Report Criticizes 2008 Chinese Crackdown in Tibet

A detailed report by Human Rights Watch says Chinese security forces violated international law in suppressing the Tibetan protests and riots of 2008 by indiscriminately beating, detaining and fatally shooting civilians in towns across the vast Tibetan plateau in western China.

The report, released on Wednesday night, said security officers, mostly ethnic Han members of the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary branch charged with domestic security, used disproportionate force in trying to control Tibetans, including against women, teenagers, monks and nuns. In at least three cases, security officers fired live ammunition into crowds and killed people, the report said, citing eyewitness accounts. In several protests, security forces used batons or other weapons to beat unarmed protestors until they were bloody and motionless, the report said. Hundreds of detainees remain missing.

The report also traced the origins of the deadly ethnic rioting in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to brutal attempts by security forces to suppress a peaceful protest by monks on March 10, four days before the riots broke out.

As Lhasa descended into chaos, protests quickly flared up in other Tibetan areas, which make up one-quarter of China’s landmass, and security forces locked down the entire region, keeping out foreigners, even as they tried to tamp down the uprising, the largest among Tibetans in five decades.

The authors said the report “finds that the scale of human rights violations related to suppressing the protests was far greater than previously believed, and that Chinese forces broke international law — including prohibitions against disproportionate use of force, torture and arbitrary detention, as well as the right to peaceful assembly — despite government claims to the contrary.

“It also reveals that violations continue, including disappearances, wrongful convictions and imprisonment, persecution of families, and the targeting people suspected of sympathizing with the protest movement.”

The 73-page report is based on interviews with 203 Tibetan witnesses who had fled China and with visitors who were in the Tibetan areas at the time.

It is the most comprehensive account of the violence of spring 2008. Human Rights Watch acknowledged that Tibetans brutally attacked Han civilians in Lhasa in March 2008 and said in a statement released with the report that it “has condemned violence committed by Tibetans as well as by security forces.”

Chinese officials have said the security forces exercised sufficient restraint and that Tibetans perpetrated the most heinous acts of violence.

At least 19 people were killed in the rioting that unfolded in and around Lhasa on March 14, when Tibetans burned and looted hundreds of stores run by Han and ethnic Hui businesspeople, the Chinese government said. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported in spring 2008 that more than 150 episodes of unrest took place from March 10 to March 28 in Tibetan areas. The government has blamed the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, for catalyzing the protests, although the Dalai Lama has denied any such role.

“In dealing with the incident, all related departments abided by the law and enforced it in a civil manner,” Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement responding to faxed questions about the report. “The accused are fully guaranteed the rights of litigation, and their ethnic customs as well as their dignity are respected.”

The report said the three documented cases in which security forces fired live ammunition at protesters were in Lhasa and the prefectures of Aba and Ganzi, both in Sichuan Province. The authors said the Chinese government had so far acknowledged only one episode in which any protesters were killed.

Photographs have circulated on the Internet of bodies with bullet wounds that were supposedly the result of the shootings in Aba. The violence took place on March 16, when thousands of Tibetans protested near Kirti Monastery and were confronted by security forces. The bodies of the civilians were taken into Kirti. An initial report by Xinhua said security forces killed four protesters in self-defense, but that report was later changed to say protesters were wounded.

The Human Rights Watch report gives a detailed timeline of how the rioting in Lhasa broke out March 14. The first violence took place on March 10, when the police beat and arrested monks from Sera Monastery who were holding a peaceful protest in front of the Jokhang Temple, the report said, citing eyewitness accounts. Later that day, 300 to 400 monks from Drepung Monastery marched to demand greater religious freedom, and the police arrested up to 60 of them. Other protests took place the next two days involving monks and nuns, and the police forced them back to their monasteries.

On March 14, civilians threw rocks at police officers at 11 a.m. when the police tried to confront protesting monks at Ramoche, a small temple in central Lhasa. The police retreated, and no security forces showed up in central Lhasa for the next 24 hours. Under those conditions, the rioting and killing began.

By EDWARD WONG, New York Times
Published: July 22, 2010
Helen Gao contributed research


BBC Report: Is development killing Tibet's way of life?

Tibetans have struggled to safeguard their way of life, but can they continue? High in Tibet's mountains there are fears that an ancient way of life is slowly dying. China is bringing development to Tibet, changing it, trying to make it modern, but some Tibetans are worried that their region's unique identity is being eroded.

Ours was a rare, Chinese government-controlled trip to Tibet. Our schedule and our movements were almost entirely controlled by official minders who rarely let us out of their sight. Almost all the people we spoke to were hand-picked to show us China's view of Tibet.

Handsome wages

One way things are changing in Tibet is evident at the 5,100 Mineral water factory four hours drive outside Lhasa. Bottles of mineral water fly along production lines imported from Germany. The name comes from the altitude of the glacier that feeds water to the factory, 5,100 m (16,700ft) above sea level. The water is sold in China's far-off cities. The factory brings jobs and money to a poor region.

