Dharamshala: The 10th of December every year marks the International Human Rights Day that commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 by the United Nations, a landmark document that declares entitlement of inalienable rights without conditions to everyone. For Tibetans and the others oppressed under the occupation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the International Human Rights Day is yet another solemn reminder of Beijing’s authoritarian rule, threatening their fundamental rights and basic freedom on a daily basis.
China, as a member of the UDHR drafting committee and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is undoubtedly obligated to adhere to the essence of the UDHR which is to protect, promote, and respect human rights, without distinction of any kind. However, the Xi Jinping-led PRC government continues to implement repressive and discriminatory policies against the Tibetan people in Tibet resulting in religious repression, language assimilation, cultural suppression, economic marginalization and environmental destruction.
From the fatal mismanagement of Covid pandemic under the Zero-COVID Policy to the reports of China’s forced collection of DNA samples of Tibetans including children as young as 5 years old, and the vast network of “colonial” boarding schools targeted at eradicating the use of Tibetan language and culture, the rampant human rights violations in Tibet remain largely unchecked and unchallenged by many governments and the international community.
One of Beijing’s most concerning policies in recent times is the “colonial” boarding schools for Tibetan children, as exposed in a report released by the Tibet Action Institute in 2021. An estimated 800,000 to 900,000 Tibetan children aged 6 to 18 and another 100,000 preschool children aged 4 to 6 are forcibly enrolled in these schools. Separated from their families and communities, these children are taught only in Mandarin Chinese language and isolated from their cultural and religious traditions for an extended period of time. The Chinese authorities closed a number of Tibetan schools in order to force parents to send their children to such boarding schools. On an individual level, these Tibetan children are subjected to mental and emotional trauma as contact with their parents and families are restricted. On a larger scale, these boarding schools not only endangers the Tibetan language and culture but also disregards multiple human rights instruments including the Rights of the Child.
According to reliable exile media reports, Chinese officials unfairly arrested and detained at least 94 Tibetans in 2022. Among them, Chinese courts sentenced 14 Tibetans to prison terms ranging from two years to fourteen years on trumped-up charges of “inciting separatism”, “endangering state security”, and “leaking state secrets”. Without concrete evidence of crimes, such sentences raise serious questions about the right to a fair trial and the right to present defense to an impartial judge. This year, at least five Tibetan political prisoners had died as a result of torture bringing the total amount of torture deaths to 55 since 2008. The PRC government must release all detainees who are arrested and sentenced wrongfully for exercising their inborn rights throughout China and in occupied areas.
With no sign of respite for the Tibetans or any improvement of the situation in Tibet, the self-immolation protests continued in 2022 with two confirmed reports. Tsewang Norbu, the popular 25-year-old Tibetan singer self-immolated in Lhasa in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region on 25 February while the 81-year-old Taphun self-immolated in front of a police station in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) County incorporated into Sichuan Province on 27 March to protest the Chinese government’s repression. Both of them succumbed to their injuries, bringing the total number of self-immolations in Tibet to 157 since 2009. The Chinese government must address the protesters’ call and demand for freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.
As the PRC government continues to arrest and sentence Tibetans for exercising their fundamental rights, we will profile a Tibetan political prisoner each week to highlight their cases. Hundreds of Tibetans continue to languish in Chinese custody even to this day, including the 11th Panchen Lama Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Trinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo (popularly known as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima) who is still under enforced disappearance even after 27 years. We hope the weekly Tibetan political prisoner’s profile will serve as a reminder to the Chinese government of its international human rights obligations and that it is high time it put an end to the continued human rights violations in Tibet.
The egregious violation of human rights by the PRC government in the occupied territories of Tibet, East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, and Hong Kong, completely deviates from the UN principles of freedom, justice, and peace that ought to underpin every individual’s dignity and rights around the world. China must also adhere to its own Constitution and the regional autonomy law. China must also uphold its international obligations that they have signed and ratified.