8.1. International Law
The PRC ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women67 (CEDAW) on 4 November 1996 and, as such, are bound by its provisions. Article 1 defines “discrimination against women” as meaning:
… any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women … on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
In its general recommendation68, the CEDAW Committee states that the article 1 definition includes gender-based violence directed against a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately. The Committee says this includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.69 All of these acts have been perpetrated against Tibetan women in 1996.
Like their male counterparts, Tibetan women continue to be arrested and imprisoned for participating in peaceful demonstrations, distributing independence posters and leaflets, displaying the national flag or for displaying disagreement with Chinese rule and ideologies.
Of the 204 arrests recorded this year, 21 were women. In testimony to the particular courage and activism of nuns in Tibet, they made up 22 of the arrests. All of the nuns were arrested for their participation in demonstrations.71 As of December 1996, there are 278 known female political prisoners in the various Chinese prisons in Tibet.
Ngawang Sangdrol, a Garu nun is currently serving an 18 year sentence, the longest known sentence of any female political prisoner in Tibet. First arrested in 1992 for pro-independence demonstration, Ngawang had her three year sentence extended in October 1993 by six years after recording pro-independence songs while in prison. In March 1996 Ngawang was amongst a number of female prisoners who refused to tidy her cell, apparently as a protest against the Panchen Lama re-education campaign being conducted in the prison. It was also reported that Ngawang did not stand up on one occasion when a Chinese official entered the room and, when sent to stand in the rain as punishment for not cleaning her room, she called out “free Tibet”. Ngawang was reportedly sentenced on 31 July 1996 to a further nine years imprisonment.70
8.3. Torture and Ill-treatment
Tibetan women are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment while in detention. Reports of female prisoners being beaten, deprived of food, placed in solitary confinement for extended periods and being sexually abused have again been received in 1996.
Ngawang Sangdrol, referred to above, has reportedly been singled out for severe punishment since March of this year when she defied Chinese prison officials. Ngawang reportedly refused to stand when a prison official entered her cell, apparently as a protest against the campaign being carried out in the prison against the Panchen Lama reincarnation recognised by the Dalai Lama, and later , when she and some other nuns had been sent to stand in the rain as punishment, she called “Free Tibet”. Already serving a three year and a six year sentence for pro-independence activities, Ngawang had her sentence extended by a further nine years.
A former Drapchi prisoner testified that Ngawang’s health condition has deteriorated due to severe torture and her right leg has been seriously injured. In the months preceding her trial and sentence extension in July 1996, Ngawang was fed only one plain dumpling or bun per day and was manifesting signs of severe malnourishment. Ngawang’s fellow inmate described her as white and emaciated when she last saw her in July 1996, and reports in August said that Ngawang was being held in a dark, windowless cell and receiving small amounts of food only twice daily.
Tenzin Yangzom, a nun from Chubu Nunnery in Lhoka, was 20 when she was arrested in June 1994 for hanging an independence poster and a Tibetan flag on a government building. Six police officers came to Yangzom’s home, handcuffed her and drove her to the Tsethang Detention Centre, beating her on the head with sticks along the way.
Tenzin was confined for five months to a cell with only a bed and a bucket and without toilet or sink. Once each week two Chinese and one Tibetan interpreter came to her cell. The Chinese beat her and repeatedly shocked her with electric cattle prods on her stomach, breasts, back, face and arms. They punched her, kicked her and trampled on her, smashing her head, stomach, back and legs. Every day a Chinese police officer walked into her cell with an electric cattle prod, glared at her for five minutes and then left. This was an unspoken threat to her.71
Lobsang Choedon72, a 16 year old nun, was arrested in 1992. When she was interviewed in 1996 she reported that detained nuns were subjected to numerous beatings; were forced to stand in the same spot from morning to sunset without food and water while exposed to the sun; were shocked by electric cattle prods to the face, neck, mouth and arms; and were grabbed by the hair which, as a another insult to their religion, they were forbidden to shave. They were frequently denied food and toilet facilities and locked together into one filthy toilet for hours at a time.
8.4. Sexual Assault
The sexual assault of female Tibetan prisoners is not typical of the experience of male prisoners. The number of cases of this form of gender-based violence is, however, impossible to quantify as the majority of female prisoners are nuns and sexual violation has an additional significance particular to them. Rape, or the admission of rape, means that a nun, who takes a vow of celibacy, must renounce her religious vocation. Sexual violence is thus used in prisons not just to intimidate and humiliate, but also to take away a nun’s sense of identity.
