China Continues to Force Tibetans to Relocate

In the new Human Rights Watch report, accounts of relocations of Tibetans were examined. It shows how 930,000 Tibetans were forcefully relocated into a faraway land and the legislations China violated by doing so.

China Continues to Force Tibetans to Relocate
Two elderly Tibetan ladies walking to the religious event, by Aden Lao

22-05-2024

(no name)

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

         Ever since 2016, China has been ramping up its efforts to relocate rural Tibetans. A newly published Human Rights Watch report delves into the details of how China is relocating the Tibetans. In the period between 2000 and 2025, around 930,000 Tibetans will be relocated. The rural villagers and herders have moved 1,000 kilometres away from their homes to “improve livelihood” and “protect the ecological environment.”

Two forms of relocation are being executed in Tibet: whole-village and individual household relocation. Whole-village relocation comprises relocating the whole village to a faraway land, and everyone must comply or face repercussions. The Chinese government states that the relocation is voluntary. However, other accounts show that they were coerced into giving their consent. The officials would come to the villagers' houses and undermine their ability to make their own decisions, implicitly threatening punishment, threatening that essential services would be cut if they did not relocate, and other forms, leaving the villagers no choice but to move.

The second form of relocation targets poorer households, promising them better income opportunities in the new areas. While households have the right to decline, officials often exploit their desperation by painting a rosy picture of the economic benefits. In reality, these relocated households struggle to find suitable employment to support their families, leading to widespread dissatisfaction with the relocation program. In both forms of relocation, the households would have to destroy their house to ensure that returning was not feasible.

The mass relocation effort by China should be understood alongside the historical and political context between China and Tibet. Tibetans are in a more vulnerable position in facing repercussions from the Chinese government because of the government’s effort to quash Tibetan separatist movements. The relocation and poverty alleviation programs done in Tibet are to further antagonise the Dalai Lama – the religious and political leader of Tibet – and its supporters by placing the blame on the Dalai Lama’s system for leaving the region poor. The government paints itself as the solution by giving Tibetans the “choice” to relocate or to enter its poverty alleviation program.

International human rights law protects civilians from forced eviction. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "[e]veryone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.” and “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” While the UDHR takes the form of a General Assembly resolution (i.e. non-binding), it crystallised into customary international law, which means that all states are obligated to comply. In addition to that, Chinese representatives were also a part of the UDHR drafting committee.

Furthermore, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights protects the right to livelihood and housing, which guarantees the security of tenure. The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights states that justifiable evictions should comply with the relevant provisions of international human rights law to the strictest standard. Additionally, the government should explore “all feasible alternatives, " including legal remedies or procedures and adequate compensation to the relocatees.

China's actions contradict both international human rights standards and its domestic laws. Although the Chinese constitution and Property Law declare that citizens’ private properties are “inviolable,” they also permit the expropriation of private property for the “public interest.” In theory, individuals facing forced evictions should be consulted and compensated. However, in practice, the laws do not allow them to contest the relocation decisions.

China could implement certain actions to justify the relocation or to prevent further human rights violations. The recommendations formulated by Human Rights Watch encapsulate all the actions that the Chinese government, UN bodies, and foreign governments could take to end the situation.

 

        

 

Sources and further reading:

‘“Educate the Masses to Change Their Minds” China’s Forced Relocation of Rural Tibetans’ (Human Rights Watch, 21 May 2024) <https://www.hrw.org/report/2024/05/22/educate-masses-change-their-minds/chinas-forced-relocation-rural-tibetans> accessed 22 May 2024.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1976) 933 UNTS 3 (ICESCR)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948) UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR)

Tibet: Mass Relocations of Tibetans Not Voluntary (Human Rights Watch, 21 May 2024) <https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/05/22/tibet-mass-relocations-tibetans-not-voluntary> accessed 22 May 2024.