“Defending Rights Through Law”: Special Report on Tibet’s ‘Rights Defense’ Movement

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is pleased to announce the release of a special report on the eve of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, opening on 18 October 2017. The report delivers the history and current status of the ‘rights defense’ movement, known in Tibetan as “bsTun rgol khrims gtugs” (Eng: “Defending rights through law”), in Chinese and Tibetan language.

On the verge of the commencement of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, we are presenting a campaign research paper on defending the rights through law. We urge the Chinese authorities to frame policies to resolve the issue of the Tibetan people and to redress the other critical issues in Tibet. The Chinese government must undertake a critical review of its hardline policies in Tibet. We call on the Chinese authorities to allow Tibetans to enjoy all human rights and end its policy of repression. The Chinese government should create an enabling environment for Tibetans to live without fear and oppression and seriously work towards resolving the issue of Tibet.

This report presents a meticulous analysis of the various efforts and activities carried on over seven decades to defend the rights through law by Tibetan activists inside Tibet. The struggle to reclaim legitimate rights and freedoms by Tibetans inside Tibet has persisted despite the series of repressive policies unleashed by Chinese authorities in Tibet.

The report also details the rights defense initiatives launched through 1950s and 1980s by a number of senior Party cadres of Tibetan descent and other senior Tibetan leaders in Tibet who fought for Tibetan rights in a system dominated and dictated by the Chinese Communist Party. They were consequently jailed for decades for their rights defence work and suffered a great deal of torture and mistreatment merely for demanding the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution. Two prominent examples are the late Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal, an influential former Tibetan Communist leader who made a strong case of self-determination for Tibetan nationality and the previous 10th Panchen Lama who wrote the famous 70,000 Character Petition. People from all walks of life have also contributed to the campaign directly and indirectly and continue to do in the face of extreme repression.

The 2008 uprising in Lhasa and its violent crackdown by Chinese authorities sparked new forms of resistance ranging from self-immolation protests to artistic and intellectual awakening that served as a catalyst for a more vigorous and spirited rights defense movement in Tibet. Specifically, Tibetan writers and intellectuals in Tibet engaged in widespread deliberations and discourse on defending and reclaiming Tibetan rights from all aspects, including National law and International law while also exploring new ways of noncooperation and nonviolent protests. Of particular note are acclaimed Tibetan writer Shogdung’s “The Division of Earth and Sky” and underground writer Dhi Lhaden’s “bsTun rgol khrims gtugs” (Eng: “Defending rights through law”) that represent the heart and spirit of the movement to reclaim legitimate Tibetan rights. Moreover, Tashi Wangchuk’s advocacy for the preservation of Tibetan language is a powerful way of ‘defending rights through law’ as he made efforts to file a lawsuit against the Chinese authorities for their failure to protect and preserve Tibetan language and culture as per its national laws.

Chinese government’s rhetoric on ‘rule of law’ is merely a façade concealing the Party’s insecurity and dictatorial monopoly of all power in the People’s Republic of China. A genuine ‘rule of law’ cannot be realized alongside the authoritarian rule of the Party. To govern a country by law requires an immediate end to a system that allows the Party and the regime to remain supreme above all else. Although the Party rhetoric about the “socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics” implies that Party members are held to higher standards than citizens, it also gives them the power to make changes to national laws at their whim. Given the lack of adherence to the rule of law, and the rule by law approach that the Chinese authorities take, the situation for Tibetans, and for instance, Chinese human rights lawyers taking on politically sensitive cases in the PRC, has become a highly risky job.

The report in Chinese language is available here.

A summarized translation in Tibetan can be read here.

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