ON TIBETAN WOMEN
The Status of Tibetan Women 1995-2000
A. Statement of Report
The Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) respectfully submits this NGO Alternative Report on the status of Tibetan women for the Beijing Plus Five initiative - Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty First Century to be sponsored by the United Nations. Though the community of Tibetan women includes those living both in and out of exile, this report addresses primarily the issues concerning Tibetan women living inside Chinese occupied Tibet. It is the perspective of TWA that Tibetan women living inside Tibet are facing dire circumstances and, therefore, we have chosen to focus energy here regarding this report.
Since the 1995 Beijing Conference, TWA, being the sole organization in the Tibetan community in exile to focus exclusively on women’s issues, has worked hard to continue to shed awareness on the status of Tibetan women both within their exiled community and the international community. After Beijing, the TWA delegation toured Tibetan settlements throughout India and Nepal to update exiled residents on the happenings in Beijing. TWA has enjoyed increased international recognition via the media and numerous developing relationships with international NGO's since 1995. Since 1995, TWA has become more accepted in the local and international community and has played an important role particularly in the Asian-Pacific region. TWA representatives were able to attend several post-Beijing symposiums including two in Thailand, one in Katmandu, Nepal, one in Manila, Philippines, and one in Sri Lanka. TWA was also able to complete a report to the Committee on the Status of Women as part of the preparatory process for the June 2000 conference in New York. With the informational assistance of many Tibet support organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, TWA has been able to prepare this Alternative Report so as to ensure that the voice of Tibetan women is not forgotten. As much as possible, this Alternative Report examines the issues regarding Tibetan women living in Tibet with respect to the Beijing Platform for Action.
In this report, Tibet refers to the full area of the Tibetan plateau. Besides the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibet also includes areas of Kham and Amdo that are now incorporated into Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Ganau, Sichuan and Yunnan. It is worth noting that the Chinese authorities define the Tibetan region as only the TAR.
This report is submitted with the understanding that Tibet is not formally accepted into the United Nations and we regret this fact. Nonetheless, the voice of Tibetan women is a vital one that must be considered in the international conversation on the status of women. We hope that the information provided in this Alternative Report will urge the international community to pay close attention to the issues facing Tibetan women living in Tibet. As we have acknowledged here, Tibetan women in Tibet live under severe restrictions to their political, religious, reproductive and social freedoms. There is a severe lack of fundamental human rights that, five years after the establishment of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), continues to a horrific degree.
B. Tibetan Women’s Association
The Tibetan Women's Association is a non-governmental organization that was originally founded in Tibet in 1959 by a group of Tibetan women who came together to protest the forceful occupation of their homeland by the Chinese authorities. In 1984, TWA was reestablished by Tibetan women living in exile in India and currently has over 10,000 members and 40 branches worldwide. TWA's main objective is to raise public awareness of the abuses faced by Tibetan women in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Through extensive publicity and involvement in national and international affairs, TWA alerts communities to the gender-specific human rights abuses committed against Tibetan women in the form of forced birth control policies such as sterilization’s and abortions, and restrictions on religious, political, social and cultural freedoms. In exile, TWA places great priority on the contributions of Tibetan women towards the preservation and promotion of the distinct religion, culture and identity of the Tibetan people. TWA serves the Tibetan community as a whole with activities addressing religious and cultural issues, educational needs, social welfare, as well as the environment and the political participation and social empowerment of women.
C. Platform of Tibetan Women
As we turnover into a new millennium, Tibetan women welcome the opportunity to contribute to the international dialogue concerning the status of women throughout the world. Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty First Century is a relevant theme for focus for the UN General Assembly follow up conference to Beijing in June 2000. Tibetan women and all Tibetan people, however, remain in the significant position of approaching these issues from not just a gender perspective, but from a perspective of living in a state of foreign occupation and exile. We cannot attempt to separate the two issues of justice for Tibetan women and justice for the Tibetan people. The efforts are interdependent - as the main obstacle to the fulfillment of women's equality, development and peace in Tibet is this very state of occupation and, consequently, the conditions created by it.
Due to the illegal occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), by definition, Tibetan women living in and out of exile have been severely restricted in their ability to contribute to their own advancement - geographically, institutionally and politically. For example, unlike many of our sisters around the world who have joined together in their countries to form various governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote their rights, Tibet's one women's organization, TWA, exists only in exile. It has become virtually impossible for Tibetan women living inside Tibet to mobilize in solidarity without taking grave risks. Furthermore, for both Tibetan women living in Tibet and in exile, there is the issue of consistency of access to information that is accurate and objective. There is essentially no ensured way for Tibetan women in exile to communicate with their sisters in Tibet due to the limitations employed by the Chinese State regarding information being able to enter and exit from Tibet. One of the only ways to gather information from Tibet is through the first hand accounts of newly escaped refugees. These conditions present a difficult scenario for Tibetan women to organize for change, as their resources to gather and bond are limited. As women that are unwillfully divided by foreign occupation, Tibetan women face a layer of challenges which directly impact the efforts needed to address the situations concerning their advancement. These challenges were relevant in 1995, and remain so today.
The Beijing Platform for Action remains to be a beautiful document with immense relevance to Tibetan women in principle. Tibetan women are no different from their world sisters in that, as women, they face gender-based violence, discrimination and oppression in many forms. However, the situation of foreign occupation presents significant barriers for the Tibetan people and specifically Tibetan women to support each other in practical ways and implement the priorities of the BPFA. The reality is that as long as China defies international law and continues its gross human rights abuses of Tibetan women living in Tibet, the BPFA has little practical implications for Tibetan women. One exception, however, is Strategic Objective and Action E of the BPFA, Women and armed conflict. The BFA rightfully acknowledges the “systematic violations and situations” that exist in states of foreign occupation that serve as obstacles to the advancement of women. Such is the condition of Tibetan women living in Chinese occupied Tibet. Essentially, the mission of the platform of Tibetan women is a call to action to the international community for a monitoring and implementation of women's human rights inside Tibet. We fear that until the international community takes these viable steps, gender equality, development and peace for Tibetan women in Tibet will not occur.
It is true that many of our world sisters have joined us in our struggle as exiled women. This support has indeed increased since the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCOW) and we consider it a most progressive outcome of that event. It must be noted that participation of Tibetan women in international conferences is difficult, though, due to the interference of Chinese authorities. Nonetheless, Tibetan women will not be silent. We highly value the opportunity to build relationships and contribute to the world conversation on women. We will continue our efforts to be part of international conferences and we join the international community of women in our belief in and pursuit of gender equality, development and peace. Furthermore, we applaud the existence and encourage the continuation of such forums, as they are not only informative in nature, but empowering as well. The very process itself of participating in international forums on women’s rights has certainly proved to be empowering for Tibetan women living in exile. We have been able to network with other women around the globe and connect with those that share similar circumstances. We have been able to self-analyze our movement and think more critically about our strategies. This has given us strength as Tibetans and as Tibetan women. We also predict and hope that it has served similarly for our Tibetan sisters living in Tibet, some of whom were part of the Chinese delegation at the FWCOW. For, we believe it is our Tibetan sisters living under foreign occupation that can benefit most from participating in such events. By participating in the international dialogue of women, we envision that Tibetan women inside Tibet can have the opportunity to be educated and hopeful - even if their participation is under the duress of the Chinese authorities. Additionally and importantly, we believe the Chinese government is more likely to involve Tibet women in their delegations if exiled Tibetan women are also present, as they may be conscious of the power of the truth to be revealed by Tibetan women living in exile. As one of the Tibetan Women’s Delegation (TWD) in Beijing stated upon returning - “The TWD suspected that the Chinese government had not planned on having TAR delegates attend the official Conference, but when they saw Tibetan exiles there, they quickly arranged to have two TAR delegates attend”. International conferences of women shed light on the reality of the status of women in the world. They are vital to the sustenance of the women’s movement and the Tibetan movement. We urge the UN, other regional and international bodies, and women’s groups to continue their production.
