China takes heat after tragic flight of Tibetan teenager
The shooting death of a would-be refugee by a Chinese patrolman places the Middle Kingdom's human rights record under scrutiny.
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Human rights groups say the Tibetans were unarmed, and that the male victim died from gunshot wounds.Skip to next paragraph
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"This has been going on for a long time, says Tenzin Norgay of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in India. "But today China cannot escape it. The bubble that they created has burst."
Rights groups don't know how many refugees die along the way each year, but they say a significant number fall into crevasses, die of hunger, or are shot by Chinese police.
But never before has such an event been documented so well. A Romanian cameraman and other Western tourists who were in the region to climb Cho Oyu, about 12 miles west of Mount Everest, say they saw the Chinese patrolmen shoot the Tibetan refugees. (www.protv.ro/filme/exclusive-footage-of-chinese-soldiers-shooting-at-tibetan-pilgrims.html)
The plight of these rural Tibetan refugees brings to light the hardships suffered by the estimated 2,500 to 4,000 Tibetans who try to reach India every year via Nepal, paying smugglers to bring them to India because obtaining the official travel permits and a passport can be too difficult. Most come seeking an audience with the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who resides in Dharamsala, in northern India.
"Our aim only is to get the blessing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama," says Ms. Wangmo, one of the nuns. "We were planning to go back afterwards, but now it won't be possible after the trouble in the pass. If we go back to Tibet, the Chinese will definitely arrest us."
The nun killed was typical of the many Tibetan refugees who make the journey: she was poor, young, and religiously motivated. At least half of those making the journey from Tibet are children, sent by parents who want their children to grow up with a strong Tibetan identity and who often cannot afford school fees at home. Among the group of Tibetans that just arrived in India, the youngest was a 7-year-old girl, Deki Pantso, who came without her parents.
Most Tibetan refugees prefer to make the journey in the winter, when there is deep snow in the passes between Nepal and Tibet and the chances of being caught by Chinese patrolmen are diminished. The International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington advocacy group, estimates that 80 percent of refugees attempt to cross between October and April, when the mountain glaciers are frozen over.
The United States and the European Union have condemned the shooting and urged China to investigate the incident thoroughly. But so far Canada has delivered the harshest rebuke. On Oct. 18 Canada's foreign minister, Peter MacKay, expressed his "abhorrence and dismay for this terrible incident that happened at the border. Canada strongly condemns this act of violence against unarmed civilians as an egregious violation of human rights."
Tenzin Norgay, with the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala wondered whether this would lead to more governments pressuring China to improve their human rights record. "I fear it might be another event come and gone. Public memory is very short."