In an unprecedented move, 20 United Nations member states confronted China over its human rights violations in Tibet during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council on 23 Jan in Geneva. The states made 24 recommendations and three mentions, marking a twofold increase from China's last review in 2018.
The UPR, a mechanism of the Human Rights Council, assesses the human rights records of UN member states every four to five years. This year's review saw a significant rise in the number of states raising concerns about China's oppression in Tibet, doubling from nine in 2018.
The International Campaign for Tibet welcomed the increased attention, stating, "We are grateful to all states that raised China’s coercive boarding schools and relocation policies in Tibet and called for religious freedom, cultural rights for Tibetans and unfettered access to Tibet."
The 20 nations that challenged China on Tibet at the review included the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, Lithuania, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Ireland, Montenegro, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, and Estonia.
Issues raised by member states focused on the religious and cultural rights of Tibetans, particularly highlighting the impact of boarding schools that have separated over a million Tibetan children from their families, language, religion, and culture.
States called for the abolition of these boarding schools, the release of arbitrarily detained Tibetans, and demanded unfettered access to Tibet. The Chinese government refrained from directly addressing the concerns about boarding schools and claimed that religious freedom and cultural rights of Tibetans were protected.
The tense climate during the review was evident as the Chinese government presented an unusually large delegation of over 40 diplomats. Beijing mobilized Chinese government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) to support their stance. Civil society access was restricted, and NGOs were initially provided with only 15 seats, taken up by Chinese GONGOs.
The review took place in a time-restricted format, with each statement limited to 45 seconds. Many states used their speaking time for affirmations, disregarding the on-the-ground reality in Tibet.
Tibetan and Uyghur activists organized a protest outside the United Nations during the 45th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The protesters, carrying banners with slogans like "Decolonise Tibet," "China out of Tibet," and "Shame on China," gathered at the Broken Chair to draw attention to human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang.
In a side event organized by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, panelists including the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Thinlay Chukki, Lhadon Tethong, and Bhuchung Tsering highlighted the gravity of the situation. US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya and Ambassador Michèle Taylor delivered statements, emphasizing their concerns about the human rights situation in Tibet.
Uzra Zeya, US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, spoke at a side event on human rights in China and Tibet on the eve of the fourth Universal Periodic Review of the People's Republic of China. She stated that "Over the past four years of this review period, the People's Republic of China has consistently responded to diversity and dissent with fear, intolerance and repression. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Tibet, what is happening in Tibet is not happening in a vacuum, but concerns us all.”
Ambassador Michèle Taylor delivered a powerful statement on behalf of the United States during the UPR of the People’s Republic of China at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Taylor stated “We condemn the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; human rights abuses in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and across China; erosion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong; and transnational repression to silence individuals abroad”.
The Free Tibet organization, headquartered in London, affirmed that years of dedicated advocacy and human rights monitoring yielded results at the United Nations, where an unprecedented number of countries addressed the Chinese government regarding its policies in Tibet.
Numerous NGOs dedicated to the Tibetan cause, along with Tibetan activists, expressed gratitude towards the countries that raised and supported critical issues concerning Tibet, such as colonial boarding schools and the relocation of nomads, during the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva.
Edited and collated by Team TRC