A half-dozen United Nations experts 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.
In a sharply worded statement, the experts expressed alarm about “severe restrictions of religious freedom” in the area.
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 a high valley in Sichuan Province.
The statement also cited accusations of evictions at Yachen Gar, sometimes known as Yarchen Gar, an enclave largely of nuns that is also in Sichuan and has a population of about 10,000.
“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar,” the statement said.
It was signed by six of the United Nations experts, or special rapporteurs, who come from various countries. They each specialize in a single aspect of human rights, including cultural rights, sustainable environment and peaceful assembly. It is unusual for so many of them to collaborate in this manner.
The statement was sent to the Chinese government in November, but was made public only in recent days, before the start of this year’s session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The session began Monday and is scheduled to end on March 24.
The United Nations experts have asked Beijing to address the reports of evictions and demolitions. The release of the statement before the session in Geneva puts more pressure on China to explain the actions taking place at the two Tibetan Buddhist institutions. China says matters related to Tibet are internal affairs, but Chinese officials in Beijing have privately expressed some concern over outside perceptions of the demolitions and evictions at Larung Gar and related Western news coverage.
Over the summer, Chinese officials began deporting monks and nuns living at Larung Gar who were not registered residents of Garze, the prefecture where the institution is. Since then, hundreds of clergy members have been forced out, and workers have demolished small homes clustered along the valley walls. One day last fall, I watched workers tearing and cutting apart wooden homes, sometimes using a chain saw.
Official reports have said the demolition is part of a project to improve safety in the area because people live in such tight quarters there. In 2014, a fire destroyed about 100 homes.
Residents said the government planned to bring the population down to 5,000 from 20,000 by next year. The government evicted many clergy members once before, in 2001, but people returned. The encampment was founded in 1980 near the town of Sertar by Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic lama, and is now run by two abbots. Those abbots have not protested the demolitions or evictions.
The United Nations experts said in the statement that while they awaited China’s response, they “urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their reoccurrence.”
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