Mr. Ngawang Choephel, on behalf of the Society for Threatened Peoples, has urged the UN Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights at its 54th session on August 1, 2002 to help end human rights abuses in Tibet. The full text of his statement follows.

Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Fifty-fourth session Item 2

Question Of The Violation Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms In Any Part Of The World
Oral statement by Mr. Ngawang Choephel on behalf of Society for Threatened Peoples

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

This year, the distinguished Chinese Ambassador told the 58th Commission on Human Rights that the Chinese communist legal system “provides effective guarantee to the full enjoyment of autonomy, democracy, human rights and freedoms by Tibetans.” Allow us, therefore, to alert the Sub-Commission about the actual reality of the human rights situation in Tibet.

In the year 2001, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in India was able to identify 254 political prisoners in Tibet. One of them is Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, who is serving a sentence of 21 years (some reports say 23) for exercising her right to freedom of expression and opinion. Another case is that of Ngawang Phulchung, a Tibetan monk, who is serving a 19-year sentence for distributing a Tibetan translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There were some welcome developments concerning the plight of political prisoners in Tibet when some of them were released for medical parole due to international appeals. One of them is 74-year-old Takna Jigme Sangpo who recently arrived in the United States of America after spending 37 years of imprisonment since 1965. In his first public statement issued a few days ago, he said: “My release on medical parole by the Chinese government (I still have nine years of my sentence to complete) and arrival in the United States on July 13 is the triumph of peace, justice and human rights. It is the result of many years of campaign and pressure by Tibet supporters, governments, individuals and public organizations in the international community as well as within and outside of Tibet. Above all, it is the fruit of international support for the fulfillment of the aspirations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone…as I begin to enjoy a life of freedom and happiness, I am concerned at the fate of my former fellow prisoners who continue to suffer and languish in dark prisons. Therefore, I take this opportunity to urge strongly for the immediate release of all Tibetan political prisoners.”

In 2001, 10 deaths of Tibetan political prisoners as a result of torture were recorded. This has happened despite the fact that in May 2000, the UN Committee Against Torture had expressed concern about the “continuing allegations of serious incidents of torture, especially involving Tibetans…”

On 25 April this year, the Eleventh Panchen Lama of Tibet turned 13, entering the seventh year of detention by the Chinese authorities at an undisclosed location. Beijing refuses appeals for international observers to see the boy to ascertain his well being.

Mr. Chairman, in recent times, the Chinese authorities launched several crackdowns on religious institutions in Tibet, especially in Tibetan areas now incorporated into Sichuan Province, targeting popular Tibetan Lamas. In April 2002, for example, a Tibetan religious teacher, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in bomb explosions in Karze region in eastern Tibet (in present-day Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province). The real reason for his arrest may have to do with hisprojects among the Tibetans, which made him a popular lama.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche supported local people in the reconstruction of various smaller monasteries and a nunnery, and he was involved in activities to provide homes and education for children from poor local families. The authorities refused him permission to build a school and an old people’s home in one nomadic area. In the late 1990s, however, he successfully set up a school in Lithang for both Tibetan and Chinese children, mostly orphans, providing education to at least 130 pupils.

In October 1999 Ghen Sonam Phuntsok, a well-known scholar and Tibetan language teacher in eastern Tibet (in present-day Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province), was arrested in what appears to be China’s concern over his influence in the area and over his apparent loyalty to the Dalai Lama. At the time of his arrest he had been teaching more than a hundred monks at Dhargye monastery for six years. Sonam Phuntsok was popular among Tibetans because he ran projects teaching Tibetan children about their religion as well as Tibetan language.

In September 2001, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, abbot of the monastic complex of Larung Gar (Serthar Institute) in eastern Tibet (in present-day Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province) was removed from the complex against his will to a location near Chengdu. An estimated 8,000 monks and nuns were expelled from the Institute with the destruction of their living quarters by the police and armed-security ersonnel. This Institute had the largest concentration of monks and nuns anywhere on the Tibet in recent years. In particular, the community attracted several thousand Chinese students. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok has now been allowed to return to his Institute. However, the Chinese authorities are making sure that he does not give any public Buddhist teachings.

Another Tibetan Lama, Jigme Tenzin Rinpoche (known as “Bangri” Rinpoche) and his colleague Nyima Choedron were recently sentenced on the charges of espionage and endangering state security. They had been running the popular Gyatso Children’s Home in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, which had about 50 pupils between the age of 3 and 15, most of whom were orphans. The orphanage had been supported through private donations. Following their arrest the orphanage was closed down.

Mr. Chairman, in 2001, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern with regard to the “freedom of religion by people belonging to national minorities, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet.” Ignoring such international concerns, China now conducts an official campaign to transform Tibet into an atheist region and propagate the so-called “communist spiritual civilization”.

This year the reports by thematic mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights had once again alerted the international community about the on-going human rights violations in Tibet. For example, the Special Rapporteur on Racism in his report observed that Tibetans suffer various forms of systematic and institutionalised discrimination in the field of employment, health care, education, housing and public representation.

Mr. Chairman, we believe, the issue of Tibet, is now the question of the survival of the distinct religious, cultural and national identity of the six million Tibetan people. It is for these reasons that the Dalai Lama has been calling for earnest negotiations with the Chinese leadership to reach a peaceful negotiated settlement. However, the Chinese authorities refuse to open such negotiations on Tibet. On 10 March this year, the Dalai Lama said: “The present state of affairs in Tibet does nothing to alleviate the grievances of the Tibetan people or to bring stability and unity to the People’s Republic of China. Sooner or later, the leadership in Beijing will have to face this fact. On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. As soon as there is a positive signal from Beijing, my designated representatives stand ready to meet with officials of the Chinese government anywhere, anytime.”

The Society for Threatened Peoples remain gravely concerned about the current state of human rights in Tibet, particularly since the adoption of resolution 1991/10 by the Sub-Commission. We raise Tibet at this forum because the freedom struggle of the Tibetan people is a unique one that has consistently adhered to the principle of non-violence to achieve freedom in their homeland.

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, we appeal to the Sub-Commission to help the Tibetan people to achieve an end to the daily human rights abuses in Tibet that has been on-going for the past five decades. In particular, we request this session of the Sub-Commission to write a letter to the Chinese authorities urging them to open dialogue on the issue of Tibet.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.