According to Norm Dixon, in pre-1950 Tibet "the concepts [of] democracy, human rights or universal education were unknown.".
Abuses of human rights in Tibet include freedom of religion, belief, and association. Specific abuses include arbitrary arrest and maltreatment in custody, including torture. Freedom of the Press in the PRC is still lacking, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. A series of reports published in the late 1980s claimed that China was forcing Tibetans to adhere to strict birth control programs that included forced abortions, sterilizations, and even infanticide.
According to a 1992 Amnesty International, judicial standards in China, including in Tibet, were not up to "international standards". The report charged the Chinese Communist Party government with keeping political prisoners, including the death penalty in its penal code, and for inaction in the face of ill-treatment of detainees, including torture and sometimes death. The status of religion, mainly as it relates to figures who are both religious and political, such as the 14th Dalai Lama, is a regular object of criticism.
- 1 Human rights in pre-1950 Tibet
- 2 Human rights in post-1950 Tibet
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
Human rights in pre-1950 Tibet
In the political debate regarding the nature of pre-Communist Tibet, Chinese sources assert human rights abuses as a justification for the Communist invasion. Sympathisers of Chinese government's position view the pre-1950's abuses as justifying the Communist regime in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Supporters of the Tibetan Government in Exile argue that the 13th Dalai Lama had already effected reforms which were ahead of the world at the time, and that further reforms were underway, and no outside intervention was justified.
The judicial system
According to Heinrich Harrer, who lived in Tibet from 1944 till 1951, there was no organized system of law courts in Tibet. The investigation of offences was entrusted to two or three persons of noble ranks, but corruption was very prevalent. If a defendant considered that he had been unjustly condemned, he was allowed to appeal to the Dalai Lama. If thus proved innocent, he would receive a free pardon, otherwise his penalty was doubled.
This contrasts the statements of the 14th Dalai Lama, in which "For many Tibetans material life was hard, but they were not the victims of desire; and in simplicity and poverty among our mountains, perhaps there was more peace of mind than there is in most of the cities of the world." Pre-1950 Tibet was certainly not an embodiment of perfect human society. But it was a peaceful state, and by no means, nearly as tyrannical as it is today under Chinese rule.
Crimes and punishments
A number of punishments that were enforced in traditional Tibetan society fall into the range of what may be regarded today as human rights abuses.
Whipping was legal and common as punishment in Tibet including in the 20th century, also for minor infractions and outside judicial process. Whipping could also have fatal consequences, as in the case of the trader Gyebo Sherpa subjected to the severe corca whipping for selling cigarettes. He died from his wounds 2 days later in the Potala prison. Tashi Tsering, a self-described critic of traditional Tibetan society, records being whipped as a 13 year old for missing a performance as a dancer in the Dalai Lama's dance troop in 1942, until the skin split and the pain became excruciating.
Harrer reports that crimes and offences were punished with special severity in Lhassa during the Losar Festival. On March 4 (or a date near to this), the city magistrate would hand over his authority to the monks, which marked the beginning of a strict and formidable regime. The monks were relentless judges and were accustomed to inflict fearful floggings, which occasionally caused the death of the victim.
Judicial mutilation - principally the gouging out of eyes, and the cutting off of hands or feet - which was formalized under the Sakya school as part of the 13th century Tibetan legal code, was used as a legal punishment until being declared illegal in 1913 by a proclamation of the 13th Dalai Lama. This is one of the practices that had been eradicated by the Dalai Lama's reforms.
Yet, incidents of mutilation have been recorded in Tibet in the period between the start of the 20th Century and the Chinese occupation. Tibetan communist Phuntso Wangye recalled his anger at seeing freshly severed human ears hanging from the gate of the county headquarters in Damshung north of Lhasa in 1945. The top level Tibetan official Lungshar's eyes were gouged out by direct order of the Kashag or Tibetan Government was carried out in 1934. An attempt was made at anesthetizing the alleged criminal with intoxicants before performing the punishment, which unfortunately did not work well. According to a secret 1960 PLA Tibet Military District Political Department report, between March 1959 and October 1960, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in Central Tibet alone.
