Amsterdam – The 40th session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) this morning called upon the Chinese authorities to allow an independent body to verify the fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 16-year-old Panchen Lama of Tibet. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents following their abduction on 17 May 1995.

Adopting its Concluding Observations on the second periodic report of the People’s Republic of China this morning, the CRC said that it notes the information provided about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, but remained concerned that it has not yet been possible to have this information confirmed by an independent expert. The CRC asked that the Chinese authorities, “allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima while respecting his right to privacy, and that of his parents.”

“This case involves the abduction of a child and this independent and responsible human rights body of the United Nations has today delivered one of the strongest ever signals of concern to China that the case of Panchen Lama must be resolved. It is a crystal clear message to China that as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, action is needed now,” said Ms Tsering Jampa, Executive Director of International Campaign for Tibet – Europe.

The CRC’s comments come less than a month after UN human rights chief Louise Arbour visited China and included the young Panchen Lama in a list to the Chinese authorities of 10 prisoners of concern to the UN.

“The UN has now raised the Panchen Lama’s case at the highest level in China and the importance of this young boy to the international community cannot have escaped Beijing. It is now more crucial than ever that the UN ensures China?s implementation of its international obligations and obtains access to this child”, said Ms Jampa.

The CRC adopted its Concluding Observations today after reviewing China?s Second Periodic Report on 19-20 September 2005 at Palais Wilson, the UN human rights headquarters in Geneva, in a meeting attended by Tibetans and members of Tibetan and Chinese human rights NGOs.

In addition to its comments on the Panchen Lama, the CRC also raised concerns about the restrictions placed on the freedom of religion in Tibet saying that children have had restrictions placed on their ability to study and practice their religion. The CRC asked the Chinese authorities to “repeal any ban instituted by local authorities on children of any age from participating in Tibetan religious festival or receiving religious education.”

A report by TibetInfoNet using statistics recently available from inside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) reveals that the proportion of the local population that cannot read or write increased by more than 10 percent, to 54.9 percent, between 2002 and 2003. The Chinese government claims that it is conducting large-scale development in Tibet, but projects are generally controlled from Beijing and aimed at consolidating China?s grip on Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet has repeatedly called on China to do more to enable local-led initiatives to invest in ?soft? infrastructure like hospitals and schools, which would deliver much needed benefits for Tibetans.

This latest call for action on the Panchen Lama from the CRC comes nine years after the UN child rights body last reviewed China?s Initial Report in May 1996. The detention of the young Panchen Lama was also raised that year and forced China to admit to the Committee that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was in Beijing’s custody, a claim Beijing had previously denied. In its Concluding Observations in 1996, the CRC voiced “its deep concern in connection with violations of human rights of the Tibetan religious minority. State intervention in religious principles and procedures seems to be most unfortunate for the whole generation of boys and girls among the Tibetan population.”

Over the past year, Tibetans and their supporters have intensified their calls for the CRC to act on the case of the Panchen Lama through various campaigns, including email appeals, postcard mailings and the submission of detailed written reports on the current situation of children in Tibet. In June of 2005 the CRC received testimony from Ngawang Sangdrol, a former political prisoner in Tibet who was imprisoned at age 13 and served an 11-year sentence before being released to the United States. One expert at that meeting remarked that Ms Sangdrol’s case clearly indicated many areas where the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been violated in Tibet.

The CRC Observations on China stated that China’s next report should be submitted on 31 March 2009.