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Geneva — UN Special Rapporteurs who investigate human rights abuses have taken the rare step of banding together to condemn China for expulsions of monks and nuns from major religious enclaves in a Tibetan region.

On the eve of the 34th session of UN Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures of United Nations Human Rights Council made public a joint intervention communication made to the Chinese Government on the case of Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar, both Buddhist learning centres in Tibet facing wide-scale demolition.

The mandates of the Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights; the Special Rapporteur on the issue of Human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of association; the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to Non-discrimination in this context; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief made the communication on November 7 last year and was kept confidential till today.

Most of the expulsions mentioned by the experts have taken place at Larung Gar, the world's largest Buddhist institute and one of the most influential centers of learning in the Tibetan world. Officials have been demolishing some of the homes of the 20,000 monks and nuns living around the institute, in Serta County, eastern Tibet.

Communications report to session 34 of the Human Rights Council include communications sent from 01 Jun 2016 to 30 Nov 2016 and their replies are received until 31 Jan 2017. The report is put together thrice a year by special procedures to the HRC. When the report is issued the communications send in the prior months become public.

According to the report, the experts brought attention to "the severe restrictions of religious freedom in Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture: mass expulsion of religious practitioners from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, demolitions of monastic homes in Larung Gar and the cultural and environmental impacts of the mining activities at the Holy Gong-ngon Lari Mountain as well as excessive use of force against, and arbitrary arrest and detention of, peaceful protestors."

The report further said that Larung Gar is a "living, vital center of Tibetan Buddhist teachings that is renowned worldwide and across China, and is of great significance in terms of Tibetan language, culture and religion as well as for a new generation of Chinese Buddhist scholars and pilgrims. In September 2016, it was reported that many Tibetan religious practitioners had faced mass expulsions from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two of the major Buddhist Tibetan institutions that have become important centres for study, practice and promotion of Buddhist teachings in recent years. At least half of more than 10,000 monks and nuns at Larung Gar face eviction following the demolition of numerous residences. Reportedly, about 1000 religious practitioners were compelled to leave Yachen Gar. Family members of certain nuns at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar were allegedly pressured by the authorities to summon them home or face punishment, such as confiscation of family identity cards."

The UN experts sought the Chinese Government's response to the following concerns:

  • Please provide any additional information or comments you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.
  • Please provide detailed information concerning the legal grounds for the demolition of the monastic residences and expulsion of nuns and monks as referred to above, specifying how these measures are compatible with international human rights norms and standards, in particular those relating to freedom of religion or belief and cultural rights, including the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage.
  • Please explain the rationale for the lack of consultation with local religious leaders in relation to the decision of the demolitions that took place in Larung Gar. Please explain the need for limiting the number of monks, nuns and lay practitioners in Larung Gar to only 5,000 people in total by 2017 as described in the seven point demolition order. Please also provide explanation in relation to the need for involving Government officials in the monastic affairs.
  • Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that persons belonging to national, or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, including the Buddhist Tibetans, have the right to protect their own cultural and religious heritage and sites, to study, profess and practise their own religion freely and without interference or any form of discrimination, and to enjoy their right to take part in cultural life without any discrimination.
  • Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that the right to housing of the monks and nuns as well as other lay practitioners is protected. Please provide detailed information of resettlement and compensation plans for those people made homeless or expelled from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar.
  • Please indicate if all feasible alternatives to eviction and demolitions have been explored in consultation with the residents of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar and if so, please provide details of the process and results of those consultations. Please also explain why proposed alternatives to the eviction have been deemed unsuitable.
  • Please confirm whether a court order was issued authorizing the eviction, whether the religious community was provided a copy of the order in advance, and whether they were given the opportunity to appeal such decision before a court. In addition, please explain what administrative or judicial mechanisms are available for individuals to challenge their immediate eviction from their homes.
  • Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that the mining projects in Amchok Township do not adversely impact the environment of the holy site areas. Please also specify how these measures are compatible with the laws on environmental protection stipulated in the Chinese constitution.
  • Please provide detailed information indicating what measures have been taken to ensure the right of all persons to peacefully assemble in accordance with international human rights standards. Have the authorities investigated the incidents that took place on 1 June 2016 in Amchok?

While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

The Official website of Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned that the Chinese Government has responded to the questions on December 5 last year and is being translated and said they would be presented to the Human Rights Council for its consideration.

Larung Gar, one of the largest Buddhist study centers in the world is facing wide-scale demolitions under the directions of the Chinese authorities. In July 2016, the authorities began as a part of a multi-year plan aiming to downsize the institute by 50 percent. The demolitions paused in October last year and is reported to resume in February this year but owing to communications crackdown, no further updates are made available.

On September 16 last year, Swiss Tibetan communities and Tibet support groups organized a 'Tibet Solidarity Rally for Larung Gar' in Geneva which was attended by over thousand people. Escaped activist, human rights defender and niece of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Nyima Lhamo addressed the rally.

On December 5 last year, both Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay of Central Tibetan Administration and TPIE Speaker Khenpo Sonam Tenphel addressed a joint press conference urging the UNHCHR to take immediate action to save Larung Gar. Paralleling the press conference, Office of Tibet in Geneva sought various urgent meetings with Special Procedures Office. This was followed by a high level weeklong lobbying in Geneva undertaken by Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) along with Office of Tibet Geneva early this year.

Please click on link to access the detailed communication, via the official website of OHCHR.