Summary of a report on Tibet: submitted to the ICJ by Shri Purshottam Trikamdas

Shri Purshottam Trikamdas is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.

Press Conference Address

1. When the uprising took place in Tibet, we in the International Commission of Jurists were obviously concerned with developments taking place there. The Commission’s main concern is with the legal aspects of the situation in Tibet in connection with:

a) the interpretation of the position of Tibet under International Law;

b) human rights to the extent that fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Tibet are systematically violated or affected;

c) the threats of the events in Tibet to the Rule of Law and international peace

2. The International Commission of Jurists has not yet commented on the situation in Tibet because it was anxious to make certain of the facts of the case. I was asked by the Commission to investigate the matter on the spot and especially the legal and human rights aspects of the case. It was with this mandate that I organized a team of experts to examine closely and objectively — as lawyers — the Tibetan situation. After two months of work, we have completed the preliminary part of the investigation. We have collected documents, interviewed people and reliable witnesses from Tibet and studied the events as reported by the press and radio — including the Chinese press and radio. These materials have been turned over to the International Commission of Jurists. They have been examined and scrutinized. On the basis of this, the Commission has taken certain decisions and I have been asked by the Commission to convey those decisions to you

3. I would first like to give you some idea of the results of our investigation. The situation in Tibet has evoked widespread concern and sympathy all over the world. The understandable exception to this are the Soviet dominated countries and the Communist parties in Asia and elsewhere.

What is happening in Tibet is reminiscent of the conquest by some European countries and domination over Asian and African people on the plea of bringing progress in those lands, described by complacent persons as the “White man’s burden”. In a sense it reminds one of the brutal suppression in Hungary. Unfortunate Tibet is presented at the same time with forced progress and brutal suppression at the hands of the Chinese Government.

4. It is not necessary to go very far into the historical background of Tibet beyond stating that from 1912 to 1950 Tibet was virtually an independent country. No Chinese writ ran in Tibet: there was no Chinese law, no Chinese judge, no Chinese policemen on the street corner; there was no Chinese newspaper, no Chinese soldier and even no representative of the Chinese government.

5. In 1950 China assured India that China had no intention of incorporating Tibet into China by force or otherwise and was willing to negotiate with Tibet regarding the future relationship of Tibet with China. But a few weeks later the invasion of Tibet took place — on the 7th of October 1950. On the 19th October 1950, Chamdo in Eastern Tibet was captured and on the 24th Peking announced that the forces had been ordered to advance into Tibet “to free three million Tibetans from imperialist oppression”.

6. As a result of the invasion, in December 1950 the Dalai Lama moved with his Cabinet to Yatung near the Sikkim frontiers where he remained till August 1951. In the meantime a Tibetan delegation had proceeded to Peking for negotiations as a result of which an agreement was signed on 23 May 1951, which is popularly known as the 17 Point Agreement. Its main features were:

(1) Chinese armies were to be allowed to enter Tibet for consolidating national defence

(2) Tibetan people were entitled to regional autonomy under the leadership of Central Peoples Government

(3) The Central Government were not to alter the existing political system or the status and functions and powers of the Dalai Lama

(4) Policy of religious freedom was to be carried out and religious beliefs, customs were to be respected and Lamas and monasteries were to be protected

(5) Language and school system, agriculture and economy were to be gradually developed and no reforms were to be carried out by compulsion

(6) While the Chinese were to handle external relations Tibet would be free to have commercial and trading relations with neighbouring countries

(7) The Chinese Government would set up a military and administrative committee, in which “patriotic” local personnel would be absorbed, for the implementation of the agreement.

7. The dismemberment of Tibet took place in 1951, the Dalai Lama being left with authority only in the Western portions of Tibet but with a Chinese general exercising effective control. In September 1954 the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama were invited to Peking where they attended a meeting of the State Council at which they had to submit to a number of decisions, including the formation of a “Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet”.

