Violence and Discrimination Against Tibetan Women

III. Convention Articles 1 & 2: Torture

In its General Recommendation no. 19, the Committee concludes that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Convention). Torture directed at women and other gender-based violence and degrading treatment are manifestations of gender-based violence. Convention Article 2 establishes the duty of State Parties to the Convention to end all forms of discrimination. In its General Recommendation no. 12, the Committee specifically asks all governments to provide information on legislative and other measures to protect women against violence, including statistical information on gender-based violence as well as support services for victims as part of each country's Article 2 duties.

A.China's Assessment: "No Comment"

China's Third and Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (China's Report) does not address the issue of torture at all and therefore does not indicate what, if anything, China has undertaken to comply with its duties enumerated in Convention Article 2.

We are disappointed in China's failure to address the issue of torture and gender-based violence, not only because torture and gender-based violence is a reality for so many Tibetan women but also because China patently disregarded the expressed wishes of the Committee's General Recommendation No. 12.

B.Our Assessment: Tibetan Women Subjected to Torture

Torture in Tibet has been well documented. We provide a brief discussion of torture in Tibet as background to the information discovered in the Mission's interviews with Tibetan refugee women. Our interviews support a finding that systematic torture of Tibetan women detainees continues to exist.

1.Recent Torture in Tibet

China is a State Party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which outlaws any kind of torture. Nonetheless, in 1990, the United Nations Committee Against Torture noted that it had received credible allegations of a persistent practice of torture in Tibet. The Committee also made special note of China's failure to address allegations of torture in Tibet. In 1993 and again in 1996, the Committee Against Torture asked China to set up a genuinely independent judiciary and to change its laws to ban all forms of torture. Despite this, China's Criminal Law only specifically prohibits certain kinds of torture.

The use of torture against Tibetan men and women is common in all prisons and detention centers in Tibet. Methods of torture previously reported include: inflicting shocks with electric batons; beating with iron bars, rifle butts and nail-studded sticks; branding with red-hot shovels; pouring boiling water over prisoners; hanging prisoners upside down or by the thumbs from the ceiling; shackling; kicking with boots; setting ferocious dogs onto prisoners; exposure to extreme temperatures; deprivation of sleep, food and water; prolonged strenuous exercise; long periods of solitary confinement; sexual violence; taunts and threats of torture and death.

Specific reports of torture in Tibet, mostly from former prisoners who have been released and have fled Tibet, continue unabated. In cases studied through 1995, there were 208 cases of serious physical maltreatment out of 1276 cases studied, or more than 16% of all prisoners. Torture at that time was becoming more severe, with an increasing number of prisoners who are unable to stand up fully on their own after release.

In 1996, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment made note of continuing reports of torture of Tibetan prisoners. Notably, the cases included 6 specific cases of torture of children and numerous reports of maltreatment of juveniles. The Special Rapporteur also noted that it had still not received replies to earlier cases brought to China's attention in 1994, and had still not received a reply to his request to visit China.

An October 1997 report by Physicians for Human Rights reported that one in every seven Tibetan refugees had personally been tortured. Ninety-four percent of political detainees reported being tortured. Fifteen percent of torture survivors were under age 16 at the time they were tortured.

2.Torture of Tibetan Women

As the above sources show, indeterminate detention, interrogation and the absence of any meaningful right to counsel make Tibetan women particularly vulnerable to torture, especially in the form of sexual torture. Grossly inadequate medical care in detention as well as the apparent collusion of medical personnel in the practice of torture are also factors in the continuation of torture as a routine weapon against Tibetan women.

Interviews conducted by TCHRD reveal extreme sexual violence against nuns, including penetration of the vagina and rectum with electric cattle prods. One nun was 22 at the time of arrest. She was ordered to strip and and was shocked all over with an electric cattle prod, which was also inserted into her rectum. A stick was put into her vagina. During this treatment, male prisoners watched and jeered from a window. Another nun reported "they were also ramming an electric cattle prod into my vagina and rectum." Yet another nun was prodded so often in the rectum and vagina that she vomited and urinated blood. Arrested in July 1990, she was sent to a police hospital in early 1991 after a prison doctor said she would die if tortured any more. She escaped from that hospital and subsequently escaped to Dharamsala.

