China exerts extreme pressure to force Tibetans to move their long-established villages: HRW

Chinese government building new settlements in Tibet and forcing Tibetans to relocate their homes. (Photo: file)

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Taipei — Human Rights Watch released a report on the Chinese government's forced relocations of Tibetans in Tibet on Tuesday and the report states, "the Chinese government is using extreme forms of pressure to coerce Tibetans to relocate their long-established villages. Since 2016, officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region have relocated or are currently relocating 500 villages with over 140,000 residents to new locations, often hundreds of kilometers away."

Human Rights Watch published a 71-page report entitled "Educate the Masses to Change Their Minds: China's Coercive Relocation of Rural Tibetans" on May 21, 2024. The report explains how participation in ‘whole village resettlement’ programmes in Tibet, in which entire villages are displaced, amounts to forced eviction in violation of international law. The Chinese authorities falsely claim that these relocations will ‘improve people's livelihoods’ and ‘protect the ecological environment’. The Chinese government prevents relocated people from returning to their former homes by generally requiring them to demolish these homes within a year of being relocated.

Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch said, "The Chinese government says that the relocation of Tibetan villages is voluntary, but official media reports contradict this claim. Those reports make clear that when a whole village is targeted for relocation, it is practically impossible for the residents to refuse to move without facing serious repercussions."

The report said, "Chinese government policy in Tibet sets out that every household in every village targeted is to consent to relocation. Human Rights Watch found multiple references to initial reluctance among Tibetans whose villages were scheduled for relocation. In one case, 200 out of 262 households in a village in Nagchu Municipality initially did not want to relocate to a site nearly 1,000 kilometers away. The government claimed that all eventually agreed to move voluntarily."

"Chinese officials attribute their success in getting total consent to “publicity work” and “door-to-door ideological work” carried out by officials. This often involves intrusive home visits. In some cases, officials of increasing seniority visit families repeatedly at their homes to gain their “consent.” In some cases, they also tell residents that essential services would be cut to their current homes if they did not move," the report added.

Human Rights Watch's report stated, "They openly threaten villagers who voiced disagreements about the relocations, accusing them of “spreading rumors” and ordering officials to crack down on such actions “swiftly and resolutely,” implying administrative and criminal penalties. In addition, officials require each targeted village to reach a consensus decision and do not allow any individual resident to opt out from that decision, creating additional peer group pressure on all residents to comply."

"A 2014 review of an earlier relocation program in eastern Tibet found that even after 10 years, 69 percent of relocatees were still facing financial difficulties and 49 percent wished that they could move back to their original homes on the grasslands," the report mentioned.

Human Rights Watch said, 'Official statistics suggest that between 2000 and 2025, the Chinese authorities will have relocated over 930,000 rural Tibetans (see Appendix I). Most of these relocations—over 709,000 people or 76 percent of these relocations—have taken place since 2016. Among these 709,000 people relocated, 140,000 are moved as part of the whole village relocation drives, 567,000 as part of individual household relocations."

"In this same period between 2000 and 2025, 3.36 million rural Tibetans have been affected by other government programs requiring them to rebuild their houses and to adopt a sedentary way of life if they are nomads, without necessarily being relocated," they added.

"While such mass relocations of residents have been occurring elsewhere in poor rural areas in China, these drives risk causing a devastating impact on Tibetan communities, Human Rights Watch found. Together with current Chinese government programs to assimilate Tibetan schooling, culture, and religion into those of the “Chinese nation,” the relocation of rural communities erode or cause major damage to Tibetan culture and ways of life – not least because most relocation programs in Tibet move former farmers and pastoralists to areas where they cannot practice their former livelihood and have no choice but to seek work as wage laborers in off-farm industries," the Human Rights Watch said.

“The mass relocations of rural Tibetan villages are severely eroding Tibetan culture and ways of life. China’s government should suspend relocations in Tibet until an independent, expert review of existing policies and practices is carried out to determine their compliance with Chinese law and standards and international law concerning relocations and forced evictions," said Maya Wang.