In honour of the Tibetan prisoners who lost their lives at the hands of the Chinese police.
The UN has designated 26 June as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in commemoration of the 1987 adoption of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effecting functioning of the convention. Every member of the international community is bound by the international laws banning torture in any form, regardless of whether they have ratified the specific treaty that prohibits torture. Having ratified the convention in 1988, China is obliged to comprehend that its treatment of Tibetans and prisoners constitutes torture and a violation of a number of international laws that protect people’s fundamental rights. Still, torture persists throughout the world, especially in Tibet where it is endemic.
Torture is defined in the Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes … when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
In Tibet, the Chinese government continues to torture and ill-treat Tibetans accusing them of having endangered “national security” or “incited separatism” within the community. The prevalence of inhumane torture in prisons, detention centres and police stations in Tibet has resulted in not only the deaths of Tibetans, but also the encouragement of a practice that will likely be passed on through successive generations till Tibet completely succumbs to Chinese rule.
Chinese officials have an atrocious track record of using severe torture on prisoners while in detention and denying them medical care, causing health problems and exacerbating existing health conditions. As a result, many Tibetan political prisoners have been released from prison in poor health or on medical parole, with some becoming permanently crippled for life and others struggling to survive before ultimately succumbing to their injuries.
There are at least 50 known cases of torture-related deaths of Tibetans inside Tibet since the 2008 nationwide uprising against the Chinese rule. Nevertheless, given the Chinese government’s high restrictions on information flowing from inside Tibet, the actual figure would probably be much higher.
Until now, there has been no evidence of torture of Tibetan prisoners investigated in Tibet or that the Chinese authorities and police have been held accountable, as required under domestic and international laws. Compensation for injuries suffered during detention is extremely rare, due to the government’s unwillingness to investigate or outright deny cases of torture in Tibet, despite China’s domestic laws and the Convention against torture providing financial security to the victims of torture.
Additionally, the Chinese government conveniently refuses to allow UN mandate holders and Special Rapporteurs access to all three traditional provinces of Tibet to investigate the situation there on the ground. Eight UN mandate holders have visited China so far, but ironically most of them are associated with social and economic issues rather than civil and political rights. Those who were permitted access to Tibet were closely monitored, and tours were controlled at all times. As the result of China’s effective denial of access to areas under its control, it has been able to enact its extensive and systematic human rights abuses in Tibet with near-total impunity, including the use of torture and ill-treatment against Tibetans on a routine basis.
In recognition of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it is absolutely essential that the Chinese government abide by its international obligations and stop torturing prisoners, detainees, or any persons and instead treat them with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings as required by international and national laws. Additionally, it must carry out impartial investigations into all reports of torture and other ill-treatment so that anyone found responsible is brought to justice in fair trials and that reparations and redress are provided for victims and their families.
There has been a significant increase in the number of Tibetans who have died in custody or shortly after being released, often with incriminating signs of torture. In light of the much-restricted access to Tibet and the crackdown on information flows, it is extremely difficult to represent a comprehensive list of cases relating to Tibetans who have died in custody due to torture and other ill-treatment.
There have been at least 50 known cases of Tibetans dying of torture under Chinese rule since 2008, but few have been included in the report, while the rest is available in the annexure attached to the report.
A 19-year-old Tibetan monk named Tenzin Nyima died in January 2021 after being inflicted with injuries while in Chinese custody. The Chinese government reportedly released him on 9 October 2020 in very critical health. It was announced on 9 October 2020 that the Chinese authorities had summoned the now gravely-ill monk’s family to release him from prison. Various attempts were made over the next two months to treat Nyima’s injuries without success. According to the doctors, he was brought to the hospital too late, and his injuries had been inflicted for too long. He passed away in a grave state of comatose at the time of his death and had been declared incurable by several hospitals where he had been taken by his family.
As far as the Chinese government is concerned, Tenzin Nyima’s death has nothing to do with the Chinese government since he was already released from prison before he died. There were never any documented cases of officials being held responsible or compensations paid to the monk’s family.
Kunchok Jinpa, a Tibetan tour guide serving a 21-year sentence, died on 6 February 2021 in a hospital in Tibet’s capital Lhasa. Kunchok Jinpa was transferred from prison to a hospital without his family’s knowledge in November 2020. He died a few days later after his family learned he had been rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment. His family learned he had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was paralyzed in January 2021. On 8 November 2013, Kunchok Jinpa was arrested in Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, Central Tibet (Ch: Biru, Naqu, Tibet Autonomous Region), and later convicted of “leaking state secrets” after he shared information about protests and the local environment with foreign media, including social media. In the past, there had been no news of his whereabouts, and until now, there had been no news of his trial or conviction.
After being transferred from police custody, Lhamo, a Tibetan herder from Driru county, Nagchu Prefecture in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), died in a local hospital in August 2020. The 36-year-old mother of three was detained in June 2020 and accused of sending money to family members or Tibetans in India. She was in good health before her arrest. In August, Lhamo’s family was summoned to visit her in hospital after another Tibetan, Tharpa, was also arrested on the same charge. She was badly bruised and unable to speak when they arrived. Two days later, she died, and her body was cremated immediately, which prevented a possible investigation into her death’s circumstances. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent monk and community leader who died in prison in 2015, has also not been returned to his family by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese government continues to ignore requests for an investigation into Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death in prison on 12 July 2015, despite evidence of torture while in prison.
Read more in the list here.
-Filed by the UN, EU and the Human Rights Desk, Tibet Advocacy Section, DIIR