Our investigations indicate that torture of Tibetan women is both frequent in its occurrence and gruesome in its application. The forms of torture used have been especially cruel when applied against Tibetan nuns. We find that most torture of Tibetan women takes place in the context of arrest and detention. TCHRD's research has documented about 295 women political prisoners at present (Autumn 1998) with about 250 at Drapchi Prison. Of these women political prisoners, 255 (88.4 percent) are nuns. Most of the former prisoners interviewed by the Mission indicate that they were arrested for expression of their political or religious views, confirming the findings of TCHRD.

Many witnesses stated to the Mission investigators that they were initially taken to police stations. Physical and psychological abuse began immediately. Beatings were severe and relentless as described in the following account by one victim, a nun:

Police took us into the police station and hit us. Each of us was in a separate room. They used a belt and then sticks and the electric baton, but there was no current. They made us stand and hit us for two hours, It was cold. I thought because of the beating I would die.

Following her arrest, one nun reported being taken to Wogen, near Madenper close to Gutsa Detention Center. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., she and the women arrested with her were attacked as follows:

Six to seven officials started beating us and when they got tired they gave us sticks and made us beat one another. When we didn't, they beat us more. They hit me on my head, back, and knee joints -- almost every part. All five of us were knocked unconscious.

According to these women, whether they were kept in Gutsa or sentenced to years at Drapchi Prison, they were subjected to torture and severe abuse. Many report that although there were both male and female guards, in most cases it was the male guards who participated in the physical beating and other forms of torture.

Some of the women interviewed during the Mission themselves suffered gender-specific torture; other interviewees witnessed such torture or related acts of torture reported to them in prison by other detainees. The methods of torture include beating pregnant women until they aborted, sexual molestation with electric batons, and especially in the case of nuns, rape. Some interviewees indicated that the gender-specific torture and sexual abuse of nuns is especially repugnant because nuns often do not report abuse due to the shame involved and the fear that they will no longer be respected or considered nuns by the community. All of the women torture victims interviewed, whether or not they are nuns, exhibited symptoms of severe physical and/or emotional trauma.

Our recent findings are corroborated in other well-documented recent accounts of the torture of Tibetan women by Chinese officials. In particular, in its 1997 report, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) concluded after interviews with 258 Tibetan refugees that

Chinese authorities in Tibet routinely use torture as a means of political repression, punishment and intimidation. More than 1 in every 7 Tibetan refugees interviewed reported a personal history of torture by Chinese authorities.

Further, PHR documentation of forms of torture coincides with our findings:

Repeated beatings; electric shock with cattle prods on the face, arms and genitals; being suspended in painful positions; witnessing others being tortured; deprivation of food or sleep; mock executions; being forced to stare at the sun for extended periods; and having their blood drawn against the individual's will.

PHR found 60 percent of torture victims suffered three or more forms of torture, with 38 percent reporting more than ten episodes of torture. Most of the documented torture was quite recent, with 41 percent of the victims claiming to have been tortured in the past two years (i.e. 1995 to 1997).

Among PHR's interviews of 11 women torture survivors, one was with a Buddhist nun who described the torture she suffered when she was only 16 years old, when imprisoned for chanting "Long Live Tibet. Free Tibet!" in a public square:

During the first month I was in prison, I was tortured often. I was beaten many times and electrocuted all over my body. When the Chinese tortured me they would yell at me "Why do you demonstrate? Don't you know the Chinese are good for you? You must not say Tibet is free. Tibet is part of China." One time, they took my blood with a big syringe, even though I told them not to. I think that was for punishment.


Our investigation therefore confirms previously documented reports that torture of Tibetan women detainees is common and systematic. Tibetan nuns are particular targets, and torture in the form of sexual abuse of Tibetan women is not uncommon.


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