The platform of Tibetan women would not be complete without addressing the issue of non-violent strategies and philosophies. For over 40 years the Tibetan people, under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, have been at the forefront of the non-violence movement. Despite the violent challenges that the Chinese government has set on Tibet, Tibetans have responded peacefully and continue to adhere to a philosophy of non-violence in solving conflict. Tibetan women have played a significant role in these peaceful strategies adhered to by the Tibetan people and this must be noted. We believe that the world community has much to gain from considering the non-violent perspective of Tibetan Buddhist culture. In 1989, the Dalai Lama was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of this effort. In order to strengthen the “culture of peace” that the world and the BPFA so strongly advocates, it naturally follows that the issues of women living in foreign occupation, such as Tibetan women, be considered greatly. Furthermore, taking action upon these issues should be a priority for the world community. As stated in the BPFA “in a world of continuing instability and violence, the implementation of cooperative approaches to peace and security is urgently needed”. Simply stating the desire for a peaceful world without practically implementing this ambition is nonsensical. We must now move forward from vision to action if we truly want a world culture of peace.
|II. OVERVIEW OF REPORT
This NGO Alternative Report presents an examination of the critical issues concerning the situation of Tibetan women living in Tibet. The time frame considered is the state of Tibetan women in Tibet from 1995 to the present – the period of time since the FWCOW in Beijing, China. Specifically, the critical issues involving Tibetan women in Tibet that are described here are: violence against Tibetan women in Tibet which includes gender specific torture and reproductive rights violations, discriminatory practices concerning Tibet women and their employment and health care, the status of the Tibetan girl child, and Tibetan women's human rights in Tibet. The issues at hand are discussed, to as much degree as possible, in regards to the BPFA and how much, if at all, these issues have been able to be addressed in the Tibetan community since 1995. It is the perspective of this report that these issues are all blatant human rights abuses and, furthermore, need to be examined in light of the fact that Tibetan women are living under foreign occupation. The state of foreign occupation of Tibet by China, which has resulted in internal and external refugee women, has been the most significant obstacle in the advancement of Tibetan women. Indeed this status, together with China's refusal to honor Tibetan's right to self-determination, is the seed of the many abuses that Tibetan women continue to face today.
This document concludes that, since the FWCOW, there has been an increasing awareness and support concerning the situation of Tibetan women inside Tibet. Despite pressure from the international community on China to address these issues, China has yet to specify any practical action or acknowledgement towards the advancement of Tibetan women. In consideration of the report findings, recommendations are made to the international community and specifically to the Chinese government, to assist in rectifying the dehumanizing and genocidal situation that Tibetan women are being subject to in Tibet.
|III.VIOLENCE AGAINST TIBETAN WOMEN
The world community including many UN Committees, national governments, and NGO’s, widely acknowledges that violence against women is a serious global problem. One expert has urged that the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women study the situation of women in China and Tibet. In 1995, the BPFA defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women”. The BPFA further includes in its definition of violence against women to include “physical, sexual or psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state...forced prostitution, forced sterilization, forced abortion, coercive/forced use of contraceptives”. Also the BPFA includes women living under foreign occupation and notes that they are particularly vulnerable to violence. In this light, violence against women in Tibet at the hands of the Chinese state remains to be a major concern in the Tibetan community.
Tibetan women are subject to a wide range of violence including torture, rape, and reproductive rights violations. Since the FWCOW, there has been little positive change regarding violence against Tibetan women in Tibet. There is reason to believe that the situation, in fact, has become worse. The scene is particularly grim for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, as they are systematically targeted for gender based violence because of their status as nuns. It is estimated that over 80% of female political prisoners in Tibet are nuns. Not only do these violations fall under the spectrum of a disregard for human rights, they are also a persecution of religious freedoms.
There have been many international initiatives in the post-Beijing era concerning violence against women in the world community. Of note is the effort put forth by the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in their assembly of reports from UN Nations. In 1980, China signed and ratified CEDAW. By many accounts and criticisms, however, China’s most recent reports to CEDAW have virtually failed to address the issue of violence perpetrated against Tibetan women in Tibet. In the area of reproductive rights, for example, violations of the Convention have been found to be so grave that they “present the possibility that the Tibetan people and culture will be destroyed within the coming century”. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the actions of the Chinese state constitute an act of genocide against the Tibetan people through its reproductive rights violations of Tibetan women. CEDAW specifically requested information regarding gender based violence against Tibetan women in the form of statistics, legislation and other measures taken for protection. China has consistently refused to honor these requests and their most recent submissions to CEDAW are prime examples of this ignorance.
Torture is acknowledged in the BPFA as a violation of “the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law...”. The world community has recognized the practice of torture and has attempted to take steps toward its elimination. In 1988, China joined the efforts when it ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which outlaws any form of torture. In 1998, China also ratified the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Upon signing on to these initiatives, China promised the world community that it would uphold these principles. The reality is that China has not fulfilled its promise and has repeatedly refused requests from the international community, including the UN Committee Against Torture in 1993 and 1996, to respond to declarations of widespread torture in Tibet. China has, furthermore, refused to ban all forms of torture in the PRC.
There has been a wealth of reports in the world community of the widespread torture taking place in Tibet, specifically regarding Tibetan political prisoners, which is this reports’ primary concern. Accounts of the torture of political prisoners have been consistent since the BPFA. As of December 1999, there are 615 Tibetan political prisoners held in Tibet, 162 or 35% of whom are women. Of these prisoners it is estimated that one in seven are victims of severe torture, and a significant number have died due to injuries sustained from torture. According to a 1999 report by the Tibet Information Network (TIN), it is estimated that one out of every twenty-two female political prisoners in Drapchi prison will die as a result of abuse under detention. Tibetan prisoners of conscience in Tibet have been detained due to their religious, political and ethnic views. These political prisoners have expressed their views peacefully and for this, they are unjustly detained and dehumanized. They enjoy no right to counsel and, in addition to gruesome torture, are subject to invasive interrogations and held indeterminately.
As political prisoners, women are subject to brutal gender based violence - specifically sexual torture. Interviews of former political prisoners conducted by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reveal extremely gross practices such as penetration of the vagina and rectum with electric cattle prods. One 28-year old nun, Tenzin Choedon, who has since escaped to India, describes the torture she sustained while imprisoned in Gutsa Detention Center:
We were all hit with rifle butts ... then an official set a dog upon me ... We were then taken to a hall and ordered to remove our clothes, except for our waistcoat and petticoat ... I was stripped and told to lie down on the floor as if prostrating. I saw them bringing knotted ropes, electric batons and sticks ... First I was hit with a stick all over my body ... I saw my fellow nuns being abused with electric batons in their anuses. When the baton was used on my body, I felt as if a nerve in my heart was being pulled out and my stomach was in pain ... I was told to stand up and lean against the wall ... they inserted a stick into my vagina four times with full force, which resulted in pain that lasted for three days and also gave me problems when urinating. Then the stick was rammed into my mouth ... after this incident, I was unable to move and they had to take me to my cell. When I recovered my senses, I saw that my skin had become green and that I had marks on my buttocks.
According to Tenzin Choedon she received no medical care after this torture. Her story is not unusual, in fact, it is quite common. Not only is the torture endured by Tibetan women in prison horrifying and frequent, denial of medical care seems to be the norm. According to TCHRD, most deaths due to torture are because of lack of medical care. Furthermore, TCHRD has also found that often a person is released from prison close to death so that the Chinese prison authorities will not be held accountable. Many victims report that both male and female guards are present during beatings and torture, but that it is primarily the male guards who participate.
Despite United Nations standards of the right to pregnant women’s special accommodations while in prison, many cases of pregnant Tibetan women being beaten until miscarriage have been reported. At three and a half months pregnant, Damchoe Pelmoe miscarried her baby due to severe maltreatment that included being forced to stand for 14 hours in a cold room while being interrogated. She was also beaten with her head against a wall.
Further methods of torture that have been reported are severe beatings with iron bars, rifle butts and nail-studded sticks, branding with red-hot shovels, pouring boiling water over prisoners, kicking with boots, hanging prisoners upside down from thumbs, hand and foot cuffs, electric shocks, exposure to extreme temperatures, attacks by dogs, shocks by electric cattle prods applied to sensitive parts of body including the genitals and mouth, being chained to hot chimneys, burning with cigarettes, long periods of solitary confinement, urinating in victim’s mouth, forcing victims to watch torture videos, keeping victims standing naked for long periods of time in sub-zero temperatures while pouring ice cold water over them, deprivation of food, water and sleep, extraction of blood and bodily fluids to induce weakness, prolonged strenuous “exercise”, taunts and threats of torture and death.
