Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Tibet

The United Nations General Assembly in Paris proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on the 10th of December 1948 as ‘a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.’ Though it is not a legally binding document, it has been invoked countless times in international treaties, national constitutions, and other laws, causing some legal scholars to argue that it has become a part of customary international law. However, many of the thirty articles outlining fundamental human rights are often ignored.

A particularly striking instance of complete disregard for the UDHR is the Chinese rule in Tibet. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army first invaded Tibet in 1950, and in 1951 the Tibetans signed a seventeen-point agreement reaffirming China’s sovereignty over Tibet and providing an autonomous administration led by Dalai Lama. The fourteenth Dalai Lama eventually fled in 1959 and the Tibet Autonomous Region within China was established in 1965. There have since been increasingly severe violations of the basic human rights of the Tibetan people, including allegations of torture, abductions, infringement on religious freedoms, and restricted freedom of movement. In reference to the UDHR, there are several articles of the declaration that have been especially desecrated in Tibet. These are articles five, thirteen, and twenty one, respectively regarding torture, freedom of movement, and choice of government.

Source: Asia News.

The fifth article of the declaration proclaims that ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Torture in Tibet is endemic in the judicial system of Tibet; it is an accepted repercussion of activism, and recent reports have detailed the extent to which Tibetan prisoners are subjected to extreme forms of torture. Peaceful demonstrators who have been protesting the Chinese regime and oppression in Tibet have increasingly been taken prisoner for so-called ‘criminal activities.’ There is ‘evidence that since 2008 torture has become more widespread and directed at a broader sector of society.’ The unrest in 2008 catalyzed harsher measures by the Chinese government in attempts to repress Tibetan insurrectionists. In a report by the International Campaign for Tibet, a pattern of torture and mistreatment by Chinese prison officials of Tibetans is documented, including 14 who died as a consequence between 2009 and 2014.

A major cause of the protests and demonstrations is the violation of articles thirteen and twenty-one of the UDHR. The thirteenth article says that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state’ and ‘everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.’ The Tibetan people have to go through a significantly more difficult process to gain a passport than the ethnically Chinese areas of China. They are delegated to a slow-track passport system, which ‘allows residents of ethnic Chinese areas of China to travel abroad easily, but denies residents of Tibetan…areas equal access to foreign travel.’ Since 2012, this system of restriction has been taken to the extreme in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Authorities ordered the confiscation of all passports held by registered residents of the region, over 90 percent of whom are Tibetans.

There are also severe infringements upon the political rights of the Tibetan people in violation of the twenty-first article of the UDHR, which states that ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.’ From the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet has had a form over ‘people’s democracy’ forced upon them; Tibet is governed directly by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Almost exclusively, ethnically Chinese immigrants run the political system in place in the ‘autonomous’ region of Tibet. They run the border systems and hold key positions government. In the Tibet Autonomous Region no Tibetan has ever been appointed Party Secretary, which is the most senior government post. The ethnically Tibetan people thus have extremely limited influence in a form of government that was thrust upon them.

The violation of these three articles of the UDHR barely begins to scrape the surface of the entrenched oppression and abuse of the Tibetan people. They also face severe repression of their religion and culture by the Chinese occupiers. The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned, and since 2016, Larung Gar, the biggest Buddhist institute in Tibet, has been the target of a major assault. China has also taken advantage of Tibetan natural resources to fuel its economic and industrial expansion, despite the destruction this has caused for the local communities and landscape. The abuse of the native people is pervasive and comprehensive, and is only becoming more desperate and irreversible as time passes.

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