8. Two years later, in 1956, Mr. Chou En-lai assured Mr. Nehru that China did not consider Tibet as a province of China, but as an autonomous region. He also said that it was absurd for anyone to imagine that China was going to force Communism on Tibet, though reforms would come progressively. They proposed, however, to postpone the reforms for a considerable time. About that time the Dalai Lama was in India and Mr. Nehru conveyed these assurances to him.

9. In 1957 Mr. Mao Tse-tung in his so-called hundred flowers speech said that reforms in Tibet would not be introduced during the period 1958-62 and that the introduction of proposed reforms would depend on the wishes of the Tibetan people.

This in brief is the historical background.

10. After the 1950 aggression and the 1951 Agreement the people of Tibet have insisted that Tibet should continue to enjoy the same internal autonomy as before while the Chinese talked of limited regional autonomy within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. The Chinese persistent effort has been to incorporate Tibet as an integral part of China.

Let us now turn to what happened in Tibet from 1951 onwards.

11. It is stated by Tibetan sources that soon after 1951 the first impact of Chinese control was felt in the feverish construction of roads and highways. The labour for this work was Tibetan men, women and children, laymen and monks, many of them forcibly drafted for the work. It is alleged that up to 200,000 were forced into these labour projects and about one-fourth of them are said to have died from the cold weather, hunger and fatigue. As one witness reported: “The financial and physical losses sustained by our people were great. By building the gigantic roads the economic loss sustained goes into thousands of acres of agricultural land, The Chinese destroyed agricultural lands, irrigation systems and ancient consolidated holdings by indiscriminately using the tracks in the name of highway priority. Numerous religious monuments, shrines, Mani walls and even houses of poor peasants that were in the path of the highway or road were destroyed”. The systematic destruction of religious monuments and shrines for propagating ‘Communism’ will be dealt with later. The destruction of these and forcing the monks to forced labour shocked the Tibetans tremendously.

12. There is no doubt that since 1952 there has been large-scale Chinese immigration into Tibet, particularly in the North-East and Eastern areas. According to reliable sources, about five million Chinese have already been settled in Tibet and some four million more are going to be settled. The present population of Tibet is estimated at 3,000,000 people. The Tibetans naturally feel that as a result of this vast settlement of Chinese in Tibet, a complete destruction of Tibetan identity will be brought about in the foreseeable future. The Chinese immigrants have been brought into Tibet ostensibly for the purpose of bringing wastelands under cultivation but actually the immigration was followed by large-scale confiscation of lands and buildings belonging to monasteries and private persons, by levies of special taxes on everything the Tibetan possessed — and here the monasteries were discriminated against and subjected to exorbitant taxation — and the depletion of decades-old granaries which, affected the most fundamental sensibilities of the Tibetans who regarded them as a religious-like symbol of pride and sign of prosperity.

13. The efforts by the Chinese to destroy systematically private trade and, commerce will not be described in detail here but will be included in the final report. The destruction of religious freedom however requires mention. Through the Chinese press, which began firmly entrenched as the sole source of press information in Tibet, a precise and deliberate campaign has been conducted against the Buddhist religion and the lamas, and against Buddha himself. I would like to quote from a Chinese controlled newspaper published in the Tibetan language:

Karzey Daily, p. 2, dated 22 November 1958:

“To believe in religion is fruitless. Religion is the instrument of autocratic feudal lords and religion works home no benefits whatever to the people. To explain this we trace the historical background of the origin of the Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism was Sakya Muni, son of the King Sudodhana of India. His kingdom was very aggressive among all the Indian kingdoms of the time. It always used to invade the small kingdoms. It was during the reign of Sakya Muni, his subjects revolted against him and later other small kingdoms also rose against him spontaneously. As they attacked Sakya Muni he accepted the defeat but escaped amidst the fighting. Since there was no other way out for him he wandered into the forests. Having founded Buddhism he brought about a pessimism and idleness in the minds of the people, weakening their courage, and thus reached his goal of redomination over them. This fact is recorded in the history.”

Those who know of the life of Buddha will see the clear intent of the press campaign.