As was noted earlier, the majority of female political prisoners are nuns as they are targeted for imprisonment and torture. Tibetan nuns have been active in the majority of pro-independence demonstrations in Tibet. Typically, these protests last only a few minutes and consist of nuns chanting slogans in support of Tibet’s freedom. There have been no reports of nuns using violence in any demonstrations, yet, nuns are routinely and arbitrarily arrested and subjected to torture for their participation in peaceful protests. In addition to the physical and psychological horrors of torture, torture targeted at nuns carries another destructive layer as they are forced to suffer abuse of their religious vows. One report states that “a method of psychological abuse is forcing monks and nuns to carry human feces on their backs over a thangka (religious painting)”. The raping of nuns is especially profane. Forcing nuns and monks to be sexual together has also been reported. These actions are not only criminal and a violation of their human rights, they are also a violation of their religious beliefs. The shame involved for nuns after such torture is often too much to bear. If they are released from prison, many leave the nunhood feeling that they are no longer pure and, therefore, have no right to remain a nun. When taking into consideration the vital role that religion plays in the Tibetan culture, the significance of these crimes becomes even more horrifying.
Of note is that included in this group is the Ven. Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan Buddhist nun from the Garu Nunnery in Lhasa who is now the longest serving female political prisoner in Tibet. Ngawang was originally arrested at the age of 10 years old for her participation in a peaceful demonstration in support of Tibet’s freedom. Subsequently, she was arrested several times thereafter for peacefully demonstrating and is now serving a 21-year sentence in Drapchi prison. Worldwide attention has been brought to Ngawang Sangdrol’s case with many public appeals for her release. She remains in Drapchi today, a victim of extreme torture, and her physical condition is said to be critically poor.
It is reported that techniques of torture of Tibetan political prisoners are becoming more sophisticated. The focus is changing to damaging victims internally rather than externally. A prime example of this is using electric batons to sexually assault women. Gender specific torture is frequent and believed to be increasing. Most torture of Tibetan women has been found to occur in the context of arrest and detention. Arrests of Tibetan women, nuns and laywomen, in Tibet have been primarily for the peaceful expression of their political and religious views. Age of victims does not seem to matter, as there are reports of torturing both girl children and elderly women. The main point is that the torture suffered by Tibetan females at the hands of the government of the PRC is gender specific and often sexual in action. These facts lead us to conclude that not only are Tibetan women in Tibet especially vulnerable to torture, but the torture that is occurring on such a large scale under these circumstances can only be to destroy the political will and determination of the Tibetan people.
B. Reproductive Rights Violations
Numerous international conventions have stated the right of women and their reproductive rights. Of note are the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which the BPFA acknowledges as being adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights. According to the United Nations, women have the right to reproductive choice and adequate and safe health care. The UN also supports that couples and individuals have the basic human right to decide freely about the number and spacing of their children. The BPFA states that women have the “right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. CEDAW considers the reproductive rights violations against women to be forms of “violence against women” as they have a negative affect on the mental and physical health of women.
In the mid-1980’s, Chinese authorities began implementing family planning policies in Tibetan communities. In 1992, the PRC admitted for the first time to the international community that a two-child policy has been implemented in Tibet since 1984. Since the BPFA in1995, there have been numerous addresses in the international community regarding the continued reproductive rights violations that are perpetrated against Tibetan women living in Tibet. The U.S. State Department, the United Nations, various international NGO’s, and independent researchers have acknowledged that China’s state sponsored population control polices are implemented in violent and discriminatory ways throughout the Tibetan community in Tibet. There is evidence that Chinese governmental policies have covertly supported and encouraged the practices of forced and coerced birth control and sterilization of Tibetan women, forced and coerced abortions, and coercive and invasive family planning measures. Because the polices are sanctioned by the state, Tibetan women inside Tibet have virtually no way to challenge China’s existing policies or how they are carried out. The implementation of policies is systematic, premeditated and in direct violation of international and humanitarian law. Furthermore, the vast amount of evidence collected since 1995 regarding reproductive rights violations against Tibetan women in Tibet, insists that the aim of such practices can only be to reduce the size of the Tibetan population in Tibet. This constitutes an act of genocide. According to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is defined as “any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including the imposition of measures intended to prevent births within a group”. China’s actions, according to this definition, likely fall within this realm.
The government of China has acted without regard to national or international policies and has consistently denied Tibetan women their fundamental freedoms and human rights. It has chosen to ignore any demands from the international community for specific information regarding China’s family planning policies and Tibetan women. For example, despite direct requests, China provided no information on reproductive rights violations in their most recent report to CEDAW. China’s report has been described as “insufficient, ambiguous, [and] lacking in details” as well as having “failed to meet the reporting standards of CEDAW”. In fact, one Chinese official, Tu Den, director of China’s Family Planning Office of Tibet, was quoted in the China Daily newspaper as saying “forced abortion and sterilization are absolutely non-existent.” Another Chinese official, Purbu Zhoima who is director of the TAR Regional Family Planning Commission, has said that “the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has never interfered in or restrained Tibetan women’s rights to give birth. The government has no policy that sets a quota for the number of children Tibetan women may have, nor does it force women to have abortions or undergo sterilization procedures.” Statements such as these point to the blatant ignorance of the evidence that has been accumulated in regards to the reality of China’s implementation of their policies in Tibet. China has purposely attempted to hide these violations behind broad references and vague explanations when reporting about their family planning policies that are carried out in “minority” areas, such as Tibet. Additionally, China has attempted to portray that the implementation of its family planning policies inside Tibet is welcome by the Tibetan people. A March 23, 1998 report in the Tibet Daily states that family planning officials have carried out policies with “full co-operation” from the local people. The Chinese government has also stated that “the current family planning policy in Tibet has been formed in full consideration of the realities and wishes of the Tibetan people.” This is a false and misguiding statement.
It is important to recognize China’s family planning policies in the context of Tibet. Tibet has never had a population problem and does not have a population problem today. Tibet is a country with an area of over 2.5 million square kilometers. It has a population of fewer than six million Tibetans. This makes Tibet one of the “world’s more sparsely populated countries”. However, China’s population transfer policies have brought more than 7.5 million Chinese into Tibet, making the Chinese population larger than the native Tibetan population. Tibet’s sparse population does not justify policies that are designed to reduce the size of the Tibetan population further. Additionally, China’s basic population control law of “one family, one child” is for nationalities in China with over 10 million people. It is true that the basic law is modified for nationalities having fewer than 10 million people, however, the rules and their implementation vary greatly in each region. Chinese authorities state that “family planning is one of the fundamental state policies of China, but special policies in this regard are applied in minority-populated regions and remote areas”. In some regions, including Tibet, officials are authorized to decide their own specific population policies according to local conditions. Also, local rules are defined as “administrative guidelines” rather than official rules. These guidelines, furthermore, are not distributed to the public. China’s family planning policies as they are carried out in the Tibetan community must be viewed according to political considerations and their full foreign occupation of Tibet beginning in 1959 – including the violence and discrimination instituted during this process.
Decisions about a woman’s reproductive future in China are made by a governing body of medical professionals and without any consultation with the woman or families. There is a birth control office in each district in Tibet that is responsible for the execution of the policies. At the time of this report, investigations show that the number of children permitted to Tibetans varies according to their region and occupation. Research indicates that up until 1999, child quotas for Tibetans were either two or three children – depending on whether Tibetans resided in urban or rural areas, respectfully. At present, new evidence suggests that intensified efforts have changed the quotas and in rural areas the number of children allowed is generally two, in urban areas it is one.
Family planning practices that have been documented in Tibet include contraception (injections, insertion of cervical “rings”, pills), sterilisation, abortion, delay of marriage, and an enforced waiting period between births. Requiring permits to have a child, monitoring of menstrual cycles and impromptu periodic examinations to determine pregnancy have also been reported. It is found that the surgical procedures of sterilisation and abortion are the primary methods of birth control through which family planning policies are implemented. Contraceptive methods generally are not accompanied by adequate education and have even proven to be dangerous because of the low medical standards of manufacture and insertion. For example, there have been cases where because of lack of hygiene, IUD insertions were followed by infections. In one case, a woman became paralyzed. All procedures often take place in “make shift facilities”, such as the women’s home, and there is virtually no medical follow up care or medication given to the women. There is also no acknowledgment or evidence that painless methods of birth prevention are used in Tibet.
