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India-China: Tibetans’ Human Rights Are Not Negotiable

Indian Officials Must Raise Rights Concerns With Visiting Chinese President

(New Delhi) - The Indian government should publicly reverse its decision to ban peaceful protests against the upcoming visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao and rescind its threat to deport those protestors, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. President Hu arrives in New Delhi on Monday to discuss common strategic and economic interests.

Local officials in Dharamsala, home to thousands of Tibetan refugees, have this week told activists that they may not fly banners bearing phrases like “Free Tibet” and discouraged them from leaving the town, presumably to prevent them from protesting near the leaders’ meetings in New Delhi.

“India’s respect for Tibetans’ human rights has long distinguished its conduct with respect to China,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It would be a shame to see India toss aside its proud and principled history for the sake of mollifying China.”

Since the early 1950s, India has hosted a large community of Tibetans, as well as the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many of those Tibetans have fled political, religious and socioeconomic repression, and a recent crackdown by the Chinese government is likely to cause more Tibetans to flee. The Indian government’s willingness to accommodate Tibetans in India has long been a point of contention in its relationship with China. However, recent efforts to build a stronger India-China relationship has led the Indian government to put decreasing emphasis on Tibetans’ human rights concerns.

Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Singh to press President Hu to permit an independent investigation into a recent shooting on the China-Nepal border. On September 30, Chinese People’s Armed Police opened fire without warning on a group of 73 Tibetans who were attempting to cross the border into Nepal through the 6,000-meter-high Nangpa Pass. A 17-year-old nun, Kelsang Namtso, was shot dead, while 23-year-old Kunsang Namgyal, who was shot and arrested, is feared dead. The whereabouts are still unclear of 32 members of the party (including 14 children) who did not reach Nepal.

Human Rights Watch also encouraged Indian officials to reiterate their expectations that China will abide by its commitments under two core international human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which China ratified in 2001, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998 but has not yet ratified.

“In the past, India has quietly shown its support for Tibetans’ human rights,” said Richardson. “But as New Delhi deepens its relationship with Beijing, India seems willing to violate even its own domestic human rights protections to avoid offending China.”

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