An independent group of legal experts says in a report that the rights of Tibetans have been deteriorating sharply in the last three years.
The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, which has been following events in Tibet since China forced the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, calls for a U.N.-supervised referendum on the future of the region.
In Beijing, a Chinese government spokesman denounced the report.
“Tibet has since ancient times been an inalienable part of Chinese territory,” Tang Guoqiang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday. “Tibet belongs to China’s internal affairs and no organization has the right to interfere.”
The commission report, “Tibet: Human Rights and the Rule of Law,” concluded that an increase in repression, particularly of Tibetan cultural rights, could be traced to a 1994 official national forum in China called to study the Tibetan question.
That meeting singled out the Dalai Lama, who leads a government in exile in India, as the cause of apparently growing dissent in what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region and in other nearby areas with large ethnic Tibetan populations.
“Since the beginning of 1996,” the report said, “there has been further escalation of repression in Tibet, marked by an intensive re-education drive in the monasteries at which monks were told that they would be required to sign loyalty pledges or face expulsion, a clampdown on information coming from Tibet, the sentencing of a senior religious leader, and a ban on photographs of the Dalai Lama in public places.”
The commission, based in Geneva and consisting of about 40 lawyers, judges and law professors, said that China has begun a campaign to brand Buddhism as a “foreign culture.”
Although there are, or were, many Buddhists in China, the Tibetans follow a unique branch of Buddhism. Its spiritual leader wielded temporal power also, and the monasteries held great sway over daily life, making the religion an obvious competitor with government authority.
To reduce monastic influence, Beijing has moved many non-Tibetan people into Tibet. The report found that ethnic Chinese from other areas constitute about 12 to 14 percent of the population in Tibet itself, up from 0.1 percent in 1949. In neighboring areas with large Tibetan populations, the percentage of ethnic Chinese has risen to about one-third.
The Chinese settlement effort has made some contributions to Tibetan life, the report found. Education is now much more widely available, although in the Chinese language. Health care programs have greatly improved life expectancy.
However, the group reported an increase in torture and arbitrary detention in recent years. It says the number of political prisoners now appears to be at least 600.
“Most Tibetan political prisoners were arrested for peacefully demonstrating, writing or distributing leaflets, communicating with foreigners or the Tibetan government in exile, or possessing pro-independence material,” the report said.
The new commission report, the fourth since 1959, argues that Tibetans had “demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law” and are entitled to decide their own future. After the Chinese Communist takeover in 1949, Beijing began a 10-year military campaign to incorporate Tibet fully.
Most nations, including the U.S., have since agreed with Beijing that Tibet is an integral part of China. Diplomats say there would be no serious support for reopening the issue of Tibetan independence.