Methods of enforcement of Chinese family planning policies in Tibet have proven to be forceful and coercive. For those who do not comply with policies, there are penalties in the form of fines, denial of benefits for children born outside of the established birth quotas, loss of jobs or reduction of pay, and loss of housing. Women are given the “option” of paying a fine or terminating a pregnancy. Imposed fines are unreasonable amounts, often the equivalent of more than a month’s wages. For example, fines can reach up to 10,000 yuan (US $1200) and many women earn no more than 600 yuan (US $72) per month. There have records of some cases, especially in rural areas, where the fines instituted are the equivalent of five to eight years income. Some women have reported that they were faced with the threat of their husbands being beaten and arrested if they did not comply. The threat of having all of their possessions taken away has also been cited. For many women this is not a true “option” as the concept of free will and true consent is not present. True consent can not be given under such duress. Indeed, these women have no options but to undergo an abortion or sterilisation operation. As if this violation were not enough, in all cases women are responsible for the expense of the operation. In regards to denial of benefits, a child born above the official limit is treated as a “non-person”. He or she will be denied basic rights such as a food ration card, education, health care or the entitlement to any land rights during his/her lifetime. The severity and coercive nature of these penalties force many Tibetan women to succumb to birth control methods that they do not want and that violate their cultural and religious belief systems. Additionally, if local officials do not meet the established governmental quotas, they face severe penalties and financial sanctions themselves. Other than severe penalties, other incentives given as “rewards” for those that do comply with birth control policies come in the form of financial bonuses, job promotions, and food rations.
|1. Forced or Coerced Sterilisation
It is estimated that between four and twenty percent of the Tibetan population inside Tibet is no longer able to reproduce, with thousands more subjected to the force or coercion of other types of contraception. From 1995 to present, TCHRD has received extensive testimony on coerced or forced sterilisation. For example, from 1996 to 1998, TCHRD reports that 1,230 Tibetan women were subjected to forced sterilisation or contraceptive procedures. In Nyangdren town, 342 out of 379 married women – 90% of the total married women in Nyangdren underwent sterilisation. A TWA interview with a newly arrived refugee to India in 1997 reveals that between September and October 1996, 308 women in the district of Takar, Tibet, were sterilised over a period of 22 days. From the same interview it was reported that 27 year old Nyima Dolma, from Takar, died after one of the sterilisations. She was in good health prior to the sterilisation and after her death, Chinese officials announced that the cause of death was due to her “ill health”. Accounts abound regarding incidents of forced and coerced sterilisation of Tibetan women. Much of the personal testimony comes from witnesses who have fled Tibet due to the oppressive and dangerous conditions.
A witness from Kham reported seeing thousands of women gathered for sterilisation in Nyemo in the summer of 1996. About three hundred were sterilised that day, including those with ‘fetuses below three months’. [They were] bleeding like animals…many too weak to even move.’ This witness claims the women were ‘literally dragged’ against their will, and even had to pay for the operation.
Norbu Tso, a farmer from Lushul town in Kandze County…reports that Chinese authorities regularly visited his village to instruct them not to have more than two children. The authorities announced at the end of September 1997, that a penalty of 1,000 yuan would be charged for any child born above the quota. His younger sister, Dolma Lhamo paid 1,000 yuan fine for having a third child…all women who had already given birth to two children were ordered to undergo sterilisation. Tso reports that women were operated on regardless of their physical condition. Sothar Dolma, a twenty-nine year old women died seven days after she was sterilised. The doctor’s later gave her cause of death as ‘internal ailments’.
A thirty year old Tibetan told TIN that a sterilisation program was launched in 1997 in Drongpa County, a purely nomadic area…about two thirds of the women from approximately 300 households in his township had been sterilised. The women in his township who had not undergone sterilisation were ‘charged with being guilty of opposing socialism’….
Many Tibetan women do not always know that they have been sterilised or which birth control procedure they have received when they have been taken to the hospital. This, along with the fact that a significant amount of women become seriously ill or die after being taken, contributes to the culture of fear that has become part of the daily life for Tibetan women inside their own country. Consequently, many women are fearful of seeking out any medical care whatsoever. There are also no attempts by the Chinese government to increase the knowledge of Tibetan women regarding birth control or their own reproductive care. Research has shown that when women in a society are educated, the birth rate decreases. If decrease in birth rates alone was the true goal of the Chinese government, then it serves that education of Tibetan women in general would follow. On the contrary, there is no known reference of sex education or contraception education in any documents regarding birth control policy in Tibet. There is only evidence of references to abortion and sterilisations. Chinese birth control policies promote the control, manipulation and violation of Tibetan women; they are an attempt at not only controlling the population, but of destroying a culture of people.
2. Forced or Coerced Abortion
Forced or coerced abortions of Tibetan women are a widespread method of birth control used by the Chinese government in their implementation of family planning policies. Pregnancies above the permitted quota are terminated, regardless of their stage of development. Late term abortions are the most disturbing. Expert investigations reveal that second and third trimester abortions are carried out by injecting a poisonous chemical “levanor, which is unheard of in the western world”. In 1998, the International Committee of Lawyers of Tibet (ICLT) interviewed several witnesses of late term abortions. One account states:
They injected a needle where the baby’s head was. She was in labor pain for one hour. The baby was born and cried. Then it started bleeding from the nose and died…She had the abortion because she couldn’t pay the fine.
Another women states:
They injected a needle in her stomach, and she gave birth. The baby was delivered and put in a bowl. The baby moved for a few minutes and then died. The baby had a hole in its head.
One women who was two months pregnant, describes that she was told if she did not have an abortion, her child’s name would not be “registered”, she would be given only 30% of her salary and it will never increase, and that both she and her husband could be dismissed from their jobs.
Under such repressive conditions, I had no choice but to have an abortion…first they insert a sort of flexible rubber tube with a pointed end into the cervix. There is no medicine in this. They leave this inside for 24 hours…a lot of bleeding starts after 2 hours…after one day they take it out. It h as become bigger in side so it is easier for the knife to get inside. They insert an instrument that has a sort of long handle with a knife at the end. They put this inside and start to move it around, cutting the fetus in pieces. Then it is very easy to extract…there is no medical treatment afterwards. You have to leave immediately after receiving this operation…you have to pay for the treatment.
The psychological violation of such procedures is extremely traumatic for Tibetan women, as both witness and victim. Physically the procedures are dangerous. As with sterilisations, the quality of the medical operation and the lack of follow up care often results in women becoming seriously ill with infection and even death.
Investigations reveal organized and systematic approaches to abortion and sterilisation of Tibetan women. For example, one women reports of a “special abortion and sterilisation unit for Tibetan women” in a Lhasa hospital. There are also set abortion schedules in hospitals. In one reported incident, an “annual roundup” resulted in 200 women from one village being aborted at a time during their first or second trimester. These “blitz” campaigns are evidently conducted regularly in villages throughout Tibet. Abortions are often followed by sterilisation operations, without the consent of the women. Again, this creates an intimidating atmosphere for Tibetan women and many simply do not seek out doctors for even general health care needs. This leaves them vulnerable, powerless and isolated in their suffering. When referencing abortion in birth control policy documents, China is vague and manipulative in its use of language. Regarding a National Family Planning commission and Health Department report issues on September 3, 1995, TCHRD has noted that the use of certain words was banned. For example, the document urges that the terms “drug-induced abortion”, “surgical abortion” and “sterilisation” are not used. Instead, the terms “family planning clinics”, “operating hospital” and “out-patient operation” are used. A “remedy method”, another term for abortion, is referred to as the best form of contraception.
In June 1995, China instituted the Maternal and Infant Health Care Law. Under this law, the Chinese government reserved the right to control marriages and births according to their perception of the health of the parents and infant. It specifically states that it is legal to use methods of sterilisation, abortion, and marriage bans to prevent couples from passing on mental disabilities and diseases to their children. There is evidence to suggest that this law has primarily been targeted at "minority" nationalities in China. The Chinese government considers Tibetans to be a minority nationality in China, therefore, the implications of this law regarding Tibetans is especially disturbing.
