(Author is a veteran Tibetologist and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement)
What ordinary Tibetan refugees havefeared about and have been calling upon the world community for help is now confirmed by the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Releasing its ‘Concluding Observations’ on its third periodic review of China on 6th March, the Committee has underlined a number of issues related to human rights of Tibetan people under Chinese rule which call for serious and urgent attention of world community. These issues include serious onslaught on Tibetan culture and religion; forced relocation of nomad communities; poor treatment and exploitation of Tibetan labour; and brainwashing and forced assimilation of Tibetan children through Chinese Communist Party run boarding schools.
It is not a coincidence that Freedom House, a global watchdog of human freedoms across the world, also released its latest report titled “Freedom in the World 2023 Report” on 9 March which has ranked Tibet as “World’s least-free country” alongside South Sudan and Syria. This is successively third time, following similar reports of the Freedom House in 2021 and 2022 that Tibet has won this dubious distinction of being ranked at the bottom of community of countries. Using its own method of grading political rights and civil liberties, the organization assigned minus 2 marks out of a possible 40 for political rights and just 3 marks out of 60 for civil liberties in Tibet. That puts Tibet with a total score of 1 out of 100 and thus bracketing Tibet with South Sudan and Syria who have been also assigned the same score of 1.
In its report the Freedom House has found that both the Chinese and Tibetan citizens living in Tibet lack basic rights, but the (Chinese) authorities are especially rigorous in suppressing any signs of dissent among Tibetans, including manifestations of Tibetan religious beliefs and cultural identity.
Commenting on this report of Freedom House the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a prominent Tibet advocacy group in the USA and Europe, said, “After more than six decades of illegal occupation, China has turned Tibet into the world’s least-free country…. With Tibet once again at the bottom of Freedom House’s global freedom scores, it’s imperative that the global community take action to resolve the decades-long conflict in Tibet.” The ICT also referred to the historic bipartisan bill, recently presented jointly by representatives of Democratic and Republican parties of USA, for passing “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act” which acknowledges Tibet as an ‘unresolved’ issue and makes it an official US policy that China must resume dialogue with Dalai Lama to determine Tibet’s legal status under the international law.
Tibet watchers have regularly expressed disappointment at what they call as “return of Mao’s Cultural Revolution” in Tibet since President Xi Jinping took over reigns of China. His openly expressed goal of wiping out Tibet’s distinct cultural and social identity by assimilating Tibetan
population into a ‘uniform’ Chinese identity has given rise to such fears both among the Tibetan people and human rights watchers across the world. In his first ever sudden and secrecy wrapped visit to Tibet in July 2021, Xi addressed a widely attended meeting of Chinese administrative officials of Tibet and the local Communist cadres to call upon them for taking necessary steps to convert Tibetan Buddhism into a ‘Buddhism with Chinese Characteristics’.
Xi’s call for this attack on the religious faith of Tibetan people simply exposed the failure of China’s rulers to tame and discipline the Tibetan masses even 70 years after their colonial rule over Tibet. Xi and his fellow communist leaders of China have many times shown their frustration over Tibetan people’s continuing faith in Buddhism and their love for the exiled ruler of Tibet the Dalai Lama who was forced to flee Tibet and take asylum in India in 1959. This had followed the violent crushing of Tibetan uprising against nine year old Chinese rule. Following President Xi’s call the Chinese administrators of Tibet have gone into an overdrive to reduce the influence of Buddhism in Tibet. Reviving the memories of blasting of Buddha’s giant stone statue in Bamianof Afghanistan by the Taliban on 2 March 2001, the communist administrators of Kham Drakgo, a Tibetan area incorporated in Sichuan Province of China, demolished a 99-foot tall bronze statue of Buddha and 45 huge prayer wheels in December 2021. Since then there have been regular reports of demolition of many such statues which dominated the skyline of various Tibetan towns in occupied Tibet.
The UN Committee has also referred to China’s ongoing campaign of putting an end to the traditional lifestyle of Tibetan nomads who regularly migrate along with their yaks, sheep and cows with changing seasons. These nomads account for about one third of original Tibet’s six million population. The Chinese authorities have been forcing these nomads to sell off their animals and settle into designated, small and newly developed crowded settlements where strong Chinese surveillance system can keep them under discipline and close watch. Beside many other issues like what the UN Committee has termed as “coercive lobour programs implemented in Tibet’ and systematic ban on use of Tibetan language”, it has specially focused on “the Chinese government’s extensive resettlement policy and forced assimilation of Tibetan children at state run boarding schools.” This concern has gained international momentum over recent years following reports from China controlled Tibet that hundreds of thousands of Tibetan children, many of them as young as four year olds, are being forcibly taken away from their families and are being admitted to residential schools which are run by the CCP cadres. Terming it as a serious danger for the Tibetan identity and Tibet’s future generations, GonpoDhundup, President of Tibetan Youth Congress says, “These residential schools, controlled and run by the Chinese Communist Party remind you of the residential schools which were extensively established and used by the colonial occupants of North America and Australia. The only use of these schools was to completely wipe out the native languages and local social identity of many generations of the Red Indians and Aborigines. President Xi is also using the same method to convert future generations of Tibet who would look Tibetan in their physical appearance but their brains and hearts will be programmed as perfect communist cadres of China.” The UN Committee report has called for independent international investigations to the current Tibetan situation.