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New report debunks China’s claims of “village democracy” in Tibet

July 7, 2014

July 7, 2014 - Under the 1998 Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committee of the People’s Republic of China, villagers can directly elect members to the Village Committee (Ch: cunmin weiyuanhui), which is authorised to manage the public affairs of the village taking into account the interests of the villagers.  China’s Constitution also mandates that villages should be governed by democratically elected, autonomous committees chosen from among villagers themselves.

In its numerous white papers and during the 2013 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the government of the PRC made staggering claims of implementing ‘village democracy’ or ‘grassroots democracy’ in the rural areas. In its last report to UPR Working Group of the HRC, the Chinese government maintained that it has introduced “direct elections” to set up Village Committees in 98 percent of villages in the PRC.” The White Paper called ‘Development and Progress in Tibet’, issued to coincide with the 2013 UPR, claimed widespread community-level democracy and successful ‘direct election’ to Village Committees in Tibetan areas.

This special report, also available in Chinese, analyzes the so-called village democracy in the rural areas of Tibet and China. In doing so, it lays bare the true intentions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese government – to further strengthen and deepen the Party’s control of, rather than grant real autonomy to, Tibetan rural areas by preempting any spontaneous and genuine growth of democracy and popular protests that might threaten the Party’s monopoly on power in the PRC. Indeed, the overriding goal is to ensure stability in the name of village democracy.

In Tibet, the extreme security and surveillance measures undermine the structures and environment required for grassroots democracy. For instance, since late 2011, party control at village level in Tibetan areas has increased considerably. In 2013, official Chinese media reported that five major ‘stability maintenance measures’ had been introduced in Tawu (Ch: Dawu) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. These new rules relate to changing the local cadre system in order to root out any cadre that may not be seen to be stamping out dissent and views different from the Party. Cadres in Tawu are to be rotated every three years, interrogated to assure their allegiance to the party and investigated as to their political backgrounds. Others measures relate to dissemination of party propaganda via compulsory villagers propaganda meetings each week and new village surveillance measures.

This special report shows that the institutionalization of village self-governance has done little to increase the genuine political participation and decision-making power of the rural grassroots communities. The fundamental and crucial limitation comes from the fact that it is the village Party branch and the Party Secretary rather than the Village Committees that indeed control the village affairs and have any final say over decisions affecting the villagers. As a result, the village Party secretary, who has numerous opportunities to manipulate electoral procedures including nomination of the candidates, enjoys discretion to influence the electoral results and the subsequent functioning of the ‘elected’ Village Committee.

Focusing primarily on Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the report also covers Tibetan areas in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. It features interviews with new Tibetan refugees and their relatives from inside Tibet, who had personally experienced Chinese government’s implementation of ‘village democracy’ in their localities, and a detailed analysis and study of much-touted ‘Organic Law of the Villagers Committees of the PRC’.

Just because elections are held to elect Villagers Committee does not mean that the voters have access to power or any say in how the village affairs are run after the elections. Apart from holding genuine periodic elections, the values of freedom and respect for human rights are essential elements of democracy. As the UN Human Rights Council stated in its resolution 18/6 that these values are embodied in the UDHR and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies. Without effective protection, promotion and realization of human rights particularly the civil and political rights, the government of the PRC can only showcase the so-called village democracy as professed intention than any real commitment to grant any real agency to grassroots Tibetan communities.

The publication is available in hard copy at TCHRD’s Information Booth set up at the Kalachakra location in Leh, Ladakh. The information booth is open until 14 July 2014. Copies can also be ordered from TCHRD’s office in Dharamsala.

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