Since 1995, various international bodies, including CEDAW, Committee on the Rights of the Child, and ICLT have expressed "grave" concern over the effect of this Chinese legislation on the Tibetan population. The Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that this law virtually amounts to the practice of "selective infanticide". China's law states that:
When either one of the couple is diagnosed to have a serous hereditary disease, which is medically deemed unsuitable for reproduction, the doctor should explain the situation and offer medical opinions to the couple. The couple may marry if they agree to take long-lasting contraceptive measures or give up child bearing by undergoing ligation.
This is an inherently eugenic law and the potential for abuse is clear considering the evidence that exists concerning Tibetan women and other reproductive rights violations. There is justifiable reason to believe that the Maternal and Infant Health Care Law of China has already severely impacted the Tibetan population. In 1990, Chinese authorities, without any scientific evidence, publicly announced that there were 10,000 "inferior" Tibetans in the TAR. The aggressiveness and comprehensive approach to China's family planning, again, leaves Tibetans vulnerable and powerless in their own country. We fear that China will not hesitate to also use this law, in conjunction with other "family planning" laws, to limit the births among Tibetans regardless of the presence of any hereditary disabilities.
4. Monitoring of Reproductive Cycles
The Chinese government extensively monitors the reproductive cycles of Tibetan women, a practice that clearly violates their human and reproductive rights. According to the BPFA, this monitoring constitutes a form of violence against women.
In Tibet, Chinese authorities visit Tibetan women in their homes and conduct weekly or monthly vaginal exams. These exams also take place after mandatory public meetings that are organized in many villages to monitor women's reproductive status. An ICLT investigation reveals the testimonies of women that hid from government officials who "hounded women for pregnancy checks or abortions" or if they did not attend the village meetings. If a women is not menstruating, ICLT reports that she is given a "blue" tablet that induces abortion. One women from Phenpo who left Tibet in 1998 states:
The officials would come door to door with a list of married women and ask if they were menstruating. I said no. They did the exam. They told me I was one month pregnant…there was a Chinese women official. She made me remove my pants and put an iron inside me that opened up and she also put her hand inside and checked.
Testimonies such as this reveal that the actions of the Chinese government are ignorant to the rights of Tibetan women. The intrusive nature of monitoring reproductive cycles is an invasion of their privacy, degrading to their humanity, and oppressive to their womenhood.
As we enter the new millenium, reproductive rights violations of Tibetan women are not subsiding, on the contrary, they seem to be increasing. A February 2000 TIN report found that Chinese family planning policies in Tibet are currently intensifying. Since 1998, China has increased its restrictions on the number of births being allowed to Tibetans. TIN has suggested that this recent intensification of birth control policies in Tibet would enable “local authorities to collect extra revenue from Tibetans in the form of penalties and fines for ‘excess’ children. Overwhelming evidence of forced and coerced abortions and sterilizations, laws supporting eugenics, and the invasive monitoring of reproductive cycles, are extreme violations of the lives of Tibetan women. These actions have resulted in Tibetan women living in states of constant fear and powerlessness. Furthermore, such widespread and consistent violations - especially considering that the population of Tibetans is only 6 million people - suggest that the mission of the Chinese authorities must be beyond mere population control of Tibetans. For, in their efforts to enforce birth control initiatives, Chinese authorities have violated their own laws in the process. The mission of Chinese authorities suggests strongly that their aim is one of genocide.
|IV. TIBETAN WOMEN AND EMPLOYMENT
In 1981, China ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which prohibits discrimination based on race or national or ethnic origin. CEDAW recognizes that women have the right to equal employment. This includes the right to freely choose employment, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to healthy and safe working conditions. The BPFA acknowledges the obstacles that women often face regarding the acquisition and access to stable employment including the vulnerability of women losing employment while living under foreign occupation, the sexual harassment often experienced by women in the workplace, and discrimination based on gender, race and ethnicity.
Since 1995, various international bodies have found evidence of widespread employment discrimination against Tibetans in Tibet. In 1996, CERD publicly criticized China for employment discrimination against Tibetans, specifically naming discrimination based on their lack of understanding of the Chinese language. In 1999, TCHRD received multiple personal testimonies from Tibetan refugees describing employment discrimination they experienced in Tibet. In 1998, an investigation by ICLT et.al., revealed disturbing evidence regarding gender-specific discriminatory employment practices against Tibetan women, such as "virginity testing, gender-specific hiring and recruiting practices, and employment-related fines and penalties tied to family planning policies". Yet to be published TWA interviews with newly arriving refugee women from Tibet support the existence of this gender-specific discrimination in employment.
In addressing allegations of discrimination in employment against Tibetans and specifically Tibetan women, the Chinese government has referred to the Chinese Women's Law of 1992, and the Labor Law of 1994. Under this legislation, China states that women have employment rights equal to men, though they also state that there are certain areas that are "unsuitable" for women. China has never made any specific reference to Tibetan women and employment, though they have been requested to.
Evidence strongly suggests that as the Chinese culture is slowly overpowering the Tibetan culture in Tibet, a condition that is referred to as the "sinocization of Tibet", it is getting more difficult for Tibetans to find employment. In fact, unemployment amongst Tibetans in Tibet is believed to be rising at rapid rates, as incoming Chinese settlers are receiving preferential treatment for jobs. Consequently, there is increasing poverty amongst Tibetans in Tibet. Many Tibetans cannot find employment unless they speak Chinese. One Tibetan woman told ICLT that her efforts to obtain work in hotels and restaurants failed because she did not speak Chinese. Tibetan women seem to be at the bottom of the employment hierarchy, behind Chinese women, Chinese men, and Tibetan men. Reports abound of Tibetan women being paid less for equal work compared to Chinese workers and Tibetan men. Tibetan women (and men) have lost jobs because they themselves, or a family member have been associated with political activities - what the Chinese authorities call “separatist activities”.
“Virginity testing” is one of the most disturbing discriminatory practices against Tibetan women looking for employment in Tibet. The purpose of the virginity test is to determine a job applicant’s “fitness” for employment. This is done by putting a hand “inside” a woman to check for virginity. Women and girls that “pass” the virginity test have to sign a contract promising that they will not get married or engage in sexual activity for three years. The discovery of the so-called “virginity test” is new and further investigation is needed to determine how widespread it is.
Sexual harassment against Tibetan women in the workplace has also been reported. Though testimonies reveal that Tibetan women feel that complaining would be useless or would make matters even worse. One women states that “they hold us and touch us. The Chinese officials are so used to it…They said if we slept with them we would get a better position”. Again, further investigation is needed into the sexual harassment of Tibetan women employed in Tibet.
There is sex discrimination of women in the recruiting and hiring process. Personal testimonies have been received that describe women being told they would not be hired because they are women. Penalties and fines have been instituted against women who have given birth to children over the authorized quota. For example, women have lost their jobs, given extra job duties, or have had their salary and benefits withheld as penalties.
The sinocization of Tibet is rapidly threatening the survival of the Tibetan identity. Discriminatory policies and practices are preventing Tibetans from being part of daily social, political and economic life in Tibet. Governmental and judicial proceedings are conducted in the Chinese language. The Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre (TPPRC) reports that the History of Tibet course at the University of Tibet (which is now under the direction of Chinese authorities) is taught in Chinese, despite the fact that the majority of students and teachers are Tibetan, and the course is part of the Tibetan Language Department. The Tibetan identity and culture is slowly being destroyed, and Tibetan women are being destroyed with it. The discrimination exercised against Tibetan women is of great concern. They are being discriminated against due to their Tibetan identity, and also because they are women. Tibetan women are extremely vulnerable in their efforts to support and empower themselves through employment.
|V. TIBETAN WOMEN AND HEALTH
CEDAW instructs that participating bodies must “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care…[including] access to health services…and [gender specific] services in connection with pregnancy … and the post-natal period”. The BPFA states that women have “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. The BPFA also takes into consideration that women, in regards to health care, have the right to privacy, to be educated about HIV/AIDS, and that there are conditions that exist that deter women from seeking health care. For example, deterrents may be the physical and psychological abuse that women may experience while living in state of foreign occupation.
