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UN experts raise “grave concern” over Panchen Lama, reincarnation of religious leaders

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A Tibetan wearing a mask of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima during a protest. May 17 2013 (Photo - Reuters)
A Tibetan wearing a mask of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima during a protest. May 17 2013 (Photo - Reuters)

By Tenzin Dharpo

DHARAMSHALA, Aug. 4: A group of five United Nations human rights experts have written to China raising “grave concern” over the continued disappearance of the prominent Tibetan religious figure and the Chinese government heavy-handedness of the reincarnation process of Tibetan religious leaders.

In a statement to the Chinese government, the experts “express grave concern at the continued refusal by the Government of China to disclose precisely the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (the 11th Panchen Lama)”, and demanded access for an independent inspector to visit him.

The experts noted that the regulation of reincarnation of Tibetan living figures, “interfere[s] and possibly undermines, in a discriminatory way, the religious traditions and practices of the Tibetan Buddhist minority,” while adding that, “there is fear that the Chinese authority will identify and appoint the successor of the current (fourteenth) Dalai Lama against the Tibetan traditions and the wish of Tibetan Buddhist communities.”

The statement was issued by five UN mandates: the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Ms. Thinlay Chukki, CTA’s Special Appointee for Human Rights based in the Tibet Bureau-Geneva raised the issue of the Panchen Lama in the recently concluded 44th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her statement at the UN, Thinlay said, “for 25 years Tibet’s religious leader 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been denied of religious education and is kept under enforced disappearance by China for 25 years now.”

Pro-Tibet lobby group International Campaign for Tibet welcomed the move and said, “The UN experts also underline that any state interference with the appointment of Tibetan Buddhist leaders stands in clear contravention of international human rights law.

“As they rightly acknowledge such fears, this would be the case with Beijing’s stated intention to appoint a future Dalai Lama. The international community should therefore double its efforts to safeguard the rights of the Tibetans to choose a future Dalai Lama without interference by the Chinese government.” 

The 11th Panchen Lama Gendun Choekyi Nyima was recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 14, 1995. Days later, the Dalai Lama endorsed candidate was abducted by China from his home and have never been seen since. After years of denial, the Chinese government revealed in 2015 that he is alive and “does not wish to be disturbed”, a claim that has since been challenged by the exile Tibetans and the international community with demands of access to the missing religious figure.

2 Responses

  1. Religious freedom in Tibet and China must release the 11th Panchen Lama. We don’t want fake Panchen Lama.

    1. Sure. But when a young child is chosen as tulku, do they have the cognitive facilities to have the free choice? Especially when it comes to reincarnations of lamas, perhaps the child foresees something that others don’t and doesn’t want to be a part of it? With an interconnected world, things aren’t the way they used to be 100 or even 50 years ago. There is the question then, that it is fated? If people don’t want a fake lama, perhaps they can settle for a 2nd choice non-fake lama? What do the state oracles have to say about this matter? What is the Plan B? A lot of people are persecuted in Tibet for their beliefs. Others perhaps don’t want to complicate their lives and pass on the responsibility to someone else. It’s up to the Tibetan people to decide what happens when any tulku doesn’t want their role.

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