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Human rights advocates urge UN rights chief to visit Tibet

Excluding region would make report on China's rights violations 'incomplete,' Tibet Bureau says.

By Tenzin Dyicki 2022.03.24 -- The United Nations human rights chief must include Tibet on the itinerary of her planned trip to China in May, human rights groups told RFA.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced earlier this month that she had come to an agreement with the Chinese government for a visit "foreseen to take place in May."

Though Xinjiang is expected to be a major focus of her trip, as the U.N. seeks to complete an overdue report on serious rights violations by Chinese authorities targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities there, rights groups told RFA that Bachelet, a former Chilean president, should not overlook Tibet.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago. Chinese policies that violate Tibetans' rights to religious freedom and assembly and have made a push to ban Tibetan language learning to promote Mandarin Chinese dominance there, rights groups say.

"We welcome the U.N. high commissioner's visit to China, including Xinjiang. However, no assessment of human rights violations by China can be completed without a visit to the Tibetan regions," Kalden Tsomo, the UN Advocacy Officer in the Tibet Bureau in Geneva, told RFA's Tibetan Service Wednesday.

"In order to understand the reality of what's happening inside Tibet, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to press China to give unfettered access to Tibetan regions for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights during the visit to China and regions under its control," she said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the high commissioner has been "worryingly quiet" regarding Tibet.

"I think the same problem will apply to Tibetan areas as to the Uyghur regions, meaning that she is incredibly unlikely to be able to travel freely or to be able to talk to people freely without fear of reprisal," said Sophie Richardson, the group's China director.

Access to Tibet is a sore point with not only the U.N., but also the U.S. and other Western countries.

China in 2021 "systematically impeded" travel to Tibet and other areas within China for U.S. diplomats and officials, journalists, and tourists in 2021, the U.S. State Department said in a report submitted to congress last week.

"The United States remains concerned that PRC authorities systematically impeded travel to Tibetan areas of the PRC for American citizens, including Tibetan Americans who seek to visit their families," a State Department spokesperson told RFA.

Under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, signed into law in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, Washington has applied visa restrictions on Chinese officials who have restricted access of foreigners to Tibet.

Washington has long complained that Chinese diplomats, scholars, and journalists enjoy unrestricted travel in the United States, while China tightly restricts the access of U.S. counterparts to Tibet and other areas.

Translated by Tenzin Dyicki. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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