China relocates millions of Tibetan nomads
A 4000 year old way of life is coming to an end
Last week, China announced the completion of its massive and highly controversial relocation project in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). According to China's official Tibet TV website, 2.3 million Tibetan Nomads in the TAR have been moved from the Tibetan plateau in western China to new houses in nomad resettlement camps. Additionally, 90% of nomads living within the Qinghai province will be moved by the end of 2014.
The Chinese government is reported to have offered false incentives for resettlement, and to have encouraged nomadic herders to move to new settlements and join livestock "cooperatives”. These reports have been criticised by Mogru Tenpa, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, who states that livestock "cooperatives” are run by government officials, and that once herders join them, the state takes control of their land.
Once in the resettlement camps, the reality of having to pay to live in the world has had numerous social and cultural consequences. Multiple reports and blogs can be found describing the ill-treatment and political arrest of Tibetan monks, people complaining about perceived restrictions on freedom to travel and practice the Buddhist religion, and the loss of quality of life after being moved from herding yaks in the mountains into nomad resettlement camps.
Robert Barnett, head of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University in the US, was quoted saying: ''to modernise nomad lifestyle is to bring it to an end...It's very hard to describe the nomad settlement policy, which is huge, as not an attack on a major aspect of Tibetan culture.''
A way of life that has existed for more than 4000 years is essential being brought to an abrupt end.
China has defended its relocation project, stating that “moving nomads into permanent homes provides them with a better life and could help the fragile [grassland environment] of the Tibetan Plateau”. Chinese Development Experts have blamed pastoral nomads for causing desertification on the plateau, which as journalist Mark Kernan points out, is “bizarre given their thousands of years of socio-cultural preservation of the grasslands”. Chinese environmental activists and journalist Wang Yongchen support this statement, claiming that research shows “nomadic culture has sustained the area's environment”, not degraded it.
Human rights groups such as Stop Mining in Tibet! and Tibet 3rd Pole, have said that mining in the area should stop first if environmental motives for the relocation are to be justified. There are also claims that nomads are being moved so their land can be mined in the future.
US human rights NGO Freedom House has given Tibet the worst possible rating on human and political rights. In their 2014 annual report, Freedom House annual report 2014, Freedom House have given countries and territories across the world a “freedom rating”, with 1 as highest and 7 as lowest. Chinese-occupied Tibet scored 7 for both political rights and civil liberties, and Freedom House have given it a ‘not free’ rating.
This score places Tibet amongst the world’s 12 worst countries on civil rights alongside authoritarian regimes such as North Korea, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
These findings echo the conclusions of Human Rights Watch (HRW) who in their World Report 2014 state that the Chinese government ‘systematically suppresses political, cultural, religious and socio-economic rights in Tibet’.
The recently published report goes on to describe arbitrary arrests, torture and a biased judiciary along with severe restriction on Tibetans’ freedom of movement and an intense and intrusive surveillance system across Tibet. HRW also outlines how China’s policy of rehousing and relocating Tibetan nomads in ‘new socialist villages’ as an abuse of their rights.
The annual Tibet Solidarity march is on Sunday 15 March in London. It will start from Westminster at 10:30 and finish outside the Chinese Embassy at 14:00. 10th March marks the anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet against the Chinese occupation when the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet.
To find out more about the situation in Tibet, or to take action visit www.freetibet.org