Under pressure from the Beijing, the Nepalese government has arrested
hundreds of refugee Tibetans who cross the border from Tibet to escape
persecution by the Chinese regime, refugees say, sending many back to
China and earning objections from human rights groups.
has also blocked human rights demonstrations led by Tibet support
groups and has put a stop to all pro-Tibet activities, refugees who have
made it to Dharamsala say, in particular on March 10 when Tibetans
sought to commemorate the anniversary of the failed 2008 uprising in
Tibet. The 20,000-odd Tibetans who live in Nepal are barred from holding
any protests on its soil. Celebrations of the Dalai Lama's birthday are
taken as anti-government activities by authorities.
Himalayan nation is caught between Asia's two giants, India and China.
Most Tibetans fleeing their homeland cross Nepal to India for shelter in
the hill town of Dharamsala where their supreme leader and Tibetan
Buddhism's highest religious figure, the Dalai Lama, took refuge in 1959
along with thousands of his followers with the consent of the Indian
The pressure increased after China's army chief of
staff, Gen. Chen Bingde, visited Kathmandu to pledge US$20 million in
military and logistical support to the impoverished government of the
tiny neighboring country. It was not the first donation and is unlikely
to be the last.
Chen led a 15-member army delegation to Nepal
seeking to prevent any additional turmoil by the Tibetans in the
country. It was the highest-level military visit from China to Nepal in
more than a decade. The People's Liberation Army chief held high-level
talks with Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Jhalanath
Khanal, Defence Minister Bishnu Paudel and his Nepalese counterpart
General Chhatraman Singh Gurung, requesting that the Nepal government
block movement of Tibetans across the border.
"The purpose of my
visit is to strengthen friendship and cooperation between Nepal and
China," Chen told reporters. "This cooperation is not only conducive for
our people but also for world peace and the Asia Pacific region."
Nepalese government reassured China of its support and commitment to
the 'One China Policy,' and indicated it would bar anti-Chinese activity
on its soil. It also agreed to "deepen military ties and ensure peace
at the Tibet frontier."
"General Chen expressed gladness at the
steadily developing relation between two countries and said that
economically developing and politically stable Nepal is important not
only for the stability of Asia Pacific region but also for the whole
world," according to a statement released by the Nepal's Prime
Minister's Office in Kathmandu.
Over the years Beijing has
vilified any efforts by exiles to change the situation inside Tibet,
which the Chinese occupied in 1950, terming the invasion a peaceful
liberation of longstanding Chinese territory. Tibetans refugees started
flocking to Nepal after the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule
and the Dalai Lama fled over the Himalayas into exile in India.
Nepal has traditionally been more aligned with India. However, recent
moves by Beijing, especially in infrastructure development, have made
China a much more influential player in Nepal than India.
are treated as criminals in Nepal," said an exiled Tibetan who gave his
name only as Tsering. "The Nepalese government does everything the way
China wants it do, and we have even lost the right to do a peaceful
march." He had lived in Nepal but fled to Dharamsala, he said.
has launched many crackdowns since refugees staged protests against
China in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games and the deadly 2008
Tibetan riots. Rights groups have declared Tibetan refugees in Nepal to
be increasingly vulnerable and at risk of arrest and repatriation to
China. Under pressure from China, Nepal has refused to recognize Tibetan
refugees who arrived after 1989. They are not allowed to register
On any major anniversary of that Tibetan exiles
attempt to celebrate, dozens are arrested, with reports that even monks
are beaten, tear-gassed and kicked. The United Nations' human-rights
office says some people are now being arrested purely "on the basis of
their appearance" without being demonstrators.
government-in-exile elections were treated as an unlawful activity by
the Nepalese government, depriving a large number of people the right to
exercise their vote.
"We cannot allow such an illegal activity
within our territory," Superintendent of Police Pushkar Karki, who also
serves as chief of Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Circle, told local
media. "We need to follow the government's policy."
the Wikileaks website disclosed US State Department cables from the
embassy in New Delhi, alleging that China pays Nepalese police
substantial money to arrest fleeing Tibetans.
government rewards (Nepali forces) by providing financial incentives to
officers who hand over Tibetans attempting to exit Tibet," said the
cable, titled 'Update on Tibetan refugee flow.'
restrictions, more than 2,500 Tibetans cross the border annually,
embarrassing the Chinese government, which has sought to portray its
administration in Lhasa as benevolent and dedicated to the welfare of
the Tibetan people. The Nepalese government since the Wikileaks
disclosures has come under fire for bending to pressure from the Chinese
government in deporting exiles to China after previously having allowed
them unhindered passage.
The Nepalese government previously
honored a United Nations-brokered "gentlemen's agreement" between Nepal
and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide safe transit to
Tibetan refugees who wish to travel through Nepal to Dharamsala, where
thousands of Tibetan exiles have their base. That agreement has been
abrogated under Chinese pressure.
Watch groups such as Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of
Jurists have recently warned Kathmandu against breaching its
international obligations, instead substituting "preventive arrests and
policing restrictions on demonstrations and freedom of movement that
deny the right to legitimate peaceful expression and assembly during
anniversaries and festivals marked by the Tibetan community."
link between China's aggression against Tibetans and Nepalese police
actions has contributed to an environment of fear and insecurity in
Nepal's Tibetan communities," the International Campaign for Tibet, the
US based Tibet lobby said.
Western countries, particularly the
United States, have pressed the Nepalese government to soften its
stance. The Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
Maria Otero, the White House's special coordinator for Tibetan issues,
visited refugee centers in Nepal in February where she met government
officials to raise the issues of free passage and problems faced by
Tibetans in Nepal itself. She pledged the continued support of the US
government for the safety and welfare of refugees.
"We have a
longstanding policy, as you know, of supporting the needs of vulnerable
refugee populations, and consider the Tibetan populations in Nepal to be
particularly vulnerable. The U.S. continues to monitor the situation of
both newly arriving refugees and the long-staying populations," a State
Department official said in a statement on Feb. 18.
government-in-exile has appealed to Western nations to persuade the
Nepalese government to allow the Tibetan activities and respect the
human rights situation.
Analysts believe China's long term plan
is to neutralize Tibetans outside Tibet, leaving no voices to speak
against them when the Dalai Lama retires completely. Rameshwor Acharya,
the former Nepal ambassador to China, told reporters on March 24 that
"China's concerns over Nepal are growing" and that "the visit shows that
China wants the support of our army to control anti-Chinese activities
following the resignation of the Dalai Lama."
Thus many of the
thousands of refugees wishing to leave their Himalayan homeland are
finding that safe passage through Nepal is becoming increasingly
unlikely and the future of Nepal's ownTibetan community appears
uncertain as well.
Saransh Sehgal is a writer based in Dharamsala, India.