Robert W. Ford, a British radio operator who stayed in Tibet from 1945 till 1950 and was sent by the Tibetan government to Chamdo in 1950, reported in his memoirs that "all over Tibet [he] had seen men who had been deprived of an arm or a leg for theft," adding that "penal amputations were done without antiseptics or sterile dressings."
In 1950, the six Tibetan border guards that had been involved in the killing or wounding of Frank Bessac's companions (one of them Douglas Mackiernan) as they were fleeing into Tibet from the Communist advance, were tried and sentenced to mutilation in Lhasa's military court: "The leader was to have his nose and both ears cut off. The man who fired the first shot was to lose both ears. A third man was to lose one ear, and the others were to get 50 lashes each." (The punishment was subsequently changed to lashings on Bessac's request).
Attempts at reform
This is acknowledged by Sir Charles Bell, a friend of the Dalai Lama's, with the reservation, however, that "the punishment for deliberate murder is usually so severe that the convict can hardly survive for long."
Also, historian Alex C. McKay notes that isolated cases of capital punishment did take place in later years, such as the death of one Padma Chandra and the execution of a youth involved in stealing the western Tibetan administrator's horse. McKay also stresses the fact that corporal punishment continued to be inflicted for numerous offences and often proved fatal.
The 14th Dalai Lama's brother Jigme Norbu reports that, along with these reforms, living conditions in jails were improved, with officials being designated to see that these conditions and rules were maintained."
Human rights in post-1950 Tibet
According to an Asia Watch Committee report in 1988, the question of human rights in a minority area of the People's Republic of China is inherently difficult to research and address. Official sensitivity around the Tibet issue compounds the problem. Government measures to prevent information about Tibetan protests and protesters from leaving China have hindered human rights monitoring organizations from providing an adequate account of protests and their consequences, according to the CECC.
The position of the Communist Party that any discussion of the issue by foreigners is "unacceptable interference in China's internal affairs" is itself an obstacle to scrutiny. The Chinese government has also linked negative remarks about human rights in Tibet with damage to Sino-American relations. This relates to questions about political prisoners, population transfer, and more, which are "hidden in secrecy," according to the report. Thus, gathering information on such subjects with regard to Tibet is a difficult undertaking.
Psychologist and writer Colin Goldner, writes that although human rights abuses carried out by the People's Liberation Army, especially during the Cultural Revolution, cannot be justified, but the pronouncements of Tibetan exiles cannot be trusted: "These are, if not totally invented out of thin air, as a rule hopelessly exaggerated and/or refer to no longer actual happenings. The contention of the Dalai Lama's exiled government that 'the daily life of the Tibetans in their own land' are dictated by 'torture, mental terror, discrimination and a total disrespect for of human dignity' is pure propaganda meant to collect sympathy points or monetary contributions; such accusations do not reflect today's realities in Tibet. Likewise, the accusations of forced abortions and blanket area sterilizations of Tibetan women, of a flooding of the land by Chinese colonists, of systematic destruction of the Tibetan cultural heritage do not agree with the facts."
Types of abuses
Human rights abuses documented in Tibet include the deprivation of life, disappearances, torture, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, denial of freedom of speech and of press and Internet freedoms.
The security apparatus has employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners, according to the U.S. State Department's 2009 report. Tibetans repatriated from Nepal have also reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and been forced to perform heavy physical labor. Prisoners have been subjected routinely to "political investigation" sessions and punished if deemed insufficiently loyal to the state.
According to a UN report Template:When, "The Chinese occupation of Tibet has been characterised by acts of murder, rape and arbitrary imprisonment; torture and cruel, inhuman and degraded treatment of Tibetans on a large scale.
