Today, August 30th marks the worldwide commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has worked for 30 years to end the crime of enforced disappearance and give voice to the thousands of individuals who have seemingly vanished without a trace.
While the U.N. has issued an International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, it has not yet garnered enough ratifying states to go into effect. Conspicuously absent from the list of 83 signatories is the People’s Republic of China.
At the 14th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council the WGEID delivered its latest report on enforced disappearances, issuing “several urgent communications to the Government of China in particular in cases of alleged secret detention of Tibetans accused of separatism and other state security offences…”
This report brought to light China’s failure to provide its citizens with due process especially in the cases of hundreds of Tibetans following the wave of protests to sweep across the Tibetan plateau starting in March 2008. Two official reports on April 9, 2008, and June 21, 2008, (for a full analysis of official figures see “Officials Report Release of More Than 3,000 of More Than 4,400 Detained Tibetan ‘Rioters,’ CECC, available at www.cecc.gov) reported the release of a total of 3,027 of the 4,434 people who had reportedly “surrendered” or were detained. Based on these reports, the status of more than 1,200 people who had surrendered or been detained was unknown in early 2009. While some individual sentences have trickled out to the public since then, the number of Tibetans disappeared remains high, however, given the restrictions on information leaving Tibet, an exact count is impossible.
Of the Tibetans who disappeared following March 2008, many were not directly involved in the protests. A new crackdown on Tibetan singers, artists, and writers has led to the disappearance of individuals daring to express their Tibetan identity. ICT’s report Raging Storm provides our most up-to-date list on the status of these Tibetans.
Another disappeared Tibetan to remember today is Gedun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama. Despite Chinese claims that he is happily living with his family, the whereabouts and wellbeing of Gedun Choekyi Nima have been unverifiable since his 1995 disappearance. For many Tibetans, his disappearance and the Chinese government’s installation of another child as the “official” Panchen Lama, have come to represent the crisis facing the survival of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet.
With these Tibetans in mind, let us take a moment today to reflect on those Tibetans who have disappeared and hope that continued pressure from U.N. bodies and foreign governments will shed new light on their cases.