Tibetans, Buddhists, and Tibet supporters around the world mark 17 May 2022 as the 27th anniversary of the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama. Along with the Panchen Lama, his entire family as well as Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search committee to find the reincarnated Panchen Lama, were also abducted and disappeared. Therefore, this solemn event reminds us of the fact that the Panchen Lama’s disappearance remains one of the longest standing cases of enforced disappearance in the world today.
In 1995, at the age of six, the Panchen Lama, one of the most revered religious leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, was abducted by the Chinese authorities. Three days before his abduction, on 14 May 1995, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recognized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama. Since then he has remained unheard of and unseen by the world. This is a serious infringement of the right of the child to an “education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” as well as the right of the “parent to choose the kind of education that will be given to their children,” as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With the Chinese government’s political decision to kidnap a child, the Panchen Lama was also deprived of the proper religious education that he needed to guide the people of faith in the right direction.
The continued disappearances of the Panchen Lama, his family members and Chadrel Rinpoche is not only a violation of civil rights of individuals but also an infringement of the collective rights of the Tibetan people since the right to appoint a religious leader is recognised by the international law as an essential aspect of freedom of religion and belief. The Chinese government’s sham appointment of another boy as their own Panchen Lama serves as confirmation that it intends to interfere and manipulate in the selection of the next Dalai Lama.
Number of countries, parliaments and organisations, including the United States, Australia, the European Parliament, the French Parliamentary Friends of Tibet, and many others, immediately expressed their concerns following the Panchen Lama’s disappearance. Many issued resolutions and statements condemning China’s interference in Tibet’s religious affairs and the forced appointment of its own candidate to be the Panchen Lama. Since the abduction, the United Nations has repeatedly urged China to provide credible explanations on the whereabouts and wellbeing of the Panchen Lama but without any success.
Various governments, international organisations, civil society groups and human rights defenders continue to press for the release of the now 33-year-old Panchen Lama. The Chinese government must respect and uphold their international obligations through the numerous treaties they have signed and ratified over the years and also enshrined in their constitution. It is imperative that the Chinese government must immediately and unconditionally disclose the exact location and well-being of the Panchen Lama, as well as restore the Panchen Lama to his rightful place and provide him with proper traditional religious education, as befitting his position as a prominent religious figure. We also call upon the Chinese government to stop interfering in the religious practices of those living under its regime, including Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and Christians.
-Statement issued by the UN, EU, and the Human Rights Desk of the Department of Information and International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration.