2010-03 Current situation in Tibet
The current situation (March 2010)
A brief summary of the current situation in Tibet, covering key areas of concern.

China-Tibet talks: The latest round of talks, took place in January 2010, 15 months after the previous round where the Chinese side rejected out of hand the Memorandum on Autonomy tabled by the Tibetan delegation. Once again the talks yielded no substantive progress. In a subsequent news briefing a Chinese spokesman accused the Dalai Lama of wanting to “split the motherland” and said “outsiders have no right to voice any opinions”. In contrast, the Dalai Lama’s envoys suggested “a common effort to study the actual reality on the ground, in the spirit of seeking truth from facts”. China has yet to officially respond to this request. Despite supporting Sino-Tibetan dialogue as the only means to finding a solution for Tibet, no world government has added its support to the practical measures suggested by the Tibetan envoys.

Executions: On 20 October 2009 China executed two Tibetans, the first such executions in Tibet since 2003. Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak were convicted on charges relating to arson attacks during the 2008 uprising protests, however their trials were conducted behind closed doors and there was no evidence of basic legal safeguards being met, such as access to legal representation of their choice.

Protests & arrests: The predominantly peaceful protests that swept the Tibetan plateau in 2008 resulted in a harsh military crackdown and the deaths of over 200 Tibetans. Two years later, over 1,000 Tibetans remain unaccounted for and, being outside the protection of law, face an increased risk of torture. Despite the systematic media blackout, news received from Tibet clearly indicates widespread and continuing demonstrations and arrests. As recently as 14 February this year, the first day of the Tibetan New Year, over 400 monks and laypeople in Ngaba County held a protest to mourn Tibetans who had lost their lives during the 2008 uprising. (At the time of going to print it is not known what has happened to the Ngaba protestors.)

Torture “widespead and routine”: In 2006, the UN concluded torture was “widespread” in China and Tibet. Two years later, and after the brutal suppression of the 2008 spring protests, the UN extended its findings to state that torture was now also “routine”. The UN’s conclusion clearly shows torture is used by the Chinese state as a weapon against Tibetan dissent; it cannot be dismissed as aberrant behaviour by individuals.

Political prisoners: There are currently at least 700 known political prisoners in Tibet. Since the 2008 uprising, the Chinese government has stepped up its crackdown on Tibetan dissidents and are meting out increasingly harsh sentences. Recent examples are the six-year sentence given to film-maker Dhondup Wangchen for making a documentary recording Tibetans’ views of the current situation, and over eight years to Phurbu Rinpoche, a highly respected spiritual teacher, for the alleged possession of weapons. Both trials were held behind closed doors and neither had access to legal representation of their choice.

Nomad resettlement & climate change: The Chinese government has intensified its programme of resettling Tibet’s 2.25 million nomads into urban areas, under the guise of ‘protecting the environment’, taking away their livelihoods and further eroding the traditional way of life in Tibet. However, it is the nomads who have the best understanding of the region’s climate and have lived sustainably on the plateau for thousands of years. Indeed, China’s policies are exacerbating climate change as seen in increased desertification on the Tibetan plateau and glacial melting in the Himalayas.

Border control & refugees: In the past two years the numbers of Tibetans escaping Tibet and reaching Dharamsala has dwindled from over 2,000 per year, to 627 in 2008 and 691 in 2009. This is indicative of China’s increased tightening of the Tibet-Nepal border and the Nepalese government’s compliance in returning captured Tibetans to Chinese authorities.

In January 2010, Human Rights Watch said of China:
“Human rights protections in China faced significant setbacks in 2009 as the Chinese government, emboldened by increasingly weak international criticism of its rights record, pursued politically-motivated attacks against dissidents, human rights defenders, and civil society advocates. Rather than relaxing restrictions imposed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games… the government imposed severe penalties against groups and individuals perceived as threats, ranging from Tibetans and Uighurs to legal aid workers.” Human Right Watch’s report also details China’s restrictions on the freedoms of expression and religion and the slow pace of legal reform.

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