In their most recent report to CEDAW, China makes no mention of health care in regards to Tibetan women. However, China does state that, in general, it has increased its health services to women and this has resulted in the “general improvement of women and children’s health”. Whatever developments Chinese authorities claim to have made in the field of women’s health care, investigations have revealed that Tibetan women are not benefiting from these developments. On the contrary, many sources indicate that Tibetan women have virtually no access to any basic health care, or if they do, services are far too expensive for them to use. One woman stated that she had to pay 2000 yuan (US $240) before she could be admitted to a hospital to deliver her baby. This report has already addressed the violation of reproductive rights against Tibetan women. In many cases, women are deterred from seeking health care because they fear they will be victims of forced or coerced sterilisation or abortion. Many female political prisoners have died due to lack of medical care after being tortured. Personal testimonies have also revealed that in prisons, women are never given cotton or any sanitary materials during menstruation, a basic health care need. Instead they either cut up their own clothing or bleed on their clothing – which they are not allowed to wash.
According to investigations, information about HIV/AIDS prevention is virtually non-existent in Tibet. Reports of up to 50 hospital patients sharing one needle for injections indicate a void of information or training regarding HIV/AIDS. Tibetan women, and Tibetans in general, are charged for health services that Chinese people are not charged for. The TAR also has a significantly higher maternal mortality rate than the rest of China – 20 per 10,000 in the TAR compared to 6 per 10,000 in China.
Tibetan women are discriminated against in the field of health care in Tibet, on both the basis of their gender and their minority status as Tibetans. This violates international human rights and humanitarian laws, as well as contributes to the lack of power and human dignity that Tibetan women have in Tibet.
|VI. THE TIBETAN GIRL CHILD AND EDUCATION
In 1989, the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child which gave comprehensive protection to children all over the world, including their right to an education. CEDAW includes the equal rights of women in education, including provisions that address the need to reduce female school drop-out rates. The BPFA acknowledges the issues that many girls face in regards to getting an education including gender discrimination, lack of resource allocations, and their vulnerability from living in situations of foreign occupation. The BPFA also recognizes the World Declaration on Education for All and the Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs as international initiatives that preserve the right of children’s education.
In their most recent report to CEDAW, China makes no reference to education in regards to Tibetans. China does, however, point out that that it has taken “vigorous steps” to increase female higher education, though it is not specific about what those steps are. China also distinguishes between urban and rural education, saying that in rural areas, 8.9% of girls complete high school, 26.6% complete middle school, and 27.9% complete primary school. China also reports that 36.6% of rural women and girls are illiterate or semi-illiterate. These statistics are worth noting as 85% of Tibetans live in rural areas, making it possible that China included the Tibetan population in its report to CEDAW. China does not specify, however, if their statistics are relevant to the Tibetan population. Regardless, the state of education for Tibetan children in Tibet appears to be grim. If China did not include Tibetans in their report to CEDAW then this indicates a significant void in information available regarding the education of Tibetan children. If Tibetan children are included, then it serves to assume that they are suffering from inadequate access to quality education opportunities.
China ratified the ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, yet investigations have revealed that China has not supported the rights of children protected under this Convention. In regards to Tibetan children, evidence is abundant regarding the discrimination they face in the educational system currently operating in Tibet. Most notably since 1995, reports conducted by TCHRD and ICLT et.al, have uncovered the true state of education for Tibetan children that is, Tibetan children are not getting the education they are entitled to under international law, or Chinese law. The discrimination and violations revealed appear to target Tibetan children in general, however, there have been reports of gender-specific discrimination towards Tibetan girls, mostly in the form of sexual harassment. Much of the evidence has been collected from interviews with children who have fled Tibet because they were not able to receive an education there. This factor in itself is significant to the conversation of Tibetan children and education.
It is estimated that roughly one-third of Tibetan children receive no education at all, compared to 1.5% of Chinese children. A report by the China Society for Human Rights Studies claims that China has “effectively protected” the right of Tibetans to be educated in that China has provided for free and compulsory education in Tibet. Investigations reveal that, on the contrary, Tibetans are charged high fees for their education. In fact, the price of education prevents many Tibetan families from being able to send their children to school at all. For example, annual fees range from 20 to 6,000 yuan (US $3 to $750) per month. This is unaffordable for most Tibetans who, in rural areas, are estimated to earn 800 yuan (US $100) per month. It has also been reported that children who are “unauthorized”, meaning that they were born into a family that had exceeded the allowed quota of children, are charged double fees to attend school. An internal TAR Party Committee document reveals that schools in the TAR are collecting as much as 13 different kinds of fees from students, six of which are not legally authorized. A Tibetan teacher that was interviewed indicated that “although the school in her area was supposed to be free, individual teachers demanded money from students or their parents”. A 10-year-old Tibetan girl who now lives in exile, explains why she was not able to attend school:
At school the teacher demanded 50 yuan a month to sit on a chair, 50 yuan to have a table and another 25 yuan for the books. My father earned 50 yuan a month. With this money we had to buy a sack of tsampa to have some food”.
Another 19-year-old girl states:
I did not understand the Chinese language well enough so I had to ask the teacher again and again. If most of the Tibetans did not understand his explanation in Chinese he used to scold us, calling us ‘dirty Tibetans’ or ‘stupid Tibetans’.
These violations against Tibetan children’s access and ability to receive an education indicate that if indeed China supports free and compulsory education for all Tibetans, then it is not implementing the noted legislation or holding the Chinese authorities that are responsible for these violations accountable.
While in school, Tibetan children face additional obstacles such as language, course content, and for girls particularly, sexual harassment. Most schools in Tibet use the Chinese language as the language of instruction. This severely inhibits Tibetan children’s ability to learn, and their desire for learning, as the majority of Tibetan children grow up in households that speak only Tibetan. As a result of the not being able to understand the language, Tibetan children are often tracked away from other students into inferior facilities and assigned less qualified teachers. The content of information taught also hinders Tibetan children in their education. Investigations reveal that Chinese culture is emphasized "at the expense of Tibetan culture". Tibetan children that have escaped to exile report receiving almost no education regarding their cultural heritage, and that they were constantly indoctrinated about the Chinese culture and communism. Tibetan children are forbidden to wear Tibetan clothing, observe Tibetan holidays or to eat Tibetan food. Some parents even refused to teach their children about Tibet for fear that they would be beaten or failed because of their knowledge. TCHRD has discovered that some school children have been coerced by teachers to spy on their parents at home. One 14-year-old boy states:
Three or four times a week we were asked whether our parents talked about Tibetan politics or the Dalai Lama. When the children admitted that their parents spoke about these things they were rewarded with presents - with money or food. The parents were then called to meetings and sometimes fined or put into prison.
There is a prevalence of sexual harassment of Tibetan school girls by Chinese teachers. A witness interviewed by ICLT et.al. in 1998 described that:
In school, the Chinese teachers used to touch us and pull us into rooms. They molested only the Tibetan girls…I wanted to complain. I used to cry at home a lot. Finally, my mother was so disgusted that she took me out of school…Many girls had this problem.
This same investigation failed to discover any laws or programs addressing sexual harassment of Tibetan girls, leaving them vulnerable and without a means to safely seek assistance when harassment occurs.
Traditionally in Tibet, children were educated at not only community schools, but in monasteries and nunneries. Up until April1996, it was still possible for children to be educated in Tibetan language, culture and religion in monasteries and nunneries. However, under China's "Strike Hard" campaign, children below 18 are now forbidden to join any religious institution (see section on Religious Prosecution for more on "Strike Hard" campaign). Between May 1996 and December 1999, 1,181 monks and nuns under 18 were expelled from their monasteries and nunneries.
In a desperate move to give their son or daughter the chance for an education, many parents send their children to live in exile, with a high possibility that the children will never see their families in Tibet again. The significant number of the refugees that flee Tibet are children, the majority are without their parents but are sent with guides. The journey over the Himalayas is a perilous one and many of the children suffer from frostbite and hypothermia, lack of food, and permanent injury. Girls are particularly vulnerable to being raped by Chinese and Nepali police. Many children die on the journey from harsh weather conditions and even gunshot wounds from Chinese security personnel. In 1999, of the 2,474 refugees who escaped into exile from Tibet, 1,115 were children below 18. The following report was made by TCHRD in 1999 from an interview with one of the girls described below:
Five policemen in their uniform raped three Tibetan girls, both in their late teens, after they were caught trying to escape across the border into Nepal. They were arrested in the Tibetan border town of Burang at a guesthouse in late 1998 with three other girls. One of the girls, a 17-year-old from Lhasa, was beaten with an electric baton and raped while she was unconscious. The two Tibetan girls escaped into exile with three other Tibetan women whom they had m et during their journey. All five girls were taken to an empty building where two of them were tied to a chair, gagged and forced to witness the rape of two others. The fifth girl was taken upstairs and was also repeatedly raped. The next morning, the police agreed to take the 17-year-old and one of her friends who had witnessed the assault to a hospital. They remained in the hospital for three days, and managed to escape on the fourth day. The two girls reached Kathmandu on December 19,1998. The whereabouts of the other girls are unknown. It is feared that they may have been transferred to a detention centre.
