Legal Materials on Tibet
United Nations

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

Annex II.2
Disabled People's International, Human Rights Advocates, International Federation of Human Rights, International Federation of Women Lawyers, Pax Christi, International Education Development Inc. and Liberation: The situation in Tibet: A survey of current human rights violations, including denial of the right to self-determination [p.37]

The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of the most pressing elements of the human rights situation in Tibet. It appears that the human rights situation in Tibet is closely linked to the Tibetans' quest for self-determination. It is apparent that the Tibetan people have a legitimate claim to self-determination, and that the human rights situation in Tibet will not significantly improve until the Tibetan people are accorded the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.

Tibetans today suffer serious, ongoing human rights violations which affect their lives as individuals and threaten their distinct cultural, religious and national identity as a people. Among the most pressing problems are population transfer; religious intolerance; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture; summary execution; and restrictions on access to information.

A. Ongoing Violations of Tibetans' Human Rights

1. Population Transfer

There are reports of transfers of Chinese settlers into Tibetan territory, raising fears that Tibetans will soon be an insignificant minority in their own country. This population transfer threatens the survival of the Tibetans' national, cultural and religious identity, and so constitutes a grave violation of their right to self-determination.

Thousands of civilian Chinese have moved into Tibet with the active encouragement of the Government of China. In all major Tibetan cities - which are the economic, political, and cultural centers of the distinct Tibetan people - Chinese now appear to outnumber Tibetans. In some of the most fertile agricultural areas, particularly those of the eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo, Chinese settlers have established farms and pushed Tibetans into less fertile and less accessible areas. The arrival of large numbers of Chinese settlers and troops has led to the parallel existence of separate Chinese and Tibetan quarters in the principal cities, with the Tibetan quarters noticeably poorer in quality of housing and social services. The population transfer has led to unemployment for Tibetans, regardless of their level of skills and availability to join the work force. There is extensive evidence that this population transfer has led to a de facto system of discrimination in such societal goods as housing, education and health care.

The Chinese government generally denies that it has a policy of population transfer. It has cited statistics to support the claim that few Chinese have moved to Tibet since 1950. These statistics, however, have in the past been misleading for two reasons. First, it must be remembered that by "Tibet" the PRC means that area which it describes as the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), a geographical area encompassing less than one-half of what Tibetans view as their country; by far the largest concentration of Chinese settlers live in eastern and northern Tibet, outside the TAR. Second, official statistics are believed to omit a large number of Chinese settlers, who have not registered as residents of Tibet, in some cases out of fear of losing privileges in China.

2. Religious Intolerance

Although Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, Tibetans are not free to practice and organize their own religion without government interference. It is true that China liberalized religious policies from 1980 to 1987, leading to a growth of Tibetan Buddhism after the widespread destruction of the Cultural Revolution. Today many outward manifestations of religious belief (such as flying prayer flags, spinning prayer wheels, and circumambulating holy places) are allowed. Nonetheless, as a matter of Marxist policy, the Communist Party remains opposed to Tibetan Buddhism, an antagonism which is reinforced in the case of Tibet by the key role Buddhism plays in the Tibetan nationalist and independence movements. The state today imposes a series of controls that threaten the survival of traditional Tibetan Buddhism.

The Chinese government regulates Tibetan Buddhism through a complex administrative web involving both Communist Party and government departments. At the top, the Party Central Committee and Politburo, along with the government State Council, sets religious policy. Administration of religious policy in China and Tibet falls principally to the Nationalities and Religious Affairs Commission (also known as the Religious Affairs Bureau). In the Lhasa area and other major towns of the Tibet Autonomous Region, each major monastery now has a Democratic Management Committee, composed of government-appointed monks, to implement religious and political policies and to assist the security police. This administrative web poses obstacles to the propagation and practice of Tibetan Buddhism in varying degrees, depending largely on geographical location of a particular monastery and the degree of political activity (or perceived threat of such activity) of the monastic community.

In Lhasa the Chinese authorities have allowed only certain teachers to give public teachings within monasteries and nunneries, subject to the current political climate. The Chinese have sought to exercise control over the selection of reincarnate monks, including the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, and to involve the Democratic Management Committees in the process of selecting abbots in the monasteries. While Tibetans are generally permitted to possess religious items, there have been attempts to prohibit dissemination of religious items from abroad, including photographs of the Dalai Lama.

Government interference in monastic affairs is most pronounced in the Lhasa area and in the larger towns of the TAR, while rural monasteries and nunneries far removed from towns and roads tend to receive far less attention from the state. Additionally, official policy toward monasteries in the Tibetan areas east of the TAR appears to have been far more relaxed, allowing relatively greater growth in monasteries, at least up to 1987. The state has taken over much of the administrative control of monasteries, including finances and education (schedule, curriculum, and discipline of monks and nuns). There is a shortage of students and of qualified teachers. In many monasteries there is insufficient time to engage in religious study.

