BEIJING, (Reuters) – Chinese security forces broke international law when they used disproportionate force to handle riots in Tibet two years ago, according to a report released yesterday that quotes eyewitness accounts.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Chinese forces “opened fire indiscriminately” on protesters in at least four cases when unrest hit Tibet in March 2008, and have conducted large-scale arbitrary arrests since and tortured suspects in detention.
At least 19 people died in the riots, which came a few months before Beijing hosted the Olympics and sparked waves of protests across Tibetan areas. Pro-Tibet groups overseas say more than 200 people were killed in a subsequent crackdown.
The government has repeatedly insisted it used minimal force. It has blamed exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for instigating the violence, charges he strongly denies.
Human Rights Watch said it looked at accounts from more than 200 Tibetan refugees and visitors, as well as previously unreported official Chinese reports to get a clearer picture of the unrest. “International legal standards limit the use of force by states to that which is strictly necessary in order to protect life or to apprehend perpetrators of violent crimes,” it said.
“In multiple incidents, eyewitness testimonies show that Chinese forces acted in contravention of these standards and broke international law — including prohibitions against disproportionate use of force, torture, and arbitrary detention, as well as the right to peaceful assembly.”
China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Beijing strongly rejects all accusations of human rights abuses in Tibet and says it respects local culture and has pumped billions of dollars into developing an impoverished region.