The Status of Tibetans Residing in Nepal
By 1989, the Nepalese government ceased entirely to permit newly arriving Tibetan refugees to remain in Nepal. This created two classes of Tibetans in Nepal: (1) residents who entered Nepal before 1989 and their children, the subject of this section of the report; and (2) new arrivals with no right to remain in Nepal, the subject of the following section.
Nepal’s new policy reflected in part the heightened pressure placed on Nepal by the Chinese government in the late 1980s. China’s economic development of Tibet during the 1980s brought a massive influx of Chinese settlers, including cadres, engineers, traders, and small-business owners. By 1987, Chinese migration and reinvigorated political repression in Tibet caused political tensions to rise. Expressions of support for the Dalai Lama and his “Five-Point Peace Plan” precipitated large demonstrations, which China crushed with military force. These culminated in the Tibetan protest of March 4, 1989, just three months before the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4, 1989. Shortly thereafter, Beijing declared martial law in Lhasa. 95″ The heightened repression in Tibet during this period caused a dramatic increase in the number of Tibetans fleeing persecution. Because China perceived these Tibetans as dissidents and traitors, it sought to prevent their flight to India via Nepal as part of its campaign to “quell the counter-revolutionary rebellion. 96″ China asked Nepal to co-operate.
97″ In the late 1980s, Nepal maintained a delicate political relationship with China. To promote its economy and solidify domestic political stability, it sought to improve that relationship. At about the same time, Nepal’s relationship with India began to deteriorate. In 1988, Nepal purchased weapons from China without informing India, an action perceived by India as a deliberate diplomatic slight. On March 23, 1989, in retaliation for this breach of etiquette—and for Nepal’s refusal to allow resident Indians to work there without a permit—India imposed a trade embargo on Nepal. It permitted only essential supplies to enter the country.
95. See generally ICJ, sura note 80, at 77-80
96. Statement by NPC standing committee Vice Chaiman Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme in a meeting with Ram Bahadur Thapa, Consulate of Nepal, BBC News, Sept. 6, 1989.
97. See, e.g., Tibetan Nationality Official on Relations Between China and Nepal, BBC News, Sept. 8, 1989.
98″ Nepal responded by strengthening its ties to China. This drift toward a pro-China foreign policy caused Nepal to heighten its border security with Tibet and to cease to permit Tibetans to enter and settle in Nepal. It also led the Nepalese government to increase restrictions on the political and cultural activities of Tibetans already residing in Nepal. In November 1989, the Chinese Premier visited Nepal. Then-Prime Minister Marich Man Singh emphasized that Nepal has “always recognized that Tibet is an integral part of China, and Nepal has always believed in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country.
99″ The following month, the Nepalese government cancelled a Tibetan cultural festival and refused to permit Tibetans in Kathmandu to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. 100″ Today, according to official estimates, about 20,000 Tibetans reside in Nepal. 101″ While the government does not permit new arrivals to settle in Nepal, it allows those who arrived in or before 1989, and their children, to remain. The government does not deem these Tibetans to be “refugees,” even though it has periodically issued some of them RCs that describe their nationality as “Tibetan refugee.” But in response to Tibet Justice Center’s question about the number of permanent Tibetan refugees residing in Nepal, Home Secretary Regmi replied: “They are not permanent residents; no one of the Tibetans is a permanent resident. 102″ UNHCR, by contrast, made clear that it:
still consider[s] [legally resident Tibetans] “refugees,”
but they do not need assistance. They are somehow
self-sufficient. We look after them in discrete ways;
for example, the kids of these refugees, when they
reach the age of eighteen, they need to have an
identity document and receive a card like the one
that has been issued to their parents. 103“
Most such Tibetans live in the Kathmandu valley, generally in the Boudha and Swayambunath regions on the outskirts of the city or at the Jawalakhel settlement. The majority of the others reside in Tibetan settlements located in or around Pokhara, Nepal’s secondlargest city. The remainder live in isolated settlements such as Namgyaling, in Mustang, or Chialsa, near Paphlu. Notwithstanding their long-term residence in Nepal, most Tibetans remain isolated from mainstream Nepalese society. Few can become Nepalese citizens. Their status remains uncertain and insecure because no law or regulation defines it. Home Secretary Regmi described this legal limbo, remarking that the Tibetans “are not permanent residents….We provide a refugee identity card to them.
98. Dhruba Adhikary, Nepal: Weathering the Storm, Widening the Horizon, INTERPRESS
SERV., Sept. 8, 1989.
99. Nepalese Prime Minister Praises Chinese Premier’s Visit, XINHUA NEWS SERV., Nov.
100. See Dalai Lama, Accepting Prize, Urges Peaceful Tibet Solution, N.Y. TIMES, Dec.
11, 1989, at A14.
101. U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, 2000 COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS
PRACTICES: NEPAL § 2(d) (2001); Dalai Lama’s Representative Says Tibetans in
Nepal Number 20,000, BBC WORLDWIDE MONITORING, Mar. 12, 2000.
Unofficial estimates, which include both illegal residents who arrived in Nepal
after 1989 and legal residents who lack an identity card to prove their status, place
the actual number of Tibetans in Nepal at least several thousand higher. See
Suman Pradhan, Nepal-China: Absence of Tibetan Protests Brings Relief, INTERPRESS
SERV., May 17, 2001.
102. Tibet Justice Center interview with Shree Kant Regmi, Secretary, Ministry of
Home Affairs, in Kathmandu (May 23, 2001).
103. Tibet Justice Center interview with Roland-Francois Weil, Protection Officer,
UNHCR, in Kathmandu (May 25, 2001).
They are [thus] easily identified. Once the Tibet problems are resolved, we will repatriate them to Tibet. Many resident Tibetans, however, particularly the children of the original settlers, lack these identity cards or “RCs.” Without them, Tibetans enjoy little security from harassment by officials and possess no proof of their right to remain in Nepal. Even with an RC, Tibetans cannot claim the protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and assembly. Nepal’s Constitution guarantees these rights only to citizens. Nor can legally resident Tibetans own property, incorporate a business, travel freely within the country or internationally, or participate freely in political and cultural activities. Tibetans in Nepal are stateless—residents with no defined legal status and severely limited political and economic rights, and nowhere else to go. In general, no country claims Tibetans in exile as nationals. While China periodically informs them that they may return to “the Motherland,” it conditions this right of return on untenable restrictions on their civil and political rights.