The number of Tibetans killed after the Chinese occupation -- a period marked by torture and starvation -- now exceeds a million.
In her book “People who Count” (1995), Dorothy Stein indicates just how the deaths for which the Chinese are held responsible were arrived at by “Tibetan nationalists” (her words): “they are attributed to ‘figures published by the Information Office of the Central Tibetan Secretariat' in India.” "A letter to Tibetan Review by Jampel Senge (April, 1989, p. 22) says 'The census which resulted in the figure of 1.2 was conducted by the Government in Exile through exiled Tibetans who travelled to meet their relations, and through new arrivals from Tibet."
The figure of 1.2 million dead is challenged by Chinese demographer Yan Hao who claims that the methodoloy used by the TGIE is defective. “How can they come to these exact death figures by analysing documents,” he claims, “if they have problems in working out an exact figure of Tibet’s total population alive at present?” “How can they break down the figures by regions” “when they have a problem in clearly defining the boundary of the greater Tibet as well as its provinces?” To drive the last nail in the “physical genocide” coffin, Yan Hao stresses that “knowledge of statistics tells us that random sampling is necessary for acquiring reliable data in any surveys” and “those conducted entirely among political refugees could produce anything but objective and unbiased results.”
According to a document captured by the guerrillas fighting the Chinese army, 87,000 deaths were recorded in Lhasa between March 1959 and September 1960.
Regarding the purported secret 1960 PLA document with the figure of 87,000 deaths, Chinese demographer Yan Hao wonders why "it took six years for the PLA document to be captured, and 30 years for it to be published" ("by a Tibetan Buddhist organisation in India in 1990"), adding that it was "highly unlikely that a resistance force could ever exist in Tibet as late as in 1966."
The 10th Panchen Lama said in relation to atrocities by Chinese forces: "If there was a film made on all the atrocities perpetrated in Qinghai Province, it would shock the viewers. In Golok area, many people were killed and their dead bodies rolled down the hill into a big ditch. The soldiers told the family members and relatives of the dead people that they should celebrate since the rebels have been wiped out. They were forced to dance on the dead bodies. Soon after, they were also massacred with machine guns...In Amdo and Kham, people were subjected to unspeakable atrocities. People were shot in groups of ten or twenty... Such actions have left deep wounds in the minds of the people"
In "The Making of Modern Tibet", A. Tom Grunfeld observes that “in the years following the  publication of the LIC's report, the Dalai Lama, Purshottam Trikamdas and the ICJ" (International Commission of Jurists) "all claimed to have found proof of sterilization; yet they failed to produce a single person who could be clinically examined to verify these claims”
Since March 10, 2008, exiled Tibetan sources have documented that 228 Tibetans have died under the crackdown, 1,294 have been injured, 4,657 arbitrarily detained, 371 sentenced and 990 disappeared. Four Tibetans were executed in Lhasa on 20 October 2009, while the Chinese authorities confirmed only two. 11 Tibetans were sentenced to life imprisonment. In the majority of cases the defendants had no independent legal counsel and when a lawyer of choice represented the defendants, the authorities blocked representations either through intimidation or on procedural grounds.
In one case a Tibetan from Sichuan province, Paltsal Kyab, died five weeks after he had been detained by police in connection with the 2008 protests. His family was not allowed to visit him while he was detained, and received no news until being informed of his death. When claiming his body, family members found it bruised and covered with blister burns; they discovered later that he also had internal injuries, according to Amnesty International. The police told the family that he had died of an illness, though relatives claimed he was healthy when detained.
