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Tibetan nomads at risk as China nominates Tibet’s Hoh Xil nature reserve for UNESCO world heritage status

July 3, 2017

International Campaign for Tibet, June 30, 2017 - A new report by the International Campaign for Tibet reveals how a Chinese government nomination for UNESCO World Heritage status for a vast area of Tibet – due to be decided in Krakow next week – involves removing Tibetan nomads, who protect the landscape and its wildlife.

A report published today before the World Heritage Committee meets in Krakow, Poland, by the International Campaign for Tibet reveals how the Hoh Xil nature reserve on the Tibetan plateau (Achen Gangyap in Tibetan), nominated for UNESCO status, is in the middle of three major nature reserves that increasingly exclude normal Tibetan land use such as nomadic herding, situate the state as the sole agency of control, and encourage mass tourism.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “While of course we fully support the aim of protecting biodiversity in the UNESCO application, there is no justification for removing nomads or seeking to block passage of herders through the area, or for using the UNESCO brand to boost tourism and infrastructure while doing so. China’s UNESCO nomination denies the Tibetan human presence, and the long history of Tibetans sustainably curating the land.

Our message to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow next week is that the inscription of Hoh Xil should be deferred pending a detailed assessment involving stakeholders and experts, consistent with UNESCO guidelines. The nomadic tradition of one of the richest spiritual cultures in the world must be respected and indeed honoured – Tibetans have preserved the natural and cultural heritage of their homeland to a degree that allows it to be considered as World Heritage in the first place. The involvement of Tibetans – and nomads in particular – as stewards is essential to sustaining the wildlife, the long-term health of the ecosystems, and the water resources that China and Asia depend upon.”

ICT will present its findings at the 4th International Civil Society Forum on World Heritage at Risk in Krakow, Poland, on Friday (June 30) prior to the 41st meeting of the World Heritage Committee from July 2.

ICT’s new report documents the following:

    China proposes shutting Tibetan nomads out of the area while encouraging Chinese tourists. But the involvement of Tibetans – and nomads in particular – as stewards is essential to sustaining the long-term health of the ecosystems, and the water resources that China and Asia depend upon. Excluding them is inconsistent with UNESCO and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines, which seek to ensure that the rights of local and indigenous people are respected. ICT’s report includes new information on the removal of Tibetans from this fragile high-altitude landscape and reveals fears of more to follow.

    An expert mission for UNESCO identified serious concerns about China’s nomination for World Heritage, including the dangers to wildlife presented by an engineering corridor that runs through the area. But in a conclusion that appears inconsistent with such warnings, the scientific mission from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature concluded that the nomination should still be approved at the World Heritage Committee meeting, which begins on July 2.

    This is not the first time China has excluded economic production zones from the heart of ‘protected areas’ in Tibet that have been given UNESCO’s approval and brand equity. In the “Three Parallel Rivers” protected area of Yunnan, given World Heritage status in 2002, the actual rivers were excluded from the defined protected area, which has allowed China to now proceed with hydro dam construction, power grid construction and other development – resulting in a decline in wildlife population and difficulties for the local Tibetan population.

    China’s bid for UNESCO status coincides with the news that it is considering turning a vast area of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau into a huge national park as it embarks upon the largest scientific study of Tibet so far conducted. While at face value this appears to be a positive development, this also involves the relocation of Tibetan nomads as grazing is banned in nature reserves, and traditionally productive and sustainable activities such as pastoralism and gathering medicinal herbs are criminalized.

The full report can be downloaded at:
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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