While virtually all of Tibet's religious infrastructure was destroyed between 1959 and 1976, rebuilding of religious sites requires approval of the Nationalities and Religious Affairs Commission or other local official representative, and reconstruction appears to be tolerated rather than fostered. In the Lhasa area, since 1989, new construction is prohibited. The Chinese government has established obstacles to admission into the clergy, at least in the larger, urban monasteries, where novices must be screened for political background and must obtain permission from the state before officially joining a monastery. Larger monasteries are generally given quotas for novices, and since 1988, it appears that all monasteries and nunneries in the TAR have been barred from officially accepting any new monks or nuns. While traditionally monks and nuns could join monasteries at seven or eight years of age, Chinese law forbids induction of novices below the age of 18. The government also places restrictions on pilgrimages.

There is today a shortage of qualified teachers to replace those who were killed, or fled into exile, or were forced to renounce their vows, in 1959 and subsequent years. There is some hostility against bringing lamas from exile to teach in Tibetan monasteries. In some cases teachers from other Tibetan areas occupied by China will be allowed to teach in a monastery only for short visits. Moreover, in at least some larger monasteries, the Democratic Management Committees require so much daily manual labor that little time remains for serious study of Buddhist philosophy. On the other hand, monastic communities that avoid all political dissent may be rewarded with greater freedom to pursue monastic studies. In particular, since October 1989 the government has intensified interference with monasteries that have expressed opposition, even if only peacefully, to Chinese rule in Tibet. This has included surrounding three main monasteries in the Lhasa area with troops to confine monks to the premises and to restrict contact with outside activists.

3. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention, Torture, and Summary Execution

Tibetans are arbitrarily detained, tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody, and even summarily executed for peaceful protest against the occupation of Tibet by China. Tibetans have nevertheless increased the number and frequency of protest marches, demonstrations and other political activities espousing Tibetan freedom and human rights; there have been more than 60 demonstrations throughout all of Tibet in the last four years.

There is credible evidence that Chinese security forces have used excessive force in dealing with demonstrations. On at least six days since 1987, security forces have fired directly into crowds, killing and wounding Tibetans. Eyewitnesses report that on 1 October 1987 armed police fired into a crowd which had gathered in front of a police station in Lhasa, seeking the release of protestors who had been arrested for shouting independence slogans; at least seven Tibetans were killed. On 5 March 1988, it is reported, security forces fired into crowds of Tibetans in the course of a demonstration on the final day of the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa. Additionally, security forces appear to have implemented a strategy of lethal response where demonstrations were expected on 10 December 1988 and 5 March 1989 in Lhasa. During the 1988 demonstration planned to mark International Human Rights Day and the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, security forces opened fire without warning, killing two Tibetans and wounding several more. On 5 March 1989, police shot peaceful demonstrators, and on several occasions in the ensuing violence which spanned three days, they fired automatic weapons indiscriminately into crowds. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing snipers during this time firing at Tibetans from positions on the roofs of police stations. It is estimated that 80-150 Tibetans died from wounds received during these three days. These events indicate that security forces adopted a strategy of provoking demonstrators, allowing the protests to escalate, and then firing indiscriminately into the crowds of Tibetans.

Detainees have described torture by electric shocks administered to sensitive parts of the body such as mouths and sexual organs of men and women; sexual abuse of women, including nuns; hanging upside down or in the "airplane" position, suspended over burning chili peppers; hanging by the thumbs or other body parts; immersion naked in freezing water; and being set upon by prison dogs. Some detainees have been permanently maimed, and others have died, as a result of torture.

Of particular concern are reports that Tibetan children have been arrested and imprisoned or otherwise punished for pro-independence activities. For example, a 14-year-old boy named Lhakpa Tsering is reported to have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment for making pro-independence leaflets at his school. Additionally, Tibetan schoolboy Migmar is reported to have been arrested March 6, 1989 for taking part in a demonstration. Upon his release exactly one year later, he was informed that pursuant to official order he would not be allowed to return to school to resume his studies.

4. Limits on Access to Information

Although the right to receive and impart information is enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, China places severe restrictions on access to information in Tibet. The Government of China regulates the flow of information in and out of Tibet by closely supervising and restricting contact with foreign tourists, journalists and human rights workers (and sometimes completely closing Tibet's border to such visitors); punishing Tibetans for speaking freely with foreigners about forbidden subjects such as Tibetan independence; treating certain information-gathering as "espionage"; criminalizing political dissent and the expression of independence sentiments; and suppressing peaceful demonstrations with excessive, sometimes lethal, force. These practices violate the Tibetans' right to receive and impart information, as well as other key rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to enter and leave one's own country. So, too, it prejudices the right of the Tibetan people to participate in the decision-making process concerning the development and use of Tibet's natural resources.

