A year after the Chinese government-led demolitions of Larung Gar, a Buddhist institute in Tibet, satellite images reveal the scale of the extensive damage caused by the destruction. Rights groups Free Tibet and Tibet Watch released a joint report this Thursday, which “captures the scale of destruction caused to” the Buddhist academy. The thematic report Destroying Heaven: China’s campaign of destruction at Larung Gar display satellite images obtained with the assistance of US-based satellite specialist Apollo Mapping.
Last year in June, the Chinese authorities ordered Larung Gar to slice its population of estimated 10,000 monks, nuns and lay practitioners by half and the demolitions were subsequently carried out in the following month. This led to the forced removal of at least 4,800 residents and dismantling of homes to a similar extent. Residents were neither consulted about the demolition plan prior to the government order, nor have they received any legal remedy or corresponding compensation.
“The destruction of Larung Gar causes a serious concern to us. The forced evictions of monks and nuns, the distress that led to the suicide of nuns, and dismantling of monastic dwellings stripped the Tibetans of their fundamental rights to exercise their religious and cultural rights. We hope the Chinese government will cease the demolitions of Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar and restore the right to religious and cultural life for Tibetans in Tibet,” said Sonam Norbu Dagpo, Secretary of International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration.
Earlier this year in February, a five-member delegation from Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) carried out a high-level advocacy campaign at the United Nations ahead of the 34th UN Human Rights Council session. The weeklong campaign pressed on four pertinent human rights issues in Tibet, including the wide-scale destruction of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar. A couple of weeks later, six UN Special Rapporteurs made public a joint communication sent to the Chinese government that expressed the mandate holders’ concerns over Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar and called on China to take prudent measures. December 2016 saw the European parliament passing an urgency resolution on Larung Gar. Of the forty clauses, thirty-one addressed the issue of Tibet and Larung Gar in the resolution.
The satellite images revealed this week gives a comprehensive overview of the destruction caused to Larung Gar, which is one of the largest and leading Buddhist academy in the world. The evicted monks and nuns were instructed not to return to Larung Gar, some were even warned against joining monasteries and nunneries back in their hometowns.
The removal of houses and residents, Chinese authorities claimed, was to prevent fire hazards and overcrowding. However, the local Tibetan residents retort that the demolition is to cater to the convenience of tourists. In May this year, the local county tourism office announced to temporarily limit the number of visitors to Larung Gar to 1,000 a day which indicates the popularity of the Buddhist institute among tourists. The sprouting of large hotels, building of roads leading to a valley top for tourists to take photos, new wide staircases with railings, and resources at hotels including oxygen supplies to help tourists acclimatize to the altitude all attest to the fact that tourist attraction is the motive behind the demotions. The demolition is viewed as the Chinese authorities’ attempt to “reduce the power of an influential and well-respected Buddhist institution,” says the new report.
Report filed by UN, EU and Human Rights Desk, DIIR