Five nuns from Shungseb Nunnery were arrested in May 1988 for demonstrating in Lhasa’s Barkhor area. Reports of the torture inflicted upon them while in Gutsa Detention Centre were received only in 1996 after they were interviewed in India.73 Electric cattle prods were repeatedly rammed in their rectums and nightsticks were thrust into their vaginas. Two of the nuns, Ugyen Dolma, aged 18 at the time, and Kelsang Pelmo, aged 22, reported that police also rammed electric cattle prods in their vaginas, rectums and mouths. The nuns were beaten by police officers and bitten by savage dogs.
Kelsang Pelmo described the night she was taken to a room where 30 prisoners, mostly men, were able to peer through the window as she was ordered by three policewomen to remove her clothes. Kelsang had never taken off her clothes in view of any man and said she felt deep shame and embarrassment. She was ordered to lie on her stomach and two officers beat her with knotted sticks. Then a policewoman repeatedly rammed a stick into Kelsang’s vagina. As Kelsang rolled and crawled in pain on the floor the policewoman thrust the stick into her mouth and inserted an electric cattle prod into her vagina and rectum.
Tenzin Choeden, another of the five nuns, was 22 when she was arrested. As Kelsang Pelmo was carried, apparently unconscious from the cell, Tenzin was led in. She too was ordered to strip and lie on her stomach. She was shocked all over her body and inside the rectum by the electric cattle prod and the stick was put into her vagina. As with Kelsang, Tenzin’s torment and humiliation was witnessed by cheering and laughing prisoners (mostly detained for petty crime) at the window.
Another nun from the group, Thupten Yonten, aged 20, was also sexually assaulted that day by police using electric cattle prods and sticks.
A report received in 1996 from a male prisoner, Ngawang Dorjee, imprisoned from 1992 to 1995, described the torture suffered at the hands of PSB officers; “they were playing with us like we were footballs, kicking us back and forth … They hit the nuns a lot, especially on their breasts.”74
8.5. Birth Control
Article 16 of CEDAW requires that:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women :
(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights
In relation to this article the CEDAW Committee has stated that: “Compulsory sterilization or abortion adversely affects women’s physical and mental health, and infringes the right of women to decide on the number and spacing of their children.”75 The Committee includes in its specific recommendations that; “States Parties should ensure that measures are taken to prevent coercion in regard to fertility and reproduction …”.
Lhundup Ganden, a Sera monk who recently escaped to India, visited the township of Nyagra under Lhasa City Municipal Bureau in June 1996. Except for one semi-nomadic unit, the rest of the units are inhabited by peasants. The following is a report of the sterilisation policy he witnessed there.
Lhundup explained that birth control policy is carried out in the whole of Tibet through propaganda, coercion and strict regulatory measures. It is being officially enforced with the main objectiveof eradicating the very identity of the Tibetans and is being carried out in a very systematic and organised manner. Population transfer is also being carried out on a massive scale.
The 2nd unit of Nyagra township comprises of 60 families (totalling about 600 people). This unit was informed in advance about the birth control policy and the actual programme began in 1994.
Of the total population of the 2nd unit, the percentage of child birth allowed by the authorities in one year was fixed at 4.5%. It was mandatory for couples who wished to have a child to test their luck in a lottery system. If the couple is unlucky and their names are not drawn, then the mother, even if she is five or six months pregnant, must undergo an abortion.76 If a couple produces a child without undergoing the lottery system, they are fined up to 500 yuan and the baby will be deprived of a registration card and other welfare facilities. When this ‘unofficial’ child grows up, he or she is denied any educational opportunities.
If a couple is successful in one lottery, they are barred from the lot system for the three subsequent years. If a couple is successful in two lottery draws, they are forbidden from participating in the lottery for the rest of their lives. On the other side, if a couple does not produce a child for a long period of time, then that couple is highly commended by the Chinese authorities and even awarded prizes.
This use of economic sanctions and rewards to enforce the birth control policy is clearly stated in birth control policy regulations such as Chapter Four: “Rewards and Good Treatment” and Chapter Five: “Limitations and Punishments” of the ‘TAR’ 1992 regulations. Thus Tibetan women have not only been deprived of control over their own bodies and the size of their families but must also suffer severe economic penalties for “illegal” births.
Nyagra’s 3rd unit has 400 people and the child birth percentage was fixed at 3.5%. The same system of lotteries and forced abortions is followed here.
In 1995, of the 4.5% child birth allowed in the 2nd unit, the 0.5% was “loaned” to the 3rd unit which was therefore allowed 4% child birth in that year. In 1996, only 3% child birth was allowed in the 3rd unit and the remaining 0.5% was added to the 2nd unit’s 4.5% raising it to 5%. However, as the 2nd unit in fact recorded a 9% birth rate in 1996, that 4% over the official endorsement, was fined.
The rights of women
8.1. International Law