B. Self-Determination for the Tibetan People

The United Nations has already recognized the right to self-determination of the Tibetan people in General Assembly Resolution 1723 (XVI), reaffirmed in Resolution 2079 (XX). In the case of Tibet, self-determination overrides other principles of international law, such as non-interference and protection of territorial integrity because, inter alia: (1)�Tibet is an occupied state under principles of international law; (2)�the Tibetan people are subjected to a form of colonial or alien domination; and (3)�as discussed above, the Tibetan people are subjected to continuing gross human rights violations under China's rule.

1. The Tibetans Are a Distinct People

The right to self-determination pertains to groups described as "peoples." While there is not as yet a universally agreed definition of a "people," we believe that under international law a people is identifiable both by the subjective perception of peoplehood, and by shared, objectively verifiable common characteristics, which may include race or ethnicity, language, culture, tradition, customs, or unique history. The Tibetan people satisfy these criteria. First, the history of relations between Chinese and Tibetans both before and after the occupation of Tibet in 1949-50 demonstrates a subjective perception of Tibetan peoplehood or national identity not only by Tibetans, but also by the Chinese. Second, the Tibetan people has objective characteristics of peoplehood distinguishing it from the people of China. The Tibetans inhabit a geographically distinct territory, the Tibetan plateau; their unique culture has existed and developed for centuries, subject to only occasional outside influences; they constitute a distinct racial or ethnic group; their language, part of the distinct Tibeto-Burmese group, differs from that of China in both spoken and written form; their religion, a specialized development of Mahayana Buddhism, is distinct from that of China; and the Tibetans have a separate history.

2. Tibet Is an Occupied Country

The right to self-determination indisputably belongs to countries that have been invaded and occupied by force. Despite China's claims in statements made to the United Nations, Tibet was an independent state in 1949, when the Chinese Communists sent a reported 80,000 troops to conquer Tibet, a peaceful country which maintained a standing army of approximately 8,000. Tibet at that time had long displayed the criteria of statehood, including its own head of state; flag; passports; army; systems of judiciary, post, and customs; taxation and monetary policy; its own effective government; and capacity to conduct its own international relations.

China's occupation of Tibet has long been a subject of international note and concern. In a recent document, the United States Congress concluded that "Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai, is an occupied country under the established principles of international law" (State Department Authorization Act, signed into law on 28 October 1991). In its resolution, the U.S. Congress found that Tibet "has maintained throughout its history a distinctive and sovereign national, cultural, and religious identity separate from that of China," as borne out by historical evidence including Chinese archival documents and recognition of Tibet by various other States. It is also to be noted that in August 1987, in a study prepared for the west German Parliament, its Scientific Research Service for International Law concluded that Tibet was an independent State at the time of its forcible incorporation into the Chinese State, and that China had not effectively acquired territorial title because of the prohibition, under international law, against annexation by force.

C. Tibetans are a People Under Colonial or Alien Domination

China's occupation of Tibet, which began in 1949, reveals many of the characteristics of a colonial relationship. Among these are: occupation through force by an occupying people that is ethnically, linguistically or culturally distinct from the occupied people; administration of the occupied territory by the colonial power; systematic discrimination against the occupied people; economic exploitation of those occupied; use of excessive force to stifle dissent; and deprivation of fundamental human rights belonging to a majority of the occupied people.

China maintains its occupation through a standing force reported to number up to 250,000 troops and paramilitary police. It is estimated that, since 1987, up to 4,000 Tibetans have been seized and interrogated; torture is routine, and there is credible evidence that many of those seized are tortured. Several Tibetans have reportedly been "disappeared" by the authorities. So-called "counterrevolutionaries" have been summarily executed publicly in the course of demonstrations and, in two cases since 1987, in prison. The Chinese employ a pervasive system of informers, creating an atmosphere of distrust in which Tibetan cannot trust Tibetan.

Chinese occupy most positions of real power in Tibet. The real power in Tibet appears to lie not with the government but with the Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army. Although Tibetans hold posts at various levels of government, they do not hold significant positions of power in the Chinese Communist Party or the Army. The Chinese discriminate against Tibetans through an informal but de facto class system; since the Chinese occupied Tibet, the Tibetan people have been treated as second-class citizens in their own country. The Chinese attitude towards Tibetans betrays a sense of racial "superiority," as is evidenced by repeated references to the "backwardness" of Tibetans, even in official Chinese government publications. Chinese settlers, whose movement into Tibet has caused international concern, are accorded special treatment. They receive favors and perquisites in housing, employment, ration cards, medical treatment and education. This inf