14. Our information indicates that this attack on religion was combined with a systematic religious persecution. We have evidence of instances and cases where the heads of monasteries have been killed, imprisoned, publicly humiliated. One case in our files, for instance, refers to a very highly respected lama who was stripped, dragged with a rope over rocky terrain, as a result of which he died, his abdomen being ripped open by the dragging. In the Kham province alone 250 monasteries were destroyed; cases have been reported of head lamas being dragged to death by horses, and a fairly large number sent as prisoners to concentration camps in China. Of seven leading lamas charged with offences which fit into the general scheme of attack on religion, only one — Zongsar Khentse Rimpoche — escaped to India. The others have all been executed or are now in prison.

15. From the beginning of the occupation in 1950, the process of indoctrination began. A number of front organizations for youths, women and workers were set up. Several thousand persons were sent to Peking for training in Communist ideology.

16. A curious offshoot of this indoctrination was the Mimang movement, a people’s movement which started in Lhasa. Resistance to communist occupation found its first expression in village meetings called by the Communists as part of their indoctrination and propaganda campaigns in 1952. At these meetings anti-Communist resolutions were passed and thus began a national resistance movement which became known as the Mimang movement and which spread all over Tibet. Its chief aim became the revocation of the 17 point agreement. This movement had the support of the Lukhwanga and Lobsang Tasic (Lama), the two prime ministers. The Chinese became alarmed and Mimang was ordered to be suppressed. Its leaders were arrested. The Dalai Lama was forced to demote to the Prime ministers, although they continued to function as ministers. Mr. Lukhwanga left Tibet in 1957 and has since been in India

17. All this led to tremendous discontent and by the middle of 1956 risings began in the Khampa area situated within the jurisdiction of the Chamdo Liberation Committee, one of the three administrative areas setup after the 1950 occupation. This resistance spread to several areas and, so far as our information goes, is still quite active in the Eastern areas, although it seems to have been suppressed in the areas round about Lhasa. Since the rebel area is mountainous and difficult terrain for the army to operate in, large-scale aereal bombing has been resorted to. In the accessible parts veritable terror has been let loose on the population. Reliable estimates of the persons killed come to about 65,000. The number of persons deported is stated to be about 20,000. These figures include the recent massacres in and around Lhasa. It is reliably reported that after the suppression of the rising in Lhasa all males between the ages of 15 and 60 have been removed from the city to some unknown destination.

18. Coming now to the recent incidents in Lhasa, which ultimately led to the flight of the Dalai Lama, a little background to the immediate flare up may be useful. A number of incidents had happened in the last two years when high personages, believed not to be sympathetic to the Chinese, were invited to parties by the Military Commanders. These were either killed or imprisoned. This became widely known in Tibet.

19. On the 9th of March 1959 the Dalai Lama received an invitation from the local Military Commander to attend a cultural program at the military headquarters. He was asked to come unaccompanied by any of his ministers or his body-guard, a most unusual request. In view of the stories mentioned above, as soon as the news of the invitation became known, a large number of people surrounded the Norbulinga Palace, where the Dalai Lama was in residence. This happened on the 10th. All the ministers except one gathered in the palace, the exception being a minister who was considered to be pro-Chinese and who was prevented by the people from entering the palace.

20. One Phakpala, who brought the invitation and was considered to be a Chinese stooge, was killed by the mob in the street and a few thousand people marched to the Indian and the Nepalese Consulates dragging the body of this person and proclaiming “We are not under Chinese rule, we want independence.”

21. The Dalai Lama asked the people to be calm and announced that he would not go to the show. In spite of this the people continued to stay round the Palace throughout the night of the 10th.

22. On the 11th of March, 1959, a meeting of all Government officials was called at the Palace. A few pro-Chinese officials did not attend and a proclamation was issued in the name of the Cabinet that Tibet was independent. Among the Cabinet Ministers present at the meeting were:


These gentlemen are at present in India with the Dalai Lama.

