Exiled Tibetans Pay Tribute to Tibetan Prisoner of Conscience on UN Convention Against Torture Day

By Tsering Choephel

DHARAMSALA, 27 June:  On the 37th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), in collaboration with Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibetan Women’s Association held a commemorative tribute to “Tibetan human rights defenders, dissidents, and activists who have endured and continue to endure torture” under the Chinese rule in Tibet at Mcleod Ganj Tibetan Settlement Office hall yesterday. The absence of the Gu-Chu-Sum movement of Tibet, the organisation of and for the Tibetan political prisoners at the event is notably perplexing. 

The convention’s anti-torture framework obliges all 174 signatory state parties to “the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, in Chinese Communist regime-occupied Tibet, “torture is endemic in the network of prisons and detention centres across the plateau,” the TCHRD stated in a press release.

Employing various torture tools and methods, such as electric shocks, aerial suspension, and prolonged solitary confinement, among others, Tibetan political prisoners undergo devastating physical, psychological, and emotional torture under Chinese authorities.

“Life after prison is made extremely difficult for them: their children are often expelled from school, their government benefits are revoked, and they are constantly harassed, leaving them with no prospects for employment. Many Tibetan torture survivors suffer from recurring nightmares and flashbacks,” the statement added.

This occurs despite China being a signatory to the convention, with Beijing claiming without shame that it affords and protects the ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ of Tibetans. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), in a statement released on Wednesday, acknowledged that despite the establishment of a strong anti-torture framework over the years, “the promise of the international prohibition of torture has yet to be fulfilled, as many regulatory and practical obstacles and impediments continue to hamper effective investigations into the crime of torture.” The lack of will, integrity, and the excesses of Communist regimes’ thirst for power and control continue to pose huge challenges to international bodies like the UN and its charters and conventions.

At the event, TCHRD underscored the case of the late Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who passed away in Chinese custody after “enduring 13 years of egregious detention and being denied appropriate medical care in prison.” The human rights organisation also highlighted 20 cases of Tibetan political prisoners who died in Chinese custody, stating that “These cases will be featured on TCHRD’s social media for the next twenty days to draw attention to their plight and demand accountability from the Chinese government.”

“The unacceptable gap between the commitment to the international prohibition of torture and the reality in practice,” said the OHCHR, “must be narrowed by thorough investigations, which can provide a deterrent and preventive effect through the assurance of accountability and, ultimately, justice.”

A group of European Union diplomats, led by Paola Pampoloni, the EU’s deputy managing director of the Asia and Pacific Department, visited Tibet between 13 and 15 June, prior to the 39th session of the Joint Human Rights Dialogue held in Chongqing, China, on 16 June. China’s orchestrated program for EU diplomats included visits to boarding schools, municipalities, cultural and religious sites, relocated Tibetan families, as well as a prison, but no meetings with individual prisoners were allowed.

“The short and dense program provided an opportunity to gain a certain understanding of the reality on the ground and challenges in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Following the visit, the EU put forward several recommendations to ensure full bilingual education, the preservation of the cultural heritage, identity, and fundamental freedoms of the Tibetan people,” said the European External Action Service (EEAS) statement, adding that “The EU urged China to investigate and stop human rights violations, expressing concern for cases of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment.” Among the list of prisoners of conscience in China, the delegation called for the immediate release of Tibetan intellectuals Go Sherab Gyatso and Tashi Dorjee.

At the event, five former political prisoners—Geshe Tsering Dorje, a student of the late Trulku Tenzin Delek; Lobsang Yonten, who was imprisoned around 1959 for more than a decade; Geshe Ngawang Delek, who was imprisoned for the 1987 protest; Gendun Rinchen, a tourist guide in Lhasa who was arrested from his home in 1993 for preparing to hand over letters about human rights to a group of visiting European Community (EC) diplomats; and Sherab Gyatso, who was also arrested in the early 2000s—each shared their story, events leading to their arrest, and their time in prison. They unanimously called on Tibetans in exile to set aside religious-sectarian squabbles to unite in the fight for Tibet and Tibetans inside Tibet.

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