By Tenzin Sangmo
Tibetan Delegation at the UN side event
DHARAMSHALA, March 14: The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) organized a side event held yesterday at the ongoing 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva, despite several interruptions by Chinese delegates and members of the audience present at the event.
The event held to “uncover China’s 60 years of gross human rights violation in Tibet” featured former political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen who joined Ms Thinlay Chukki from the CTA’s UN and Human Rights Desk and Ms Lhagyari Namgyal Dolker, a member of Tibetan parliament and the president of Gu-Chu-Sum movement of Tibet.
The trio formed the Tibetan delegation at the event that was moderated by Joshua Cooper, a lecturer at University of Hawaii & Director of Hawaii Institute for Human Rights.
The 40th session is underway since 25 February up till 22 March 2019. The UNHRC holds three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least ten weeks.
In the presence of close to 40 representatives from various permanent missions, NGOs and other offices, the former political prisoner recounted the torture methods used in the Chinese prison and his stint in solitary confinement.
He said, “It has been long since China occupied Tibet, but Tibetans inside Tibet continue their peaceful resistance even to this day.”
Dhondup Wangchen was imprisoned in 2008 for six years on the charge of subversion for his documentary Leaving fear behind that he made with Tibetan monk Golok Jigme. It documented interviews of more than 100 ordinary Tibetans talking about the oppressive situation in Tibet before the Beijing Olympics.
In 2012, he won the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) International press freedom award while in prison.
He was released on 5 June 2014 after the completion of his sentence and escaped to the US in December 2017 where he was reunited with his family and granted political asylum. In December 2018, he finally managed to accept the CPJ award in person in New York.
“We wanted to bring out the realities of the situation in Tibet to the international community. We wanted the world to see what Tibetans think about their own conditions within Tibet,” he said.
Chukki stated that in its adoption of recommendations by the member states under the 3rd cycle of Universal Periodic Review (UPR), China has claimed that it has “accepted and already implemented” most of the recommendations on freedom of religion.
“The UN Human Rights Council should not allow China to vitiate the UPR process by stating such blatant lies about the conditions in Tibet and ensure that there is freedom of religion and belief in its true sense, not with Chinese characteristics,” said Chukki.
She made an appeal to the member states to pressurize China to invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Tibet to record the ground realities in Tibet.
Dolkar, denouncing China for its blatant denial of the existence of political prisoners under its repressive rule, said, “It’s an honour for me to speak along with a Tibetan former political prisoner like Dhondup Wangchen and on behalf of Tibetans inside Tibet at the UN.”
However, she was quickly interrupted by a Chinese delegate in the room who demanded that she maintain the “UN language code” referring to the use of the word “Chinese occupation” in her speech.
“I’ll remember this paradoxical experience of being interrupted to maintain the ‘UN language code’ by the Chinese representative when it’s the Chinese government who is actually failing to respect and uphold the UN Charter and fundamental human rights principles,” Tibet Bureau Geneva quoted her as saying after the event.
Wangchen said that the extent of torture he suffered was mitigated by the high profile international support his case received that remains incomparable to the extent of torture and plight of his co-prisoners who mostly remain anonymous.
Wangchen, who is also selected as one of the speakers for the 11th Geneva Summit for Human rights and democracy taking place on March 29 appealed for the continued support from the international community.
During Q&A session, in response to a Chinese woman’s proclamation that there is no discrimination between a Han Chinese prisoner and a Tibetan, Wangchen categorically refuted it and explained, “even in prison, there is a system whereby prisoners can earn points and based on the number of points, the prisoners’ sentence term could get reduced. But this is not available to the Tibetan political prisoners.”
The woman also asked the two other panelists if they have ever been to Tibet and how do they know that it’s not all hearsay? “I may not have gone to Tibet but I have heard the firsthand accounts from Tibetan prisoners who escaped Tibet,” replied Dolkar.
Chukki added, “I wanted to go to China for a trek organized by Harvard Kennedy school but my passport was confiscated. You are not allowing us to even go to China, forget Tibet. We want to go to Tibet and see the reality there. Allow us. We will go.”
As the event started to spill beyond the scheduled time, a Chinese delegate tried to get the security officials to stop the event but he was escorted out and the delegation was given an additional 20 minutes.