Infringements on freedom of religion
Tibetans in Tibet state that there are clear limits on their right to practice Buddhism. The most stringently enforced are the ban on public prayers for the 14th Dalai Lama. Also, permission from authorities is required for any large public gathering, Buddhist gatherings not exempted.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Yang Jiechi, told a press conference in March 2009 that the Dalai Lama is "by no means a religious figure but a political figure." Xinhua, quoting a Tibetologist, echoed this theme, referring to the Dalai Lama's efforts in establishing a government in exile, establishing a Constitution, and other things. Ending the "Dalai clique"'s use of monasteries for subversion against the state is a core part of the campaign that promotes the CCP's “stability and harmony in the religious field”. The state supervisory organ for Buddhism, the Buddhist Association of China, changed their charter in 2009 to denounce the Dalai Lama for agitating for Tibetan independence. The Central People's Government has asserted a right to approve the next Dalai Lama, according to "historical conventions" used in the Qing Dynasty since 1793.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported instances of "patriotic education" in 2005, from the testimony of "young Tibetan monks who escaped from Tibet". In them, monks were given political literature and a script to recite to County Religious Bureau officials when they were due to visit. They were instructed to practice denouncing the Dalai Lama as a "separatist" and to pledge allegiance to China, and were quizzed on the literature. Officials also extolled the monks to accept the legitimacy of Gyaincain Norbu, the government choice for 11th Panchen Lama.
According to the CECC, educational, legal, and propaganda channels are used to pressure Tibetan Buddhists to change their religious beliefs into a doctrine that promotes government positions and policy. This has resulted instead in continuing Tibetan demands for freedom of religion and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. In June 2009, a monastic official who also holds the vice chairmanship of the CPPCC for Tibet, told monks at Galden Jampaling Monastery in Qamdo that their freedom of religion was a result of the Party's benevolence. The TCHRD has claimed that Chinese authorities in 2003 threatened residents of a Tibetan-inhabited county with expropriation if they did not hand over portraits of the Dalai Lama within a month.
The CCP further increased its influence over the teaching and practice of Tibetan Buddhism in 2009, including intensifying a media campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama as a religious leader and preventing Tibetans from respecting him as such. Chinese official statements also indicated that the government would select a successor to the Dalai Lama, currently aged 74, when he passes away. Tibetans are expected to "embrace such a development."
'Reshaping' Tibetan Buddhism
In February 2009 The “Tibet Branch” of the Buddhist Association of China changed their charter to pressure Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to treat the Dalai Lama as a "de facto criminal" and threat to Tibetan Buddhism, according to a report in China’s state-controlled media. The revised charter urged monks and nuns to “see clearly that the 14th Dalai Lama is the ringleader of the separatist political association which seeks ‘Tibet independence,’ a loyal tool of anti-China Western forces, the very root that causes social unrest in Tibet and the biggest obstacle for Tibetan Buddhism to build up its order.” The CECC argues that incorporating language classifying the Dalai Lama as a “separatist” into the charter of a government-designated religious organization increases the risk of punishment for monks and nuns who maintain religious devotion to the Dalai Lama even if they do not engage in overt political activity.
On March 10, 2010, the Dalai Lama stated that "the Chinese authorities are conducting various political campaigns, including patriotic re-education campaign, in many monasteries in Tibet. They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism."
The CCP continued to state that Chinese policies in Tibetan areas are a success, and in 2008 and 2009 took a stance of pressuring other governments to abandon support of the Dalai Lama and instead to support the Party line on Tibetan issues.
The Dalai Lama's advocacy on behalf of the Tibetan people and culture is used in official propaganda to argue that he is not a legitimate religious leader, but a political actor. Ending the Dalai Lama’s role as supreme religious leader is a core part of the campaign that promotes the CCP's “stability” and “harmony” in the Tibetan areas of China. This was carried out by state-run media and senior government officials. Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, for example, told a press conference in March 2009 that the Dalai Lama is “by no means a religious figure but a political figure.”
The official response to continued criticism of CCP policy from Tibetans includes "aggressive campaigns" of “patriotic education” (“love the country, love religion”) and legal education. Patriotic education sessions require monks and nuns to pass examinations on political texts, affirm that "Tibet is historically a part of China," accept the legitimacy of the Panchen Lama installed by the Chinese government, and denounce the Dalai Lama.
