Blog: Holding China to account on torture at the UN

Free Tibet's Eleanor and other human rights activists at the UN
Free Tibet's Eleanor and other human rights activists at the UN
17th November 2015

Post by Tibet Watch's Research Manager

“Welcome to Geneva - and free Tibet!” That was one of the first sentences of welcome that Tibet Watch heard on Sunday evening and it was the best possible start to a busy and, at times, intense trip to the UN.

The friendly gentleman at the hotel reception who shouted these words all the way down the hotel lobby was Romanian and became aware of the Tibet issue in 2006 when Tibetans trying to escape and cross the border to Nepal were shot at and a young nun was killed. Though China tried to deny that this had taken place, the incident was made an international issue thanks to a Romanian cameraman called Sergiu Matei who had been able to film it. 

Of course many other things have happened in Tibet since then - including the 2008 uprising which saw many Tibetan lives lost and many still unaccounted for - and much work has been done by us at Tibet Watch and our campaigning partner Free Tibet to expose China's human rights abuses and hold it to account. China is currently being reviewed by the the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) for the first time since 2008 and yesterday, Tibet Watch’s Director and Research Manager took part in the formal NGO Briefing to the Committee Members and helped to write and deliver a short statement from all the Tibet groups present.

Having spent a large part of this past year carrying out research and publishing two reports on torture in Tibet, it was a good feeling for Tibet Watch to briefly step out of doing research work in the background and actively participate in the process at the UN. It was also a good opportunity to collaborate with other Tibet and human rights groups.

It was an honour to be at the UN alongside torture survivor Golog Jigme who followed the proceedings closely. His testimony to Tibet Watch is a harrowing account of what Tibetan political prisoners face in detention.

The biggest challenge facing all the NGO groups though was undoubtedly the lack of time available for the statements. As the NGO briefing was only an hour long, half that time was allocated for NGO statements and half an hour for Q&A. Before leaving for Geneva, Tibet Watch had identified three key priority issues to be mentioned to the Committee: the lack of response from China to cases of Tibetan prisoners (many dating back to 2008) included in the List of Issues; the use of the National Security law as an excuse for holding Tibetans incommunicado for indefinite periods; and redress for Tibetans who have been tortured. 

For Tibet Watch and Free Tibet, it was also important to mention the case of Bangri Tsamtrul Rinpoche, the founder of an orphanage who is currently serving an 18 year prison term for political crimes. Bangri Tsamtrul Rinpoche’s "confession" was extracted through an extended five day interrogation involving torture. Fortunately, we were able to pack many issues into our statement while the remaining issues were picked up on by other groups covering themes such as the lack of access to data, the difficulty of access to justice, threats to human rights lawyers, impunity and redress.

An excerpt from the Tibetan statement:

Tibetan prisoners are denied the safeguards set out in Chinese law, including contact with family and medical treatment, especially for injuries or conditions brought on by torture. We are concerned about reports of deaths in custody, in particular about the case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Tibetans are often brutally tortured, then released to die outside of prison so that Chinese authorities can avoid accountability, as in the cases of Goshul Lobsang and Tenzin Choedrak. We are particularly concerned about the many Tibetan prisoners who remain at risk of torture, such as Bangri Tsamtrul Rinpoche. Torture contributes to a climate of fear and repression affecting every aspect of life and preventing Tibetans from realising their human rights. 

This Tuesday and Wednesday, China's delegation to the UN will be questioned by the Committee, who will then review all the evidence and issue its final report next year. You can follow the proceedings online with the next CAT session on China scheduled for Wednesday 18 November from 2-5pm GMT:

Find out more about how we're holding China accountable on torture in Tibet and how you can take action here.

About the author: our Research Manager has been working on Tibetan issues for over twelve years.  Her experience includes research, campaigning, translation and work on digital security. She has worked for some international NGOs and also for different Tibet Support Groups.  As a Tibetan who still has family and friends living under occupation, she works with us anonymously for security reasons.