The US State Department today issued its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008, in which it found that human rights in Tibet had “deteriorated severely during the year,” and that “official repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement increased significantly” in the wake of the protests that swept the Tibetan plateau beginning in March 2008.

The Tibet section of the 2008 Human Rights Report is dominated by an accurate account of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese authorities during the crackdown on the overwhelmingly peaceful protests. The report cites credible information that more 200 people were killed during the crackdown, and that hundreds more were detained or imprisoned amid concerns of torture, and that more than 1000 other people are unaccounted for. The report also notes continuing concerns in the areas of freedom of religious belief and freedom of expression, and notes also that there was no progress in the three rounds of discussions held during 2008 between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President for International Advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet, said “We must commend the US State Department for producing such a comprehensive and coherent catalog of China’s human rights abuses in Tibet in 2008 – a year that will forever leave a deep scar on Tibet and a dark stain on China. The severity of human rights abuses in Tibet, documented here in the State Department’s own report, should compel vigorous human rights diplomacy by the Obama administration,” she added.

The report is issued several days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned from a visit to Asia, which including a stop in China, where she reportedly said that human rights concerns “can’t interfere” with other issues, such as cooperation on climate change and economic concerns.

The State Department’s report is coincidentally released on the same day as the Tibetan New Year – today is the start of the year 2136 on the Tibetan calendar – when across Tibet, as well as among Tibetans in exile, a popular movement is underway to refrain from celebrating the new year as a gesture of mourning for the people killed during China’s crackdown, and in support of the people who continue to be detained or ‘disappeared.’

Amid tensions that are already high and rising in the approach to the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the March 2008 protests and the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile, the Chinese authorities in Tibet are putting intense political pressure on Tibetans to be seen to be in celebratory mood for the new year.

The entire section on Tibet can be read on the US State Department’s website »