In June 2009, a monastic official who also holds the rank of Vice Chairman of the TAR Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) spoke to monks at Jampaling (Qiangbalin) Monastery in Changdu (Chamdo) prefecture, TAR, and emphasized the dependency of “freedom of religion” on Party control and patriotism toward China. “Without the Party’s regulations,” he told the monks, “there would be no freedom of religion for the masses. To love religion, you must first love your country.”
According to the CECC, Chinese officials justify such campaigns as "legitimate and necessary" by seeking to characterize and conflate a range of Tibetan objections to state policy as threats to China’s unity and stability. An example given to substantiate this is comments made by Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Party Secretary Zhang Qingli and Vice Minister of Public Security Zhang Xinfeng, speaking during a February 2009 teleconference on “the work of maintaining social stability.” They called for “large numbers of party, government, military, and police personnel in Tibet to immediately go into action” and “resolutely smash the savage attacks by the Dalai clique and firmly win the current people’s war against separatism and for stability.” Principal speakers at the teleconference stressed the importance of "education campaigns" in achieving such objectives.
A Tibetan activist group reported that Chinese authorities in Kardze County and Lithang County in Kardze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture ("TAP"), Sichuan Province, as part of the anti-Dalai Lama campaign, threatened the local populace with confiscation of their land if they do not hand over portraits of the Dalai Lama within a month.
Repercussions of 2008 unrest
In March 2008, what began as routine monastic commemorations of Tibetan Uprising Day descended into riots, beatings, and arson by Tibetans against Han, Hui, and even other Tibetans, killing 18 civilians and 1 police officer. Casualties sustained during the subsequent police crackdown are unknown, according to the U.S. Department of State. Many members of the People's Armed Police (PAP) remained in communities across the Tibetan Plateau during the year, and the fallout from the protests continued to impact on human rights outcomes for Tibetan people.
According to numerous sources, the U.S. Department of State says, many detained after the riots were subject to extrajudicial punishments such as severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods. In some cases detainees sustained broken bones and other serious injuries at the hands of PAP and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. According to eyewitnesses, the bodies of persons killed during the unrest or subsequent interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than returned to their families. Many monasteries and nunneries remained under virtual lock-down, while the authorities renewed the “Patriotic Education” campaign, according to Amnesty International, involving written denunciations against the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan members of the CCP were also targeted, including being forced to remove their children from Tibet exile community schools where they obtain religious education. In March 2010 as many as 50 Tibetans were arrested for sending reports, photos, and video abroad during the unrest, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). One individual received a 10-year prison sentence.
It was Chinese government and Communist Party interference with the norms of Tibetan Buddhism, and "unremitting antagonism toward the Dalai Lama," that were key factors behind the protests, according to a special report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Many members of the People's Armed Police (PAP) remained in communities across the Tibetan Plateau during the year, and the fallout from the protests continued to impact on human rights outcomes for Tibetan people.
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- Charles Bell, Tibet Past and Present, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1992, 326 pages, p. 143 (1st published: 1927): "The Dalai informed me that he had not allowed any capital sentence to be inflicyed since he assumed power. This no doubt is so, but the punishment for deliberate murder is usually so severe that the convict can hardly survive for long."
- Alex McKay, Introduction, in The History of Tibet: the modern period: 1985-1959, the encounter with modernity, edited by Alex McKay, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, p. 32: "Note 2: The death penalty was abolished around 1898. Isolated cases of capital punishment did, however, take place in later years; see, for example, M. Goldstein, a History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State (London/Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 126-30 in regard to the death of Padma Chandra. But for an example of a more despotic kind, see Oriental and India Office Collection (hereafter OIOC), L/P&5/7/251, in regard to the execution of a youth involved in stealing the western Tibetan administrator's horse. It must not be forgotten that corporal punishment continued to be inflicted for numerous offences and often proved fatal".
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