In 1997, TCHRD conducted an investigation into education in Tibet entitled The Next Generation: the State of Education in Tibet Today. Fifty Tibetan children who had fled Tibet between 1994 -1996 were interviewed. Of those fifty Tibetan children, 96% stated that they had fled Tibet specifically to get an education.
Today, the challenges Tibetan children face in regards to their education are immense. For it seems that every attempt made by a Tibetan child to exercise her/his right to be educated is met with obstacles too large to overcome. Tibetan children are denied the right to participate in and develop their cultural traditions. They are being forced to choose between assimilating into Chinese society or have low expectations about their future in employment, as well as enjoying any freedom of religious practice or sustaining their unique Tibetan traditions. The Chinese government's actions must be examined as efforts to marginalise Tibetans in their own country, and to systematically destroy Tibetan culture and Tibetan national identity. Children are the key to any society's future, and by phasing out the use of Tibetan language and customs in schools, for example, the future of Tibetan society seems potentially lost. The discrimination of Tibetan children in education is a direct attack on Tibet's future. The sexual harassment of Tibetan girls by Chinese teachers in school is a direct effort to prey on the vulnerability of Tibetan girls and ensure that they remain disempowered in their education, and in their identity as females. As thousands of Tibetan children continue to flee each year to live in exile, we must examine the true reasons why such an exodus is occurring.
|VII. TIBETAN WOMEN AND HUMAN RIGHTS
This report has formerly addressed the existence of the numerous human rights violations against the Tibetan people, specifically against Tibetan women and children, at the hands of the Chinese government. Torture, reproductive rights violations, discriminatory practices against Tibetan women and children regarding employment and education - as we noted, all of these represent gross violations of human rights, as well as disregard of international and humanitarian law. Additionally, further human rights violations in the context of the foreign occupation of Tibet are worth discussing as they pertain to the overall status of Tibetan women inside Tibet, and provide obstacles to their advancement as women and as Tibetans. Specifically, these issues are: the population transfer of Chinese settlers into Tibet, the religious prosecution of Tibetans, and the rising practice of prostitution inside Tibet.
A. Population Transfer
The issue of population transfer is an important one concerning the foreign occupation of Tibet by China. It is especially relevant to this report as the link between the violation of reproductive rights of Tibetan women and the survival of the Tibetan culture cannot be emphasized enough. The mass amounts of evidence available regarding forced and coerced sterilisation and abortion is not only proof of the Chinese government’s efforts of disempowering Tibetan women, but it is evidence of the struggle of the survival of the Tibetan culture. Some experts have suggested that the forced sterilisation and abortion of Tibetan women is the most significant problem facing the Tibetan people today. For, as these violations are occurring, there is also the issue of the population transfer of Chinese people to Tibet. Since 1950, there has been a large scale influx of Chinese into Tibet that is described as a design “to supplant the Tibetan identity with that of another people”. This population transfer is a violation of humanitarian and human rights laws that the PRC has itself ratified. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power to “deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. Since 1995, the Chinese government has violated this convention clearly and continuously.
Investigations reveal that the total population of Chinese people in Tibet is estimated at 7.5 million and the Tibetan population at 6 million. Tibetans are presently the minority in their own country and are officially recognized as a “racial minority” in the PRC. The Chinese people virtually dominate all aspects of society in Tibet. Commercially, socially and politically, Tibetans are overpowered and outnumbered and the situation is potentially worse. Reports by Chinese officials of the increased economic and structural developments inside Tibet are, in fact, true. However, the benefactors of this increased development are primarily Chinese settlers in Tibet and not Tibetans.
In June1999, the World Bank Board of Directors approved a $160 million
loan to support China’s Western Poverty Reduction Project. This marks
the first time an international organization has involved itself in China’s
population transfer policies in Tibet. Though this project is being presented
as an alleviation of poverty, it promotes China’s colonization of Tibet
and violates World Bank environmental and social policies.
As the world community awaits the decision of the World Bank, the important issue to note is that the population transfer and the colonization of Tibet remains a vital issue. China continues to manipulate their approach to destroy Tibetans and their culture through the pursuit of internationally sanctioned decisions and internally through family planning laws. China is effectively marginalising Tibetans in Tibet. As TCHRD rightfully concludes, the population transfer happening in Tibet amounts to a form of “structural violence as it effects the composition of a community, access to means of livelihood and their identity”.
B. Religious Persecution
Since 1995, the oppressive actions taken by the Chinese government against the practice of Tibetan Buddhism inside Tibet have increased through the implementation of specific campaigns aimed at religious and educational institutions. These actions are an overt attack on both the political and cultural identity of the Tibetan people. Consequently, the advancement of Tibetan women has been suppressed as they have faced gross violations of their religious freedoms and other human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has ratified, also protects freedom of religion by stating that:
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.
The Constitution of China also provides for freedom of religion and states that it is one of the fundamental rights of its citizens. The BPFA recognizes that many women face obstacles "to the enjoyment of their human rights because of such factors as their race, language, ethnicity, culture, [and] religion…". Such is the case with Tibetan women in Tibet, as they attempt to live in concurrence with their Tibetan culture and continue to practice Tibetan Buddhism.
Since 1995, various international bodies, including the US State Department, have acknowledged and criticized the religious persecution taking place in Tibet. The Chinese authority's response to these allegations have been to deny the charges. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi, has stated that "nobody has been arrested or detained because of religious beliefs. If religious believers are arrested, it is not because of their religious beliefs but because they have taken part in criminal activities". Virtually any activity or belief, including those of a religious nature, that does not agree with Chinese governmental policy is deemed to be a crime in China. It is thought that the Chinese government is not opposed to Buddhism, per se, but to the national identity of Tibet, of which Tibetan Buddhism plays a major role. The Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) describes the importance of religion to the Tibetan people as follows: "Buddhism has not been a mere system of belief to the Tibetans; it encompasses the entirety of our culture and civilization and constitutes the very essence of our lives". Thus, an attack on Tibetan Buddhism constitutes a threat to the core identity of the Tibetan people. By linking the practice of Tibetan Buddhism to criminal activity, the aim of the Chinese government can only be assessed as a desire to exert control over the Tibetan people and their culture.
In April 1996, the Chinese government launched its "Strike Hard" Campaign which is a "patriotic re-education" initiative aimed at identifying, expelling and arresting monks and nuns who are considered "unpatriotic". The goal of the campaign is to forcibly repress support for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence. Specifically, Tibetans have been banned from celebrating purely religious ceremonies, no person under 18 can join a monastery or nunnery, and all monks and nuns must sign a five point agreement that includes a declaration of their opposition to separatism, an agreement with the Chinese version of Tibetan history, denial of Tibet's independent status, and a denouncing of the Dalai Lama. Since the beginning of the campaign, 541 monks and nuns have been arrested, and 11,409 have been expelled from their monasteries and nunneries. This figure includes 1,729 nuns. According to personal testimonies, "work teams" do not hesitate to use violence in their implementation of the "Strike Hard" Campaign. As we have noted previously in this report, the violence instituted against those that are arrested is often torturous and fatal. In the case of Tibetan nuns, it is often gender-based violence and of a sexually violent nature. The following TCHRD accounts are examples of specific incidents:
In March 1998, ten nuns from Drayib Nunnery in Taktse County, Lhasa Municipality, were arrested by PSB officials for raising objections when a 'work team' ordered them to denounce the Dalai Lama. One of the nuns, Tenzin Dolma, aged 22, who escaped into exile and reached Nepal on May 12, 1999, reported that they were kept in Taktse County Prison for four days and later taken to Seitru Detention Centre where they were interrogated and detained for two months. The arrested nuns were beaten for two days during interrogations. They were released at the end of May 1998.
Eleven 'work team' members arrived in Dharyul Nunnery in Phenpo Lhundrup County on May 14, 1998. Nuns were instructed to agree with the 'work team' 're-education'…however, the nuns refused to comply with their instruction to oppose 'splittism' and the Dalai Lama. The officials later called on the parents and relatives of the nuns…and ordered them to advise the nuns to agree with their points. Their parents were threatened with the confiscation of their farming lands if the nuns did not comply with their instructions. The officials also warned that both parents and nuns would be arrested and imprisoned.
