Violence during arrest

26. Although there have been few reports of use of gunfire to suppress demonstrations since martial law was imposed, in recent months security forces in Lhasa reportedly have, on several occasions, used knives to stab peaceful protestors while effecting arrest. Reported examples include the stabbing of Kunkhyab, also known as Lobsang Topchu, on 26 May 1991 during a demonstration in Lhasa, and the killing of Pasang Tsering in 6 July 1991 during and unofficial celebration of the Dalai Lama's birthday.

27. Violence reportedly has been used against many of the participants in the pro-independence demonstrations staged during August and September 1991 (see paras. 6-11). An eyewitness to a demonstration in Lhasa on 14 August (see paras. 9) provided the following account: "The hands of [p.a monk and nun who were arrested] were folded all the way up their backs to the [p.fullest] extent, [p.with their] heads touching their knees. They were taken to the People's Armed Police station near the Panchen Lama shop end [p.of the Barkor Square]. As they got there each one was attacked by seven People's Armed Police officers. The nun suffered the worse and was beaten until she was [ an] unconscious state. The People's Armed Police, who were all Chinese, kicked them, used martial arts, and stamped their feet on them. The monk was in a bad state, but was a bit better than the nun." The monk was from Sera monastery and the nun, Phuntsog Tseyang, was from the Michungri Convent, according to Tibetan exile sources. Although similar methods were used to retrain demonstrators during riots in 1988, this is the first account of their use in a public place and during a peaceful incident.

27. During a demonstration by six monk in Lhasa on 10 September 1991 (see para. 9), one monk who was arrested on the spot reportedly suffered minor knife wounds on his face while being arrested, and another reportedly was stabbed in the back. Tibetan eyewitnesses said that public security officers "tried to stab the monks with their knives".

29. Six monks from Drepung Monastery who demonstrated for Tibetan independence in Lhasa on 14 September 1991 reportedly were severely beaten, punched and kicked while being arrest by officers of the Public Security Bureau. By some accounts, the monks were also stabbed. According to one report from Lhasa, "Two of [p.the monks] were severely wounded all over their bodies and over their faces". According to another account, "One monk had a big cut on his face and blood was coming from it". One week after the arrest of these six monks, unofficial sources reported that one of them had dies of head injuries on 17 September while detained in Gutsa prison.

30. On 27 September 1991, dozens of Public Security officials reportedly appeared to arrest five monks demonstrating in the Barkor Square. According to one report, the monks "were kicked, punched and dragged before being loaded into a delivery van".

B. Torture and other mistreatment of detainees

31. Torture is prohibited by law in China, which is also a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Nevertheless, there have been numerous reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment of Tibetans detained on political grounds. Torture and other types of mistreatment appear to be particularly common when such individuals are detained for several weeks or months without trial, and in the period prior to the laying of formal charges against prisoners who are prosecuted. In both instances, violence is used as an integral part of the interrogation process.

32. Tibetans have also reportedly been tortured or subjected to other form of physical abuse because of their non-violent conduct in prison, such a reciting mantras and protesting treatment of other prisoners. For example, two political prisoners a Drapchi Prison, Lobsang Tenzin and Tenpa Wangdrak, reportedly were severely beaten and placed in solitary confinement because on 31 March 1991 they handed a delegation of United States Diplomats, led by Ambassador James Li'l, a petition setting forth allegations of human rights violations in Tibet. Prisoners who protested the treatment of these two prisoners reportedly were severely beaten by security forces on 20, April 1991. A subsequent protest by political prisoners at Drapchi reportedly led to the severe beating of several of them on 27, April 1991, and to the solitary confinement of 16 prisoners, including those who had been beaten. One of these prisoners, Lobsang Tsondrue, a Tibetan monk who is over 70 years old, reportedly was beaten unconscious by security staff because of his involvement in the 27, April protest, and was also placed "in total isolation."

33. Frequently reportedy forms of torture and other mistreatment include severe beatings and application of electric shocks. Other reported forms of torture or mistreatment include hanging prisoners from their wrists, ankles or thumbs for periods of hours or even days; applying lighted cigarettes to prisoners; make prisoners stand for hours; and setting trained guard dogs to attack prisoners. There have also been several reports of involuntary extraction of blood from prisoners in Lhasa in November or December 1990; this practice reportedly has produced long-term illness. In February 1991, several individuals reportedly were still suffering from chronic shaking and required long-term hospitalization after their release from prison, apparently as a result of the involuntary extraction of blood.

