Washington/Geneva – The 33rd session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva once again saw Tibet and China in the spotlight, as High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid prominently expressed concern with regard to human rights violations in the People’s Republic of China and urged the Chinese government to cooperate with United Nations institutions. In his opening statement, Zeid said with regard to China: “I am deeply concerned, however, over reports of continued harassment of human rights lawyers, human rights defenders and their family members, as well as allegations of discrimination, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody of members of ethnic and religious communities.” During the general debate, Slovakia on behalf of the European Union and Germany prominently raised the situation in Tibet while others such as the United States, the Czech Republic, France, Canada, Ireland and the UK expressed concern about the human rights situation in China in general.
“We strongly welcome these statements as they reflect a consistent policy approach towards the People’s Republic of China, which is indispensable. We are particularly grateful for the High Commissioner’s consistent efforts to raise the ongoing rights violations in the PRC”, Kai Mueller, Head of UN Advocacy of the International Campaign for Tibet, said.
ICT, on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, delivered an Oral Statement on the state of freedom of religion in Tibet. While urging the Chinese government to respect rights of religious practitioners, particularly at the important Buddhist institution of Larung Gar, the statement calls on the government of the PRC to allow unfettered access to Tibet and Buddhist institutions such as Larung Gar.
The statement, delivered by ICT’s Melanie Blondelle, particularly underlines: “Since 2008, the Chinese authorities have instilled an oppressive environment in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries – an approach in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority, and strives to regulate every aspect of the religious life.”
On 19 September, at a side event to the ongoing session of the Human Rights Council organized by the Society for Threatened People and moderated by ICT’s Kai Mueller, Nyima Lhamo, niece of the late monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche gave her accounts of the events that followed her uncle’s death and shared the reasons that made her and her family believe that the revered monk was poisoned to death in prison. “In Tibet there are many political prisoners suffering the same fate as my uncle Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. So I sincerely hope that their voices be heard and justice be done to them and I believe it is important for the world to know about the injustices suffered by Tibetans in Tibet,” she said.At a “Tibet solidarity rally“ in front of United Nations‘ institutions in Geneva last Friday around 2,000 Tibetans, Uyhurs and their supporters jointly urged for religious freedom in the People’s Republic of China. Prominent speakers at the famous “Broken Chair“ in front of the Palais des Nations included civil society activists, parliamentarians, former political prisoners and politicians: the niece of a prominent Tibetan lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in prison last year; Uyghur leader in exile Rebiya Kadeer; European Parliamentarians and Tibetan monk Golog Jigme, who escaped into exile after suffering torture in prison, as well as former Vice-Premier of the Czech Republic Martin Bursik called on the international community to raise the rights violations with the Chinese government. In a written statement, ICT chairman Richard Gere urged to protect the Buddhist institute of Larung Gar. “We must protect this important ‘monastery for the world’, not just for Tibetan Buddhists, but for entire mankind. We need places like Larung Gar now more than ever. It is not too late to save them“, Gere emphasized. The rally was organized by Tibetan organizations in Switzerland and the International Campaign for Tibet.
States and organization who raised concerns about the human rights situation in China and/or Tibet at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Canada: “China’s ongoing detentions and sentencing of lawyers and human rights defenders raises questions as to its commitment to the rule of law. The immediate release of those arbitrarily detained for undertaking peaceful activities to protect human rights in China would be a vital step to strengthening the relationship with civil society. The recent visit to China of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is a positive indication of a new willingness to engage partners who are committed to supporting China’s stability and prosperity.”
Czech Republic: “In China, we are worried about the recent sentencing of lawyers such as Zhou Shifeng and others, defending in courts the exercise of human rights. We are also worried by the harassment of their spouses and close relatives.”
EU: “In China, the detention of human rights lawyers and defenders since mid-2015 and the harassment of their families remain as major concerns. The EU calls for the immediate release of all individuals detained or convicted for seeking to protect the rights of others or for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, including Liu Xiaobo, Illham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong, Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang. The use of closed hearings and public confessions raise serious questions about China’s respect for its international human rights obligations, and for its own legal and constitutional safeguards and stated commitment to upholding the rule of law. We are also concerned by the reports that detained human rights defenders are regularly subjected to coercion and prevented from choosing their own defence council or receiving visits from their families. The EU is concerned that China’s new law on the Management of Foreign NGO Activities could hamper the development of independent civil society and urges China to provide a safe and fair environment for all NGOs to operate freely and effectively. The EU also urges China to respect cultural diversity and freedom of religion, not least in Tibet and Xinjiang, and foster dialogue with the different ethnic groups.”
France: “France deplores the growing number of executions, in particular in China (…). France is concerned about the human rights situation in China. We are particularly concerned about the Foreign NGO law adopted end of April, which should come into force at the beginning of 2017. France is committed to the development of the rule of law in China and is worried about the waves of arrests and convictions of lawyers and human rights activists since July 2015.”
Germany: “Germany is deeply concerned about the human rights situation in China, in particular in Xinjiang and Tibet. Among those who suffer from widespread human rights violations, there are many lawyers, human rights activists or academics whose only offence was to lawfully defend the most vulnerable parts of society. In many cases, their courageous efforts resulted in detention. The widespread harassment and extension of persecution measures to family members of suspects is especially worrisome. We urge the Government to immediately release all detained human rights defenders.”
Ireland: “Ireland is concerned about restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association aimed at silencing the voice of civil society and human rights defenders in countries including Sudan, China and Bahrain.”
United Kingdom: “The UK remains concerned by reports of restrictions on freedom of religion and expression in China. New laws and regulations affecting media, NGOs and religious groups must expand the space for independent civil society and safeguard religious freedom and belief. We call for the release of those detained for peacefully exercising rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution and international law.”
US: “We are deeply concerned about China’s narrowing space for civil society and excessive government control of religious practices.”