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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Nepal police forcibly return three Tibetan refugees across border

July 29, 2010

ICT Report
July 27, 2010

Nepal has violated the well-established
"Gentlemen's Agreement" with the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and contravened
its obligations under international law by
forcibly returning three Tibetan refugees to
Chinese border police in early June. This is the
first confirmed case of the refoulement of
Tibetan refugees from Nepal since May 2003. Two
of the Tibetans who were returned, a young woman
and a monk, are now in prison in Tibet.

The "Gentlemen's Agreement" between the
government of Nepal and the UNHCR provides for
the safe transit of Tibetan refugees through
Nepalese territory and onward to India and was
put in practice after 1989 when Nepal stopped
providing refugee status to new arrivals from Tibet.

Different sources in Nepal have told ICT that two
Tibetan monks, 20-year old Dawa and 21-year old
Dorjee, and a 22-year old woman called Penpa,
were detained in early June by Nepalese police in
Nepal's Humla district bordering Purang (Chinese:
Burang) county in Ngari prefecture, Tibet
Autonomous Region. The three Tibetans were held
at the police post in the village of Muchu, about
a day's walk from the Tibet-Nepal border.
According to ICT sources, Chinese border police
were in touch with the Nepalese police, and the
three Tibetans were taken by helicopter to the
border at Hilsa, accompanied by a Nepalese
politician and a policeman. Chinese security
personnel collected them there and took them back
into Tibet. According to the same sources, two of
the Tibetans, one of the monks and the young
woman, have now been jailed and will serve around
six months. The second monk has been allowed to return to his monastery.

The Tibetan woman is from Shigatse and may be an
official, and the monks are from Korchak
monastery, just a couple of hours walk from the
border with Nepal. Tibetans living this close to
the border are typically allowed to cross over
and travel a short distance into Nepal without
penalty so their detention is unusual. According
to local sources, the Chinese authorities were
looking for the woman, hoping to stop her from
reaching Kathmandu and traveling onward to India.
ICT also learned that the Nepalese Armed Police
Force, tasked with monitoring the borders, was not involved in the incident.

The refoulement was first reported by ABC
Nepalese television on July 22, but full details
have not been available until now.

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International
Campaign for Tibet, said: "Nepal is duty-bound
under its own agreement with the UNHCR to ensure
the safe transit of Tibetan refugees through its
territory and, having acceded to the Torture
Convention, not to put them at risk of
imprisonment and torture in Tibet. We urge the
Nepal government and the UNHCR to work together
to investigate this incident, including China's
extra-territorial role, and to adopt remedies
that prevent future occurrences of refoulement
from Nepal, including written instructions and
trainings for immigration and border police in
proper procedures and international human rights standards."

The principle of non-refoulement (forcible
repatriation) is a norm of international law that
forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area
where the person might be subjected to
persecution. Although Nepal is not a signatory to
the U.N. Convention or Protocol Relating to the
Status of Refugees, it has acceded to the U.N.
Torture Convention in which the principle of non-refoulement is also enshrined.

The U.S. State Department 2009 Country Report on
Human Rights Practices reports that "Tibetans
repatriated from Nepal reportedly suffered
torture, including electric shocks, exposure to
cold and severe beatings and were forced to perform heavy physical labour."

While it is the first confirmed case of
refoulement of Tibetans from Nepal since May 2003
when Chinese officials seized 18 Tibetan refugees
from a Kathmandu jail, it is certainly possible
that other incidents have happened unobserved in
remote border areas. A near case of refoulement
occurred also in June, when a group of Tibetans,
including two sick children, were apprehended in
the Nepal border region by Nepalese police, then
abandoned on the difficult route back towards
Tibet. The group hid for two days from Chinese
police searching for them in the mountains of
Nepal until they were rescued and brought safely
to the Tibetan refugee transit center in Kathmandu

(See ICT report,
http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/fragile-welcome-chinaps-influence-nepal-and-its-impact-tibetans).

Chinese government pressure on Nepal over its
policies on Tibetans is well known, and it has
used various economic and other inducements to
move Nepal towards its positions, including that
Tibetan refugees are illegal migrants. At the
same time, the international community, including
foreign embassies in Kathmandu, regularly urge
Nepal to adhere to its "Gentlemen's Agreement"
with the UNHCR and to find durable solutions for
its long-staying Tibetan refugee population,
including proper documentation. In ominous news,
the Kathmandu Post reported on July 11 that the
Nepal Home Ministry had directed police across
Nepal not to transfer detained Tibetan refugees
to the Immigration Department for legal
processing but to immediately send the refugees
back to Tibet, suggesting a direct contravention
of the Gentlemen's Agreement ("Refugees give cops
tough time," Kathmandu Post, July 11, 2010).

Thousands of Tibetan refugees transit through
Nepal en route to India each year. The UNHCR
maintains a center in Kathmandu where they are
processed as "persons of concern" and given
urgent care until they can be quickly moved
onwards to India. The number of Tibetans arriving
safely in Kathmandu has decreased in recent years
as a result of the tightening of security at the
Tibet-Nepal border and across Tibet.

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, ICT
Email: press@savetibet.org
Tel: +44 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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