China’s ongoing, systematic human rights violations in Tibet have again been raised at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Speaking on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights during the session’s general debate on July 3, Vincent Metten, EU policy director of the International Campaign for Tibet, stressed the importance of continuing to refer expressly to the human rights situation in Tibet, particularly because of China’s efforts to isolate and silence Tibetans.
“The Chinese policies to accelerate assimilation and consolidate political control through an expanded surveillance system strive to erase Tibetan identity and conceal the region from external scrutiny,” Metten said before once again urging unfettered and independent access to Tibetan areas for UN experts.
Metten’s statement followed specific expressions of concern about the situation in Tibet by the European Union, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany and Sweden. In particular, the European Union called on China to respect human rights “most notably in Xinjiang and Tibet” and said it continued to be “gravely concerned” about the detention of a number of Human Rights Defenders, including Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk. The Czech Republic called for Wangchuk’s release, and Germany pointed to the “systematic discrimination” suffered by Tibetans. The United Kingdom also expressed concerns about the state of freedom of belief in China, including for Buddhists.
One day earlier, Metten participated in a side event on religious freedom in Tibet hosted by the Society for Threatened Peoples, where he gave an overview of China’s repression of Tibetan Buddhists. He explained how China has ”Sinicized”—a term meaning to bring something under Chinese control—and securitized religion for political purposes and expressed concerns about China’s attempt to interfere in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
“Beijing must respect all religions in China including Islam, Christianity and Buddhism and let religious communities practice their religion freely without any state interference as guaranteed by the article 36 of the Chinese Constitution and international human rights law,” Metten said.
The event, which was well-attended by representatives of several governments’ permanent missions and NGOs, also included a presentation by Ven. Lobsang Dorjee, director of the Central Association of Panchen Lama.
As in recent Human Rights Council sessions, China deployed aggressive tactics to counter criticism of its record, including biased statements by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an astroturf group that calls itself an NGO but is backed by Beijing. The organization also sponsored a number of side events aimed at promoting China’s human rights “progress” and “protection” of ethnic minorities.
When Dolma Yaklha, the representative of the Society for Threatened Peoples, spoke about the situation in Tibet during her statement in the general debate on July 3, she was interrupted twice by the Chinese delegation, who accused her of using “inappropriate language.” The chair of the council did not accept their accusation and allowed Yaklha to finish her statement.
Statement by Vincent Metten, EU Policy Director of the International Campaign for Tibet:
Human Rights Council
Forty-First Regular Session
July 3, 2019
Item 4: General Debate – Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
Statement delivered by Vincent Metten on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Systematic human rights violations against Tibetans remain deeply troubling. The Chinese policies to accelerate assimilation and consolidate political control through an expanded surveillance system strive to erase Tibetan identity and conceal the region from external scrutiny.
The rise of protest by self-immolation has been one consequence of the deteriorating situation. Since 2009, 155 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet and China in direct opposition to Chinese rule. In its 2019 Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House listed the region as the second-least-free region of the world.
We would like to stress that it remains extremely important to expressively refer to the situation in Tibet or to Tibetan cases at the Human Rights Council as China’s efforts to isolate and silence Tibetans should not be rewarded or normalised. Both visible and less visible forms of repression should be condemned, in particular when they are rooted in the policy principle of ethnic discrimination. States should also uphold the precedent of reporting on Tibet and China without fear.
We call on Member States to
- urge respect for freedom of religion or belief and cultural rights of Tibetans
- urge prompt, unfettered and independent access to all parts of the country, including in particular Tibetan areas, by independent international human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant UN Special Rapporteurs
- call for the immediate release of Tibetan human rights defender and language advocate Tashi Wangchuk.
Finally, we urge governments to challenge the Chinese “development approach to human rights.” This includes urging the Chinese government to refrain from implementing top-down resource and energy related projects, such as dams and mines, which are harmful to Tibetans and the environment.
Thank you, Mr. President.
States and observers who specifically mentioned Tibet in their statements under the General Debate on July 3:
European Union: “The EU calls on China to uphold its national and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including Freedom of Religion or Belief, most notably in Xinjiang and Tibet. (…) The EU continues to be gravely concerned about the detentions and trials of human rights defenders and lawyers including (…) Tashi Wangchuk (…).
Czech Republic: “We call for immediate release of (…) and Tashi Wangchuk and others. We expect China, a Human Rights Council Member, to fully cooperate with the OHCHR and uphold its international obligations including in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
Finland: “We are deeply concerned about the widespread surveillance, profiling based on ethnicity, in China and we call on China to respect its national and international obligations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including Freedom of Religion or Belief, most notably in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
France: “In China, Human Rights Defenders still remain in a worrisome situation, and indeed the situation with reference to Tibet and Xinjiang is a cause for concern.”
Germany: “In particular, the plight of Uyghurs and Tibetans in China, who suffer from systematic discrimination, is deeply disturbing. (…) We call for the release of all human rights defenders, including (…)Tashi Wangchuk (…).”
Sweden: “The rights of persons belonging to minorities must be guaranteed. We call on China to take urgent steps to do so, particularly in Xinjiang and in Tibet.”