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China’s oppression of Tibet continues

by Cesar Chelala

Fifty years after being invaded by Chinese troops in 1949, Tibet is still experiencing repression and violence on the part of Chinese occupying forces. According to Amnesty International reports, human-rights violations such as ill-treatment of prisoners and torture are widespread in Tibet. Even those prisoners who are not tortured have to endure conditions that are cruel, inhuman and degrading, such as compulsory and hard labor, inadequate diet, lack of medical care and unsanitary environment. Only unrelenting international pressure can offer hope for a change in the situation.

The Tibetan government in exile, headed by the Dalai Lama, has insisted that Tibet has been under illegal Chinese occupation since China invaded the independent state in 1949. However, the People’s Republic of China states that its relation with Tibet is a purely internal affair, on the grounds that 700 years ago Tibet became an integral part of China and has remained part of China since then. Although it is true that in the past some Manchu emperors exercised influence over Tibet, Tibet was never fully incorporated into the Manchu empire, or into China. Until the Chinese invasion, it had conducted its relations with neighboring states mostly on its own.

At the time of the start of the Chinese invasion in 1949, Tibet possessed all the attributes of statehood that are accepted under international law: a territory, people inhabiting that territory, and a government able to maintain international relationships. Tibet also had at the time its own head of state and system of government, judicial system, currency, Foreign Office and armed forces. During World War II — and despite strong pressure from Britain, the United States and China to allow passage of military equipment — Tibet remained neutral, a situation respected by other powers. After Chinese People’s Liberation Army defeated the small Tibetan Army, the Chinese government imposed a “17-point agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet” on the Tibetan government in May 1951. That agreement was void from the beginning because it was signed under duress. At the first opportunity to do so freely, the Dalai Lama repudiated the agreement after his escape to India in 1959.

China’s invasion of Tibet was condemned by most U.N. members, and the U.N. General Assembly passed several resolutions condemning human-rights abuses in Tibet. It also called on China to respect and implement the fundamental freedoms of the Tibetan people, including their right to self-determination. In February, 1999, the Dalai Lama denounced in Dharamsala, India, the alarming transfer of Chinese people into Tibet and the transformation of the country into a Chinese area where Tibetans are becoming a powerless minority. According to the Tibetan government-in-exile, there are presently 6 million Tibetans and approximately 7 million Chinese immigrants in Tibet, making the Tibetans a minority in their own country.

Both Physicians for Human Rights, an organization based in Boston, and the Department of Health of the Tibetan government-in-exile carried out studies on Tibetan refugee populations, to try and determine the extent and kinds of torture these populations suffered while in Tibet. Both groups were able to determine numerous instances of torture including psychological abuse, beatings, rape, use of electric cattle prods and prolonged periods of starvation. According to Physicians for Human Rights, “The frequency of torture in this sample suggests that torture is part of a widespread pattern of abuse, not an isolated event, and that the Chinese authorities in Tibet use torture routinely as a means of political repression, punishment and intimidation.”

Chinese repression and torture of Tibetan nationals happen despite the fact that China is a signatory to a number of international human-rights conventions such as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In addition, Article 136 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China states that “it is strictly forbidden to extort confession by torture.” According to Amnesty International, most of the cases involve people detained or imprisoned for their pro-Tibetan independence activities.

The real dilemma is how to stop the Chinese from carrying out these human-rights violations against the Tibetan people. As the Dalai Lama remarked recently in India, “One of the most powerful ways of opposing torture, wherever it may occur, is simply to draw attention to its existence.” All evidence indicates that a solution to the Tibetan conflict should not be prolonged any longer.