UN logoThe UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) has expressed concern on cases of refoulement of Tibetan refugees by Nepal in a concluding observation adopted during the Committee’s 35th session which took place at the UN in Geneva from 7-25 November, 2005.

Refoulement means the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognized as refugees. The principle of non-refoulement has been laid out in the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which provides that “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened…”

The Committee, while commending the generosity of Nepal in hosting 20,000 Tibetan refugees, said that it “regrets the absence of domestic legislation in the State party that stipulates for the rights of refugees and asylum-seeking persons, and notes with concern that the State party has not acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other related international legal instruments. The Committee is also concerned about allegations received concerning cases of refoulement of Tibetan asylum seekers, given the absolute nature of the prohibition against refoulement under article 3 of the Convention.”

The Committee recommended Nepal to “consider acceding to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other related international legal instruments. In addition, the Committee recommends that the State party enacts legislation aimed at prohibiting refoulement of persons without an appropriate legal procedure. The State party should provide to the Committee information on the number of cases of extradition, removal deportation, forced return and expulsion which have occurred since 1994, as well as information on cases in which no deportation was effected for fear of torture.”

When the Committee reviewed Nepal’s report on 9 and 10 November, several members of the body raised specific questions about the situation of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. “What is the status” of the Tibetan refugee Office which was closed, one expert asked. No direct response was given by the Nepalese Ambassador in Geneva but he said that his government allowed 31,000 Tibetan refugees to transit to a third country.

New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights said in a shadow report (www.achrweb.org/) to CAT that there was consistent and systematic refoulement of the Tibetan refugees in violation of Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture that no person can be expelled, returned or extradited to another State where he/she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The NGO also stated that the closure of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office has further increased the risks to the Tibetan refugees.

This is the third UN Treaty Body expressing concern over the treatment of Tibetan refugees by the Nepalese government. In 2004, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern that only Tibetans who arrived in Nepal before 1990 were recognized as refugees and on information that Tibetan refugees were facing “forced expulsion.” This year in June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said it was concerned over the closure of the Tibetan Refugee Centre and on refoulement of Tibetan refugees to the Chinese authorities.