Chinese Operated Isolation Centers in Tibet : A Human Rights Catastrophe

Chinese Operated Isolation Centers in Tibet : A Human Rights Catastrophe
Tibet. Source: Hotel Kaesong/Flickr, 2015.
  1. 09.2022


Fleur Harmsen


Tibet and Human Rights Researcher,


Global Human Rights Defense.


  Chinese authorities in the Tibetan capital city Lhasa apologised for their handling of the city’s covid induced lockdown. The Chinese government imposed a 31 day lockdown in Lhasa as covid numbers continue to climb in the region and across China. Han Chinese residents of the city, as well as a few Tibetans, aired their grievances on social media regarding the food shortages in the isolation centers, the lack of proper care for hospital and quarantine patients, and the mass-testing system in place. The apology was made on September 17th  by Zhandui, one of the city’s vice mayors, who underlined the city’s weaknesses and shortcomings in the handling of the covid crisis. Deputy chief of the city’s Chengguan district, Sui Xingguo, also apologised for the lack of food and other essential items for the people in quarantine. 

Another report showed that Chinese authorities have been forcibly removing Tibetans from their homes as the covid outbreak persisted, placing many of them in isolation centers despite testing negative for covid-19. Since China’s “zero covid” policy, many Tibetans have suffered from these harsh policies, beatings, family separation and a lack of access to food and other essential items in the isolation centers. The food given in these centers appeared to be rotten and ill patients have not been given access to appropriate medication. Testimonies of beating by the Chinese officials were also posted online, showing injured knees, ears and eyes as a result of the beatings. Two Tibetans were reportedly severely beaten by Chinese officials while delivering food to their family in Shigatse.

In addition, some Tibetans have voiced their frustration and concern on social media and were met with severe backlash from the Chinese authorities. Indeed, Tibetan nomad Rinchen Dhondup, as well as six other Tibetans, have been detained for sharing covid related photos and videos online amid the Chinese government's “zero-covid” policy. The individuals allegedly shared visuals of the mismanaged quarantine centers, where those that tested positive for covid were housed together with those that tested negative, risking further infections and creating a serious health hazard. Videos on social media showed the poor conditions in isolation facilities, where people were sleeping on cement floors. The recording showed the negligence of the authorities in the management of the isolation facility. 

The six detainees were deprived of their liberty for five days at a security office in Nagchu, where they were interrogated over the details of where and how they had sent the footage. 

The handling of the covid crisis by the Chinese authorities, the treatment of those in isolation centers and the forced removal of Tibetans from their homes by the Chinese authorities is seen to go directly against international human rights law.

Article 7 of the ICCPR states that no one shall be subjected to torutre or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Article 9 of the ICCPR also states that all individuals have the right to liberty and security of person, underlining that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary detention and arrest. In addition to this article, article 10 of the ICCPR also writes that all people deprived of their liberty will be treated with humanity and with respect for the dignity of all human beings. 

Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture explains the meaning of the term torture, explaining that the term encompasses all acts that intentionally inflict severe pain or suffering wether physical or mental for obtaining information, punishing or intimidating and coering an individual for any reason based on discrimination of any kind. 

The Convention Against International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination writes that the term “racial discrimination” includes all acts of exclusion, distinction, restriction or preference based on ethnic orgin, colour, race, descent, with the intention of impairing the enjoyment or exercise of the human rights of that individual on equal footing in comparison to others peoples under that States’s jurisdiction. 

Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights states that all individuals have the right to health and that the State must ensure the creation of conditions which would assure access to all medical services and medical attention in the event of sickness.

In this regard, with the treatment of Tibetans for the handling of the “zero covid” policy, China is seen to violate all articles listed here-above as it subjected Tibetans to inhuman treatment through the use of torture, beatings and other degrading methods inflicting suffering on Tibetans. The lack of access to food, medicine, water and other essential supplies also goes against the articles listed here-above. The arbitrary detention and the forced displacement of Tibetans to the isolation centers also violated international human rights law.

NB: As a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in october 1998, China is not bound by the covenant however it has the obligation to act in good faith and not defeat the purpose of the ICCPR.

Sources and further reading:

Dolma, Y. (2022, September 17). Tibetans in Lhasa suffer from China's "zero covid" policy and unfair treatment. The Tibet Post. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from 

Lhamo, C. (2022, September 18). 7 detained for exposing China’s Covid-19 mismanagement. Phayul Newsdek. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from 

Radio Free Asia. (2022, September 15). Tibetans reveal harsh conditions under China’s zero COVID policy. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from 

Tibetan Review. (2022, September 17). Lhasa officials apologise to angry Chinese residents’ outbursts on Covid lockdown mishandling. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from