Tibetan monks find sympathetic ear in Spain’s court

20th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

In the first probe launched in the world against China, three Tibetans monks have provided testimonies accusing the country of genocide.

20 May 2008

MADRID - Three Tibetan monks testified Monday before Spain's High Court in the first probe launched anywhere in the world into human rights abuses by China following its 1951 occupation of Tibet.

Palden Gyatso, Jampel Monlam and Bhagdro were summoned to testify by Judge Ismael Moreno because of their status as key witnesses to the arrests, torture and killings allegedly carried out by China against the Tibetan people over the last half century. Their testimony could lead to arrest warrants being issued by Spain for current and former Chinese leaders, among them former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whom the plaintiffs accuse of genocide.

"This is a dream come true... we have been given the chance to explain our suffering to the world," Palden declared after leaving the court.

Following the recent crackdown by China against Tibetan protestors ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, the case is particularly poignant.

Palden, Jampel and Bhagro represent three generations of Tibetan monks who, according to the Tibetan Support Committee (CAT), a charity that filed the lawsuit, have suffered systematic abuse at the hands of the Chinese government.

The group, represented by lawyer Alan Cantos, alleges that more than a million Tibetans have been killed by Chinese police and military since the occupation began, and that millions more have been illegally imprisoned, tortured and abused.

"Tibet is like a pressure cooker, and the best way to defuse the situation is by legal means, by having injustices recognised," Cantos said after the hearing.

After initially rejecting the case, Moreno was ordered to open the investigation following an appeal.

Spanish law allows the prosecution of human rights crimes committed anywhere in the world, and judges reasoned that the possibility of a probe being launched in China is slim to none.

"We had thought for a long time that the suffering in Tibet was forgotten in the world," Palden, dressed in traditional orange and red robes, said.

The 77-year-old monk, who like the other witnesses now lives in exile in India, spent 33 years in prison after being arrested by the Chinese in 1959. During that time, he spent years in manacles, he was tortured with an electric cattle prod and left for days with his thumbs clamped behind his back.

An escape attempt in 1962 led to him being forced to sign a confession, admitting to "anti-revolutionary" actions.

His fellow witnesses, Jampel and Bhagro, experienced similar treatment following their arrests in 1989 and 1996.

But although the monks welcomed the chance to have their experiences heard, the CAT complained that Moreno had not let them say all they had wanted to.

A CAT lawyer, José Elías, said the judge had cut them short in their testimony - each of which lasted around an hour - and had argued that their experiences are already documented in books written by them and presented as evidence in the case.

"Judge Moreno is obstructing the process," Elías alleged.

It is not certain when the investigation will lead to formal charges being brought against Chinese officials, if they are brought at all.

[El Pais / A. Eatwell / Expatica]

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