Coerced abortions and sterilizations

34. While enforcement of national birth control policies varies widely within Tibet, restrictions on the number of children women are permitted to bear reportedly have been imposed with increasing frequency throughout Tibet, particularly in Lhasa and in Eastern areas of Tibet outside to TAR, since 1987. Information obtained by reliable sources indicated the coercive measures, including economic sanctions, have been used to compel women in Tibet to undergo abortions and sterilizations. The Chinese Government has denied that coercion is use to implement Birth control policies, and until 1990 insisted that no birth control policies were imposed by the Central Government in Tibet or other nationality areas.

A. Background

35. In Tibet, as throughout China, birth control policy and the extent to which it is enforced vary significantly among rural and urban populations, and with the degree of autonomy held by local officials. Until mid-1990, the majority of nomads and farmers in the TAR did not face restrictions on the number of children they were permitted. In the urban area of Tibet, where there are larger numbers of Chinese immigrants, there appears to be stricter enforcement of restrictions on the number of children that Tibetan women are allowed to bear. Sources indicate that the majority of Tibetan women in most urban areas have been permitted to have three children, while Tibetan cadres have generally been limited to two children. Chinese women in urban areas in Tibet reportedly are permitted to have only one child.

36. Despite these variations, the "one family, one child" policy promoted throughout China had also been promoted in Tibet by work units and birth control offices connected with the neighbourhood committees, and publicized though radio campaigns and posters. In May 1990, Chinese authorities announced that the national birth control and family planning policies would be implemented throughout the TAR. It is unclear, however, whether or to what extent this plan has been implemented.

B. Coerced Sterilization

37. Sterilization is reportedly used as a principle means of implementing birth control policy for Tibetan Women. While some women may have undergone sterilization procedures voluntarily, recently obtained testimony of female Tibetan exiles suggests that doctors in Chinese hospitals at times sterilize women who have come to give birth or the undergo abortions without informing them of the nature of the procedure. These indications are reinforced by testimony of several doctors in Chinese hospitals in Tibet. In recent interviews these doctors indicated that it is common practice for them to provide intra-uterine devices as a birth control method to Chinese women, while Tibetan women who practice birth control generally are sterilized, through tubal ligation.

38. Some Tibetan exiles allege that from 1987 to 1989, Tibetan women in several villages in Amdo were compelled by force to undergo sterilization or abortion by mobile birth control units. According to these sources, local police in some villages used physical force to bring recalcitrant women in for the procedure. This practice was used against Tibetan women who already had two children.

C. Coerced abortions

39. Tibetan women who become pregnant without permission face a range of sanctions designed to compel abortions. These penalties include fines that typically increase with each unauthorized birth, demotion or the loss of employment, and the loss of financial benefits. Tibetan cadres are reportedly fined significantly higher amounts than ordinary Tibetans; for example, in Rigong, cadres are reportedly fined nearly 2000 yuan for the first unauthorized child, while ordinary Tibetans are fined 200 yuan. In addition, the threat that penalties will be imposed against unauthorized children themselves further constrain women to undergo abortions. Unauthorized children may face severe sanctions: they may be denied residence cards necessary to gain access to schools, health care services and government employment, and the ration cards necessary to purchase foods at subsidized prices.

40. For many Tibetan women, abortions violate deeply held religious convictions and are an affront to cultural values emphasizing the importance of childbearing. Many are nonetheless induced to undergo abortions by the threat of harsh sanctions and pressure from representatives of the work units and birth control offices which may rise to the level of harassment or coercion. The severity of the coercive measure reportedly adopted by Chinese authorities to implement national family planning policy prevent women from exercising free and informed consent to abortion procedures. These measures effectively deprive women of the right to decide freely the number of children that they will have and violate their right to privacy. A number of the abortions reportedly take place in the third trimester, including terminations of pregnancies in the eighth and ninth months, indicating that the women undergoing these abortions did not do so voluntarily.

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

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