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The significance of self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy

September 24, 2012

GENEVA, September 18, 2012 -- Several government delegations and NGOs addressed the worsening human rights situation in the People's Republic of China, particularly the rights of Tibetans and Uyghurs, in statements to the 21st session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (September 10-28, 2012).

As part of the September 17 debate under Item 4 "Human Rights situations that require the Council's attention", among the countries raising the human rights crisis in China were: the Czech Republic, Cyprus on behalf of the European Union (and Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Albania and Liechtenstein), Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. EU countries that took the floor aligned themselves to the EU statement delivered by Cyprus (currently holding the EU Presidency).

These countries expressed concern about reports of human rights violations in China, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial detentions, death penalty, persecution of lawyers and human rights activists and so forth. States expressed special concern over the lack of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief and the situation of minorities, including in Tibet and Xinjiang.

The Czech Republic described the self-immolations by Tibetans as a consequence of the increasing restrictions on religious freedom in Tibetan areas and also raised the individual case of Yonten Gyatso who was reportedly sentenced for sending information out of Tibet to the Human Rights Council.

Ambassador Eileen C. Donahoe of the United States told the Council: "China silences dissent through arrests, convictions, forced disappearances, and extralegal detentions; has tightened controls on the Internet; persecutes human rights lawyers; intimidates activists' families; impedes civil society; harasses journalists; and limits religious freedom. Government policies undermine the linguistic, religious, cultural, and livelihood traditions of its minorities."

The statement of the Czech Republic delegation said that the country "remains deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation in Tibetan-inhabited areas where increasing restrictions on religious freedom have lead to a series of self-immolation cases. A number of Tibetan intellectuals and cultural figures have been recently imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including Mr. Yonten Gyatso reportedly sentenced over sending information to the Human Rights Council."

Ambassador Thomas Fitschen of Germany expressed concerns about on-going reports of human rights violations in China, and the Swedish delegation called on China "to ensure that the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including in Tibet and Xinjiang, are fully respected."

The Chinese delegation wholly rejected country statements on human rights violations happening in China, characterizing them as "politicized" but countered with its own criticism of the human rights situation in Western countries.

During this session of the UN Human Rights Council, NGOs have also addressed the situation in Tibet under relevant agenda items. On September 14, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights issued a statement that said: "As to the situation of Tibetans who faced reprisals after meeting with UN human rights experts during their missions between 1994 and 2005 which have we documented it in our written statement NGO/31 to this session of the Council. One of the cases is that of Mr. Jigme Gyatso who met with the Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 2005. We inform the Council that Jigme Gyatso continues to be isolated from other prisoners, is denied adequate medical treatment and is not allowed to meet family members during normal visiting times. Unconfirmed information indicated that Jigme Gyatso protested at the prison in 2010 for which he was severely tortured as witnesses saw him being dragged to his isolation cell."

The same NGO on September 11 had told the Council: "We welcome that the High Commissioner in the Update Report expressed distress at recent executions carried out in a number of countries, including the People's Republic of China...However, we are disappointed on the High Commissioner's persistent silence on the massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms taking place in the People's Republic of China (PRC), especially of Mongolians, Tibetans and Uyghurs."

As in the March and June sessions of the Council, the human rights situation in Tibet was addressed at the current session, underscoring the sustained assault against human rights in Tibet and the gravity of the situation where more than 50 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese government constraints on their fundamental rights and freedoms.

On September 20, 2012, ICT at the invitation of four NGOs, will present a briefing paper on "Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy" at a side event organized on the premises of the Council in Geneva. Invitations have gone to government delegations and UN officials, as well as to civil society organizations to attend the event and discuss this urgent issue.

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