Geneva: Today, on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we appeal the UN including the UN Human Rights Council to address the systemic racism against Tibetans by the government of the People’s Republic of China.
The death of 19-year-old Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima is a jarring reminder of custodial torture and ill-treatment faced by Tibetans under the authoritarian regime of Chinese Communist Party. The details of his death especially the extent of injuries suffered by him due to beatings, malnourishment and mistreatment in custody are chilling. His alleged crime was holding a peaceful protest calling for independence from the authoritarian oppressive regime which aims at elimination of Tibetan culture and identity. This is not just a custodial torture death case but a reflection of the systemic racism perpetrated by China against Tibetans.
China is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines “racial discrimination” as
“any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
The definition covers the discrimination based on national or ethnic origin irrespective of intention inasmuch as it results in violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. The General Recommendations issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has further clarified that an action is considered discriminatory if it has “an unjustifiable disparate impact upon a group distinguished by race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin” (G.R. 14).
China has breached the convention not just by failing to fulfil its obligations to prohibit and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination but also being the principal perpetrator of the racial discrimination against Tibetans. Every civil, political, economic, social and cultural right enlisted under Article 5 of the Convention has been violated by China.
The coerced resettlement of Tibetan nomads from their nomadic grasslands to concrete buildings without adequate compensation or employment opportunities; the militarized forced labour of over half a million Tibetans; and the illegal land grabs including that of agricultural and community owned lands of Tibetans are just a few examples of economic rights being violated. Tibetans are banned from singing their national anthem or even possessing the Tibetan national flag which is an outright violation of Tibetans’ right to nationality protected under the civil rights of the Convention. Furthermore, Tibetans do not have the right to move freely within Tibet, China or outside. They do not even have the right leave the country nor return to the country which again violates the civil rights. Tibetans are categorically prohibited and severely punished for expressing their opinion about the deplorable situation of Tibetans under Chinese regime. The conditions in Tibet are so severe that 155 Tibetans in Tibet have resorted to self-immolations since 2009 as a mark of peaceful protest against the atrocities by China.
Another important right under the Convention is the right to security of person and protection by the “State against violence or bodily harm whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution” (Article 5 (b)). The recent cases of custodial torture deaths including that of 19-year-old Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima, 51-year-old Tibetan tour guide Kunchok Jinpa and 36-year-old herdswoman Lhamo prove the breach of obligations under the convention by China. Article 6 further provides rights to seek just and adequate reparation for any damage suffered due to such discrimination. However, adding insult to injury a Chinese court summoned Tenzin Nyima to stand trial for participating in the peaceful protest while he was on his death bed in coma.
During its concluding observations in 2018 on the combined fourteenth to seventeenth periodic reports of China, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended China to stop the discriminatory practices against Tibetans in terms of travel, issuance of passports, promotion of Tibetan language, employment etc. However, China has vehemently denied of such discrimination and unabashedly claims that Tibet is the shining example of human rights progress.
It is time the UN, particularly the UN Human Rights Council takes cognizance of racial discrimination faced by Tibetans under the authoritarian regime of Communist Party of China. It is time the UN listens to its own experts’ calls for formation of independent mechanism to monitor, analyse and report on human rights situation in China including Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. More importantly, the UN needs to hold a special session focusing on the racial discrimination perpetrated by China against Tibetans, Uyghurs and Southern Mongolians.