There are numerous accounts that exist documenting the implementation of China's "Strike Hard" Campaign. In addition to the work team visits, a restriction has been set on the number of monks and nuns that can reside in a religious institution, making the incentive to arrest greater if the quota has not been met. Photos of the Dalai Lama have been banned in all public places in Tibet and there are efforts to abolish photos in private homes, as well. Monks and nuns have also been banned from reading scriptures in Tibetan homes. Furthermore, in 1997, the PRC reaffirmed the re-education campaign as "basic policy" which effectively criminalised any criticism of the campaign.
The state-sanctioned suppression of Tibetan Buddhism is a direct violation of the human rights of Tibetans by the Chinese government. Tibetan women who choose to become nuns are refused their fundamental freedoms and violated and tortured sexually, physically and psychologically. Since Tibetan Buddhism is a significant part of Tibetan culture, to suppress its practice is an insult to the Tibetan people and creates a culture of fear and discrimination for all, including Tibetan women.
Since 1995, there has been a large scale introduction of prostitution into Tibet, primarily in the Lhasa area. It is believed that this rise in prostitution is due to the rapid urbanization and economic development of Lhasa, combined with the influx of migrants and an increase in tolerance to the highly profitable sex trade. Since the Chinese invasion in 1959, Lhasa has expanded from a population of 30,000 to 200,000. It has expanded in size from less than three square kilometres to more than 51 square kilometres, with the traditional Tibetan quarter of the city squeezed into less than 5% of the urban area. Various reports from international bodies have emerged that address the concern Tibetans have about the social changes in Lhasa and the "long-term threats to the Tibetan identity implicit in the development of an underclass of unemployed, uneducated citizens prey to alcoholism and other addictions". Reports also address the Chinese governments lack of initiative to deal with increasing prostitution, despite Chinese constitutional laws against it. This passiveness at the hands of the Chinese government can be understood to be part of the overall mission to eradicate the Tibetan culture.
The issue of increasing prostitution is relevant to the conversation regarding Tibetan women inside Tibet as, due to their economic hardship, discrimination and lack of opportunity, Tibetan women feel they have no choice but to enter the prostitution trade. Furthermore, as the tolerance for the sex trade increases in Lhasa, so does the culture of degradation and exploitation of women which potentially leads to gender-based violence. Article 6 of CEDAW states that State Parties "shall take appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women". When it entered Tibet in 1949, one of the proclaimed tasks of the Chinese Communist Party was to eradicate prostitution and other "social evils". In 1998, it was estimated that over 658 brothels existed on the 18 main streets of Lhasa. China's claims that prostitution is "under effective control" are unfounded, as the facts point to nothing but an uncontrolled expansion of prostitution in Lhasa.
Personal testimonies abound concerning the increase in the prostitution trade in Lhasa. Witnesses have observed that the majority of prostitutes are Chinese women, however, the number of Tibetan prostitutes appears to be rising as an increasing number of young Tibetan women from rural areas are moving to Lhasa due to lack of opportunities at home. A Tibetan monk who escaped to exile addresses the factors involved in Tibetan women turning to prostitution:
The [Tibetan] girls end up on the streets of Lhasa because they don't have any work. They are mostly from the countryside, especially from Kham. They mostly come to Lhasa in groups, having set out from home with their friends. Finding that they can't get any work, they have no other choice but to enter this business.
One witness interviewed by ICLT et.al., observed that "there were separate rooms for Tibetan and Chinese prostitutes". This investigation also uncovered that there are cases when young Tibetan girls are "taken away" from villages, presumably for the sex trade, and never seen again. A TIN report found that Tibetan prostitutes are as young as 13 or 14-years-old and charge as little as 30 or 40 pence for sex.
Evidence reveals that China has done little to effectively combat the rising rate of prostitution in Tibet. On the contrary, the economic support from the Chinese government given to "settlers" in Tibet has actually benefited the prostitution industry. Chinese businessmen have been given low interest loans for investment and, consequently, have been able to lease property from government offices and private landowners to use as brothels. Furthermore, Chinese authorities who have come in witnessed prostitution have not attempted to cease it. One 20-year-old Tibetan woman who spent a year working in a bar that also functioned as a brothel states that:
Sometimes the Public Security Bureau come to look. When they come to the door, the person who collects the money presses the button that's under the desk and it rings upstairs and all the prostitutes leave. They [PSB] didn't come a lot. When I was in there they came twice and nothing happened. The business can still continue. The Chinese themselves - I've got Chinese friends - the Chinese themselves told me that in Tibet it's allowed to do this but in their homes in China it isn't allowed. The authorities would close down such places within two or three days.
Another Tibetan in exile states that "the authorities have failed to prevent prostitution in Lhasa, I think this is partially deliberate. It diverts attention that might otherwise focus on politics". Chinese authorities appear to be allowing prostitution to occur in Tibet. Taking into consideration other actions regarding the Chinese government in Tibet, it can be argued that by allowing prostitution to occur in Tibet, China is covertly contributing to the desecration of Tibetan society and culture. Tibetan women who have escaped into exile have expressed that the severe birth control violations against them have led to family troubles and their husband have frequented brothels as a result. Tibetan family systems are breaking down in Tibet. Both divorce rates and domestic violence is increasing. Though this increase in social problems can not be attributed solely to the increase in prostitution, certainly the higher tolerance for the sex trade is a factor to consider when examining the destruction of Tibetan culture. Tibetan women are most negatively marginalised by these social ills as they are often the victims of the increase in violence, the individuals forced to enter the sex trade, and that group which suffers most from lack of opportunity to empower and sustain themselves in dignified and non-exploitive ways.
|VIII. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We conclude that since 1995, Tibetan women living in Tibet continue to face severe obstacles to the enjoyment of their fundamental human rights of religious freedom, reproductive freedom and opportunities for safe health care, employment and education. Evidence abounds that Chinese authorities subject Tibetan women to inhumane gender-based torture, reproductive rights violations, and discrimination and sexual harassment in regards to health care and employment. Tibetan girl children suffer discrimination and lack of opportunity for a just education and are also subject to gender-based sexual harassment and torture. Tibetan Buddhist nuns, in particular, are targeted for imprisonment and gender-based torture. When examined together, these violations indicate evidence of genocide of the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese government. The implementation of Chinese birth control policies, as well as China's population transfer polices threaten the very survival of the Tibetan people and their unique culture.
It is the perspective of this report that the status of Tibetan women living inside Tibet is dire and should be seriously considered by the international community. Tibetan women in Tibet are living in a culture of constant fear and intimidation, as not only do Tibetan women face obstacles as women, but also as Tibetans. Therefore, the issues concerning Tibetan women must be examined in light of the fact that Tibetan women live under foreign occupation in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Furthermore, as the international community considers the status of women worldwide, the voices of Tibetan women must be included in this assessment. Not only is the inclusion of Tibetan women just, it is a necessary component to the goal of world peace as Tibetan women have long been examples of advocates of non-violence and peaceful conflict resolution.
Since 1995, the international community has rightfully acknowledged China's human rights abuses on numerous occasions, both generally and specifically in regards to Tibetan women. This recognition is encouraging, however, pressure from the international community must continue. The Chinese government must not only be held accountable for their infractions, but be encouraged to co-operate with international human rights and humanitarian laws - many of which they have ratified yet continue to violate. The continued lack of informative response from China regarding international criticisms of their policies and implementation towards Tibetans must not be tolerated. Specifically, we make the following recommendations to both the international community and the Chinese government in regards to the violations suffered by Tibetan women inside Tibet:
A. Recommendations to the International Community
We, the Tibetan Women's Association on behalf of the Tibetan community
living in Tibet and in exile, recommend that the international community
- including the United Nations, all international governing bodies, national
governments, and international and regional NGO's -
|B. Recommendations to Chinese
We, the Tibetan Women's Association, on behalf of the Tibetan
community living in Tibet and in exile, recommend that the Chinese government:
14. China should cease to interfere with the efforts of exiled Tibetan women to attend international forums concerning the status of women in the world community.
|APPENDIX I: GLOSSARY
Beijing Platform for Action
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