Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On the 2008 unrest in Tibet

A new Report of Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled “I Saw It with My Own Eyes — Abuses by Chinese Security Forces in Tibet, 2008-2010” has recently made the headlines. It deals with the unrest on the Tibetan plateau in March/April 2008. As a lot of ink has already gone into the subject, one could ask why publish a new report, two years after the happenings?
It is not really the sequence of events which preceeded those tumultuous days, but rather the way the Chinese authorities handled the riots which are unveiled in the HRW report.
For the human rights organization: “the Chinese government has yet to explain the circumstances that led to dozens of clashes between protesters and police. It has not addressed how its security forces responded to the unrest …Nor has it revealed the fate of hundreds of Tibetans arrested during the protests, or disclosed how many it has detained, sentenced, still holds pending trial, or has sentenced to extrajudicial forms of detention”.
In other words, Beijing has something to hide.
Nicholas Bequelin, who is based in Hong Kong and worked for HRW explains in an interview with the French Daily Le Monde: “We worked without a priori, but to answer the main issue, what is the Chinese government trying to hide by locking the entire Tibetan plateau since the demonstration of March 2008.”
Bequelin considers that it is now difficult for Beijing to refute the HRW Report based on official Chinese sources and eyewitness accounts (200 interviews conducted by HRW between March 2008 and April 2010).
One of the conclusions is that the scale of human rights violations was far greater than previously believed: Chinese forces broke international laws such as disproportionate use of force, torture and arbitrary detention. Further, it reveals that violations continue, including disappearances, wrongful convictions or persecution of families.
Let us remember the facts. Troubles started on 10 March 2008 when 300 monks from Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa started a peaceful protest march towards Barkhor Street, in Central Lhasa. A few monks were immediately arrested by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials.
The next day, the Sera Monastery in turn got involved in peaceful demonstrations. Again some monks were arrested, severely beaten and manhandled by PSB officials.
The following day, about 2,000 Chinese troops fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Sera Monastery monks calling for the release of their fellow monks while shouting pro-Tibet slogans.
March 14, 2008 will remain etched in the history of protests in Tibet. It was subsequently termed ‘the 3/14 incident’ by Beijing, probably to make it sound like a terrorist attack against the People’s Republic of China.
In the morning, about one hundred monks from Ramoche monastery began to demonstrate about monks arrested on the previous days. Once again they were stopped and beaten by the police. This infuriated the Tibetan by-passers. From then on, the situation went out of control.
Soon, a large scale demonstration involving tens of thousands of people lead to a confrontation between Tibetans and the People’s Armed Police.
The unrest spread to all the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. All the events occurred when local Party cadres were attending the annual National People's Congress in Beijing.
Many eyewitnesses told HRW tales of horror: “The witness described soldiers beating an elderly man in his sixties who continued to shout slogans after he had already been loaded in a truck: From inside the truck he kept shouting ‘May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live for 10,000 years!’ and ‘Tibet is independent!’, and for this, five or six soldiers threw him to the ground and beat him so severely that he seemed close to death.”
The Chinese government immediately put the blame on the ‘Dalai Lama and his clique’. An official in Lhasa told Xinhua that there had been enough evidence to prove that the sabotage in Lhasa was "organized, premeditated and masterminded" by the Dalai clique. Though the Chinese government always maintained that it applied ‘limited’ use of force (and spoke about the loss of 10 lives ‘mainly Chinese and Muslim business persons!’), the Dalai Lama’s Administration mentioned at least 100 dead.
Instead of cooling down the situation, Zhang Qingli, Party Chief in Tibet created more resentment by calling the Dalai Lama “a wolf in monk's clothes, a devil with a human face” and declaring that “those who do not love the motherland are not qualified to be human beings”. The HRW report however points out that no evidence of any external intervention has ever been given by Beijing
Interestingly, another report prepared by a Chinese think-tank, Beijing Gongmeng Consulting was published in 2009. It had also contradicted the Party’s official version. The authors, a group of Chinese lawyers spent one month in Tibet “interviewing Tibetan monks, nomads, farmers, scholars, migrants, artists, and business people”.
The lawyers first point out “major errors in government policy” after the March–April 2008 protests. One was ‘over-propagandizing of violence’; another, encouragement of racist sentiment towards Tibetans: “The excessive response of the government all over Tibet was to regard every tree and blade of grass as a potential enemy soldier.”
According to them, this further strained the relations between the local Tibetans and the Han migrants. One of their conclusions was: “Understanding is a precondition for discussion, unity and development. If the promotion of healthy development in Tibetan areas is truly desired then there must be a change in thinking and an adjustment in thinking behind the current nationality theories and policies.”
The Lawyers’ Report found that in Tibet, the difficult terrain has created “locally fixed power networks, which inevitably lead to a high incidence of corruption and dereliction of duty.” For the Chinese lawyers, this new aristocracy, which is ‘legitimized by the Party’, is even more powerful than the old one.
The Tibetan Diaspora probably could not disagree with some of the Lawyers’ conclusions. Particularly, when they say that, ‘Foreign forces’ and ‘Tibet independence’ are used by “many local officials as fig leaves to conceal their mistakes in governance and to repress social discontent …elevating everything to the level of splittist forces in order to conceal their errors.”
A similar conclusion was arrived at in the 70,000 character petition sent by the previous Panchen Lama to Premier Zhou Enlai way back in 1962, for which the Lama spent 17 years in jail.
After his release, he worked closely with the Communist Government, but continued to be disturbed by the situation inside Tibet. In January 1989 while declaring open the tombs of his predecessors at the Tashilhunpo Monastery, he declared: “The Chinese rule in Tibet had brought more destruction than benefit to the Tibetan people”. Four days after delivering this historic speech (witnessed by the then Party Boss, today President Hu Jintao), he passed away.
The mysterious nature of his death generated a lot of speculation. Six years later, soon after the Dalai Lama formally announced that Gedhun Choeki Nyima, a six-year old boy born in Tibet, was the genuine reincarnation of the Eleventh Panchen Lama, the boy was arrested. Since then, he is known as the Youngest Political Prisoner in the World.
Beijing later ‘discovered’ its own incarnation of the Panchen Lama who has recently been 'promoted' as a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Incidents like these are the root cause of the resentment of the local Tibetan populations against the Chinese occupants, there is no need to go further to understand the events of March/April 2008.
The HRW report is however a welcome addition.

1 comment:

John Roberts said...

Thank you for a very good write-up on the Human Rights Watch report. It is extremely satisfying to have an independent rights monitor publish this material. In 2008, when we were writing our book, "Freeing Tibet: 50 Years of Struggle, Resilience, and Hope," the riots had just happened. We did out best to find objective, verifiable reports in order to write the chapter dealing with the riots. The HRW report verifies much of what we discovered, and published, when the book came out in 2009. We advocate putting political pressure on the Beijing regime by consumer action -- boycotts in Europe and America of any goods made in China. The regime depends entirely on access to European and Western consumers for its growth. Without that growth, there will be social instability, which we hope will lead to pressure for political reforms, thereby setting the stage for Tibetans to regain their freedom. There is more about this on our blog at Once again, many thanks for your cogent summary of the Human Rights Watch report. And remember -- if it's made in China, boycott it!