18 Feb 2013

Tibetan Refugees Under Scrutiny In Nepal

By Neesha Bremner
A Tibetan exile died in Nepal of self-immolation last week. In Nepal's shaky post-conflict democracy, the large Tibetan refugee population is under increasing pressure, reports Neesha Bremner
Restrictions and monitoring of Tibetan refugees in Nepal are increasing after the self-immolation by a Tibetan monk in Kathmandu last week. Thundup Dopchen, a recent Tibetan exile, died on 13 February, 14 hours after self-immolating at Boudhanath Buddhist stupa in the Nepali capital.

Boudhanath is home to a Tibetan refugee population with limited legal rights. Many Tibetans born in Nepal after 1989 are officially stateless and have limited access to education, employment and no ability to travel legally outside of Nepal.

Local papers are reporting an intensification of police surveillance in Tibetan populated areas. English language paper Republica said, "Tibetans have chosen self-immolation to draw world attention to their cause. Bearing this in mind, police on high alert have been deployed for additional security at different protest-prone localities."

Iona Liddell, Chief Executive of the American based Tibet Justice Centre told New Matilda that the self-immolation in Nepal is directly linked to the situation inside Tibet.

"I imagine that there will be extra pressure on Nepali Police from China, and a step-up in surveillance and punitive responses. It speaks to the Chinese oppression of the Tibetan peoples' human rights and their culture. This oppression is being felt increasingly outside of Tibet, but the struggle is for Tibet."

International Campaign for Tibet's (ICT) 2011 report Dangerous Crossings claims surveillance and repression of Tibetan communities has grown in Nepal since the 2008 uprising in Tibet:

"The more than 20,000 long-staying Tibetans in Nepal serve as a physical and at times vocal reminder that all is not well across the border in Tibet. As such, China now seeks to establish an entrenched and more systematic approach to constraining the Tibetan community in Nepal as part of its Tibet stability strategy."

The ICT report argues the shaky nature of Nepal's post-conflict democracy is making the country fractured, giving China the ability to build separate relationships with key actors — from politicians, to business, to the armed forces.

Nepal's fourth attempt at drawing up a constitution in May 2012 failed. Shortly after the governing Constitutional Assembly collapsed. Since the Constitutional Assembly fell apart the country has had a number of prime ministers as the major parties and Maoist factions vie to set up a government and negotiate terms for an election.

According to ICT Nepal is also politically keen to have China's backing as counterbalance to its reliance on India. China has made this arrangement incentivised by adding into the equation serious amounts of aid money, infrastructure projects, trainings and business potential.

China is currently funding major road-widening projects across Nepal. Chinese tourist figures and related businesses have increased significantly over the last few years.

According to the authors of Dangerous Crossings, China's support of Nepal is also conditional on its government, whatever its configuration, supporting its "One-China" policy:

"China-Nepal interaction has been characterised by Chinese financial or other support given in return for Nepal's pledge to condemn, prevent or physically quash 'anti-China' activities on Nepali soil. But what constitutes 'anti-China' activity has never been defined — by either China or Nepal — leaving the term dangerously open to interpretation."

Liddell said Tibetan expressions of protest against the situation in Tibet are spreading o through Tibetan people beyond the boundaries of Tibet, but the issue is Tibet, and China's harsh policies there.

"Chinese policies of repression are also being exported beyond Tibet's boundaries, but these haven't nearly reached the severe level they're at in Tibet, because Nepal maintains some of its ground on this."

Speaking to AFP, police officer Keshav Adhikari said "the exile" had doused himself in petrol in a restaurant, and then set himself alight at Kathmandu's Boudhanath Stupa, one of the world's holiest Buddhist shrines and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"At around 8:20 am (0235 GMT) a man in his early 20s arrived at a restaurant on the premises of the Boudhanath Stupa. He went straight to the toilet and poured petrol over his body and set himself alight."

A small number of tourists eating breakfast screamed for help and police patrolling nearby were alerted. "The policemen doused the flames and sent him to hospital." Adhikari told AFP.

A local English language paper, The Nepali Times reported that police watched Dopchen burn for three minutes before putting out the flames.

Adhikari said it was not yet clear if the man had been shouting slogans protesting against China's rule in the Himalayan region of Tibet when he set himself alight. Though other publications reported the man referenced the Dalai Lama and Tibet.

Dopchen's self immolation coincided with Tibetan New Year and the 100-year anniversary of the 13th Dalai Lama's declaration of Tibet's independence. He is the 100th Tibetan to self immolate in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet since 2009. It is understood the self-immolation occurred before planned protests.

Tibetans asked to comment on the self-immolation and their situation in Nepal declined with the exception of one Tibetan woman who would only talk if her name was with held. " It is very sad, but what can we do? We have no freedom, we look, but we have none."

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