Lockdown in Tibet panel at UN

ICT President Matteo Mecacci, US Under Secretary and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Sarah Sewall, US Ambassador to United Nations Human Rights Council Keith Harper, former Tibetan political prisoner Golog Jigmy, ICT Europe’s Tsering Jampa and Vincent Metten at the event in Geneva.

Following is the text of the statement made by ICT President Matteo Mecacci at Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights’s side event, “Lockdown in Tibet“, on June 15, 2015 in Geneva, to coincide with the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The event focused attention on several fundamental human rights issues facing Tibet today: namely, restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, which in turn have a significant impact on the ability of Tibetans to exercise other fundamental human rights. The lack of access to Tibet for UN mandate-holders, foreign diplomats and journalists, among others, also severely impacts the protection and promotion of human rights in Tibet as well as the free flow of information out of Tibet.

The panelists include the U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Mr. Keith Harper; the Undersecretary of State and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Dr. Sarah Sewall; the President of the International Campaign for Tibet, Mr. Matteo Mecacci; Ven. Golog Jigmy, a former Tibetan political prisoner recently arrived in Europe; and Mr. Juan Pablo Cardenal, journalist and writer as well as former China correspondent for Spanish newspapers.

Matteo Mecacci statement to side-panel, Geneva, June 15, 2015

Seven years ago, in 2008, the political landscape in Tibet was transformed by a wave of demonstrations against Chinese rule that took place across the Tibetan plateau.

Tibetans from every sector of society – monks, nuns, farmers, nomads, teachers, students – demonstrated against Chinese policy and called for the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return home.

Many Tibetans were killed when troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in several incidents. Many hundreds of Tibetans remain in prison today and ICT has documented numerous cases of severe torture, including maltreatment that led to death. One of our reports details cases of 14 Tibetans, who have died since 2008 as a result of torture in custody.

Some monks, nuns and political prisoners have now been released after serving some years in jail. Dhondup Wangchen, the courageous young film-maker who together with Golog Jigme – here today – documented the views of ordinary Tibetans prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was in jail for six years.

Since the demonstrations of 2008, Tibet has been under lockdown. At monasteries, there is an intimidating presence of troops during religious festivals. It might sound hard to believe, but new police stations are being set up in Tibetan monasteries and nunneries to ensure that they remain “patriotic” and loyal to the Party.

In another twist of discrimination, it is practically impossible for Tibetans to obtain passports and travel outside China, while, as everybody can see, Chinese tourists now travel the world in great numbers. Tibetans face increasing restrictions on their movements inside Tibet and face intensified surveillance and controls on their daily lives.

A report that we release today, ‘In the Teeth of the Storm’ details how a new generation of Tibetans is paying a high price for the peaceful expression of their views.

The report documents how tightening of freedom of expression in Tibet has created a dangerous political environment for Tibetans who want to express their views. Today, almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture can be termed ‘splittist’ and therefore ‘criminal.’

As a result of this policy, singers, writers, poets, bloggers and intellectuals have been targeted.

Lo Lo is a Tibetan singer, who is currently detained and seriously ill after he was sentenced to six years in prison for singing songs, including one whose title is ‘Raise the Tibetan flag, children of the Snowland’.

The whereabouts of a Tibetan blogger, Shokjang, known for expressing perceptive insights into contemporary policies, is still unknown after his detention in March.

Thamkey Gyatso, a monk who was a prolific writer for literary magazines, is paralysed and unable to walk after he suffered torture in detention during his 15-year prison sentence.

The Chinese government states that these facts are not true and that the reality in Tibet is different. It has issued a number of white papers and statements in which it stresses the ‘happiness’ and the respect of human rights of the Tibetan people.

Today, we are at the UN Human Rights Council, which is the highest international and intergovernmental body mandated to monitor the respect for human rights for all UN member states, including the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.

Our appeal to China today is fact-based and non-confrontational. We have a number of questions to make and we hope to receive answers. This is not just about Tibetans, it is about the relevance of the United Nations and the role that this organization will be allowed to continue to pay in the future.

  1. If human rights are respected in Tibet, why then did China not allow the previous High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibetan areas of the PRC to assess the situation?
  2. Why has China not extended invitations to UN Special Procedures representatives to visit Tibet?
  3. Why is it almost impossible for Western independent journalists to go to the Tibet Autonomous Region?
  4. Why can foreign tourists only travel to Tibet on organized tours? Why are they not allowed to travel freely with a guide of their choice?
  5. Why is it impossible for foreign NGOs who monitor human rights to travel to Tibet?
  6. Why is the number of Ambassadors who can travel to Tibet so limited, and why is it so difficult for them to speak freely to ordinary Tibetans?
  7. If China is confident that freedom of religion is respected and that monks and nuns are patriotic, why don’t they invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom to travel to Tibet and speak to different monks and nuns, and visit some of the great religious institutions in Tibet?

It is vital for the future of the United Nations that all its member states cooperate to ensure that the organisation remains relevant.

No nation state can hide from international scrutiny forever.

The affirmation of economic and social inter-dependence in today’s world can either lead to the creation of stronger global institutions or to their replacement by more nationalistic and painful confrontations. Unfortunately, we are already seeing signs of more confrontation and less cooperation.

The path that China chooses matters to this institution and to the world. Tibet is and will continue to be an important litmus test that should be watched closely.

I would like to conclude by calling upon UN member states, NGOs and journalists to continue to raise these questions and to keep China, as any other government, accountable before the international community.