New U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein should look closely at charges of blatant rights abuses and environmental concerns in Tibet if allowed by Beijing to visit the region, a group of 20 Tibetan writers, educators, and former political prisoners says, cautioning him against falling into any “trap” set by Chinese officials to mislead him.
A letter sent electronically this month by the 20 from inside Tibet outlines a range of concerns to be addressed by Zeid, who has said he is in talks with Beijing over a planned visit to Tibet.
The Tibetan writers, educators, and ex-political prisoners sent their letter to the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) for forwarding to Zeid’s office at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Our main reason for sending this appeal is to highlight our lack of freedom in Tibetan areas to protect our own environment and to express our own views and concerns,” the letter says, according to a copy made available to RFA’s Tibetan Service.
Concern over 'staged tours'
“Protests are treated as violations of the law, and those who engage in them are detained and beaten, while many have been killed. In this way, Tibetan areas have been turned into zones of torture and repression,” it says.
No visit by the U.N. human rights chief to Tibet has yet been approved by China, though Zeid has voiced hope that a visit could be arranged per a recommendation accepted by China at a periodic review of its human rights record held in Geneva.
“We are discussing this issue with the Chinese authorities,” Zeid told reporters on Oct. 16.
Signing the letter with what appear to be pen-names, the Tibetan authors of the letter especially urge the U.N’s new human rights chief “not to fall into the trap” of taking part in tours “staged” by Chinese officials.
“We also ask that you visit the family members or other persons close to Tibetan self-immolators to understand the true circumstances that have led over 130 of them to end their lives in protests since 2009,” the letter says.
Beijing’s assertions of sovereignty over Tibet have made conditions there “difficult to understand from outside,” the letter says, adding, “Please describe clearly the conditions that you see, and tell our true story to the world. This will lighten our burden inside Tibet.”
Zeid told reporters last month that Beijing had "agreed to the recommendation that there be a visit by the high commissioner to Tibet and so we are discussing this issue with the Chinese authorities," Agence France-Presse reported.
"I've had a few very preliminary discussions about this. We agreed we would sit at some stage and elaborate a concept of how this is going to take place," he said.
Allowing the U.N.'s top rights official to visit Tibet was among a raft of recommendations issued by the U.N. Human Rights Council when it assessed China's record in October 2013, AFP reported.
China has not ruled out a visit by Zeid but said he must apply through "appropriate channels.”
"China hopes to develop cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office on a foundation of equality and mutual respect," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
"At the same time we also hope that he fulfills his responsibilities fairly and impartially."
Speaking to RFA, TCHRD executive director Tsering Tsomo acknowledged receipt of what she called the “very important and precious” letter sent from inside the tightly controlled Tibetan region.
“We will forward it on to the head and members of the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Tsomo said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 133 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.