23. On 12th March, 1959, a meeting was held at Shol – below the Potala Palace. Practically the whole population of Lhasa seem to have been present. At this meeting it was decided to prepare documents regarding the claim of independence. A letter was sent to Mr. Shakabpa, which never reached him, mentioning these facts and he was asked to announce to the world the facts of the Chinese oppression and the decision of the Tibetan people regarding independence. This meeting was almost in continuous session between 12th and the 17th of March and the people gathered entirely unarmed. After nightfall, two shells were fired on the Palace but fell in an artificial lake in front of the Palace. Machine guns and firing of arms were heard. At 10:30 p.m. and thereafter the Dalai Lama and some of his party, which arrived in India, left the Palace one by one.

24. The shells were evidently fired by the Chinese as a warning in the hope of getting the Dalai to surrender, but nothing happened on the 18th. On the early morning of the 19th at 1 a.m. a serious bombardment of the Palace began. The Chinese were evidently not aware that the Dalai Lama had left 24 hours earlier. This bombardment completely destroyed the Palace and the city was also greatly damaged. The estimated loss of life is about 20,000 persons. I am informed that there were sufficient Chinese troops in Lhasa at the time who could have taken perhaps milder action, but the continuous bombardment was intended to strike terror among the people.

25. Since in spite of the bombardment the Dalai Lama did not come out and surrender, the Chinese then suspected that the Dalai Lama had left and, as a result, numerous aereal search parties were sent. These planes, flying low, machine-gunned groups of people wherever seen. This was done indiscrimately in many places on the possible escape routes of the Dalai Lama in the hope that the groups so attacked might consist of the Dalai Lama’s party.

26.From the facts stated above the following conclusions may be drawn:

(a) From 1950 onwards as a result of Chinese aggression a practically independent country is being turned by force into a province of China and the struggle of the Tibetans has been to regain their independence.

(b) Even the terms of the 17 Point Agreement of 1951, guaranteeing broad autonomy to Tibet as mentioned above, have been consistently disregarded.

(c) There has been arbitrary confiscation of property belonging to monasteries, private individuals and Tibetan Government.

(d) Freedom of religion has been and is denied to the Tibetans. The Chinese authorities have been attempting to destroy the Buddhist religion of the Tibetans and their faith and also their monasteries, shrines and monuments. A large scale policy of Communist indoctrination and an abusive anti-religious propaganda have also been launched.

(e) The Tibetans have been denied freedom of information.

(f) There has also been a systematic policy of killing, imprisonment and deportation of those opposed to the regime. According to reliable sources the total number of persons so far fallen victims to the mass killing amounts to a colossal total of 65,000.

27. The above events establish that there has been a deliberate vio1ation of fundamental human rights. There is also a prima facie case that on the part of the Chinese there has been an attempt to destroy the national, ethical, racial and religious group of Tibetans as such by killing members of the group and by causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of the group. These acts constitute the crime of Genocide under the Genocide Convention of the United Nations of 1948.

28. Upon examination of the material submitted by our investigating committee of which the above is only a short summary the International Commission of Jurists has decided:

(a) To publish a preliminary report, with all relevant documents and commentaries, and to distribute it as widely as possible;

(b) To communicate the report to the United Nations and other interested international organizations and agencies, requesting them to initiate such action as they might consider appropriate;

(c) To distribute the report to Bar and other Legal Associations and Faculties of Law, requesting that they give it immediate publicity and support;

(d) To invite the investigating committee previously established to expand its activities under the name “Legal Inquiry Committee on Tibet” and to continue to collect and obtain evidence in the form of documents, interviews, commentaries and statements for the preparation of the final report;

(e) To examine all such evidence obtained by this Committee and from other sources and to take appropriate action thereon and in particular to determine whether the crime of Genocide – for which already there is strong presumption – is established and, in that case, to initiate such action as envisaged by the Genocide Convention of 1948 and by the Charter of the United Nations for suppression of these acts and appropriate redress;

(f) To call upon the lawyers and jurists of the world to express their solidarity with and to support actively the work undertaken by the International Commission of Jurists to help the Tibetan people in their struggle for freedom and justice.

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