Around 150 Tibetans work here, among them Pubu Zhaxi. He says the work is not hard and he earns 5,000 renminbi ($735, £491) a month, a handsome wage in Tibet. But it is not all quite so simple. The factory, it turns out, is owned by a company registered in Hong Kong, so the profits, and the water, really flow outside Tibet. And although the factory's boss says collecting the run-off from the glacier has no environmental impact, the water would have flowed into a wetland in the valley where yak herds graze the mountain grasses.

Ancient structure

In Lhasa too there are signs of change all around. The Potala Palace, rising high above the city, was once home to the Dalai Lama before he fled into exile. It is a symbol of the way, for centuries, Tibet resisted outside influence. But now the palace courtyard is full of Chinese visitors. They pose in Tibetan cowboy hats. Tourism is another plank in China's plan for development.

Qiangba Gesang, the director of the Potala Palace says that four years ago 370,000 tourists were allowed to visit the palace each year. Now the number has gone up to 600,000. It is a sign of the way China's economy is developing and of the way Tibetans are becoming richer too, he says. But he is not so clear when asked if the surge in numbers is having any impact on the ancient structure.


The influx of Han Chinese as tourists and migrants is altering Tibet. So too is China's policy of moving every Tibetan herder and farmer into a new home. We are taken to see one model project just outside Lhasa. Neat rows of grey stone houses stand in lines with Tibetan prayer flags fluttering from them.

China says it has constructed 230,000 of what it calls these "comfort houses" for 1.3 million Tibetans in the past four years. It gives grants to help pay the cost. But the Tibetans have to use their own savings too and take out loans, so they end up with debt. And, we are told, many of the Tibetans in this village have leased their farmland to Chinese migrants to raise money. The Chinese grow vegetables while the Tibetans now work on construction sites in Lhasa. So Tibet's demographics are shifting.


Inside one house we find Do Bu Jie. In his seventies, he wears a brown Fedora hat at a jaunty angle. On his wall, as in every house we see here, there is a poster of China's Communist leaders, from Mao Zedong to Hu Jintao. Below it is a huge television set.

Do Bu Jie is a Communist Party member and supporter of the housing project. "Our old house was made out of mud, it wasn't this good," he said. "I was just a farmer. But the Communist Party looks after us." China's government genuinely believes its policies are helping transform Tibet from what officials say was a state of "backwardness".

But while some Tibetans are benefiting, many are not convinced. They believe the economic gains are largely flowing to Chinese immigrants. And they say their way of life and their cultural identity are all under threat.

Railway boom

The number of Chinese moving to Tibet is a sensitive topic. When I asked for figures from officials in Beijing before our trip I was given a stern lecture about the bias foreign journalists have in reporting on Tibet. Then I was told the statistics are not kept.

But in Lhasa we were taken to the new railway station, a giant, modern building, echoing and empty. Its style vaguely echoes the Potala Palace. The railway is Beijing's biggest investment in Tibet, costing billions of dollars, and is designed to connect the region with the rest of China. A train pulls in and passengers fill the platform.

There are Chinese migrant workers, dragging sacks of possessions, Tibetans with bundles of goods, Chinese tour groups all wearing red caps, the tour-leader waving her flag, and a few foreign tourists too. We are told 3,000 passengers come here everyday, so roughly one million a year, a third of them visitors.

In snatched conversations we managed with Tibetans during our five-day tour it was clear the sheer number of Han Chinese flowing in to Tibet was a cause of resentment.

Chinese vs Tibetan

Another sensitive topic is the survival of Tibetan as a language. At the Tibet Shanghai Experimental School, so-called because it is built with funds from the Shanghai government, a class full of Tibetan children in red and white track-suits are all having a Chinese lesson.

Nine hundred of the students here come from the families of farmers and herdsman, we are told. Many get help from the central government with funding to enjoy this education. It is another showcase project.

But although the school says teaching Tibetan is a priority, on closer scrutiny, that does not seem to be the case. Half the teachers are Chinese, and only Tibetan language is taught in Tibetan. No other subject is. All the exams, except for Tibetan language, have to be written in Chinese. Even the signs around the school and the names of the classrooms are all in Chinese. And the curriculum is all Chinese too. So the children, we are told, are taught that the Dalai Lama is a threat to China.

It is clear China's drive for development is transforming Tibet, improving incomes and changing lives. But it seems that is not always being welcomed. For all the benefits China says it is bringing them, the impression left by our visit was that Beijing is struggling to win the consent of ordinary Tibetans. And in a generation's time their homeland may have changed irrevocably.

15 July 2010 Last updated at 19:54 ET
By Damian Grammaticas, BBC News, Lhasa