More than two million Tibetans in China have been forced to change homes or relocate in a government-sponsored programme that is damaging their traditional culture and rural lifestyle, a human rights monitoring group said.
“The scale and speed at which the Tibetan rural population is being remodelled by mass rehousing and relocation policies are unprecedented in the post-Mao era,” Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a release accompanying the report.
“Tibetans have no say in the design of policies that are radically altering their way of life, and – in an already highly repressive context – no ways to challenge them,” she added.
Citing Chinese official figures, the report said that two million people “were moved into new houses or rebuilt their own houses between 2006 and last year”.
The number of people affected accounted for “more than two-thirds of the entire population” of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), it said.
Additionally, “hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders” in Tibetan regions outside the TAR, such as in Qinghai province – which lies in the eastern portion of the massive Tibetan plateau – were “relocated or resettled”, said the report, released Thursday.
Citing China’s 2010 census, HRW said there were about 6.2 million ethnic Tibetans living in China, with 2.7 million of them in the TAR.
New York-based rights group said the 116-page report cites violations such as lack of consultation and proper compensation, quality defects in housing and the disregard for autonomy rights in Tibetan areas.
The Chinese government blasted the report.
“It is an undeniable fact that Tibet has made huge development and progress on all fronts including politics, economics and society in recent decades,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing Thursday.
The HRW report comes amid others in recent days by Tibet-focused rights groups and a US media outlet suggesting China is showing signs of rethinking some aspects of its Tibet policy.
According to the reports, authorities are allowing limited public veneration of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, and considering ending denunciations of him, though whether it signals a relaxation in decades of harsh policy remains unclear.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and later founded the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.
China regularly condemns the global spiritual figure, and has branded him as an anti-China “separatist”.
Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday that authorities in Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces are letting monks “openly venerate the Dalai Lama as a religious leader but not as a ‘political’ figure”.
London-based rights group Free Tibet said Thursday that monks at a monastery in Lhasa, the capital of the TAR, were told they can display pictures of the Dalai Lama, reversing a 17-year ban on displays of his image.
Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University, said while the reports remain unconfirmed, some elements could prove important if substantiated.
Allowing the display of photos of the Dalai Lama is of “minor significance”, told news agency AFP in an e-mail.
“But if there is a formal, written end to the policy of denouncing him, it would reverse the core element of the policy that has done so much damage to China’s image in Tibet for two decades,” he added.
Separately, US ambassador to China Gary Locke was making a rare visit to Tibet this week and has urged Chinese authorities to open the area up to tourists and diplomats, a US official said Thursday.
It marked first time since September 2010 that Beijing has granted a US ambassador access to Tibet.