A Finland-based rights group renewed calls this week for information on the fate of missing Tibetan religious leader the Panchen Lama, urging that he and other Tibetans who have disappeared in Chinese custody remain on the world’s agenda.
The case of the Panchen Lama, who vanished 24 years ago, has come to represent Beijing’s efforts to “interfere with and undermine Tibetan Buddhist culture,” Kai Mueller of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said on Wednesday at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
“His enforced disappearance also constitutes a grave violation of international human rights standards,” Mueller said.
The Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.
The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama’s choice of Panchen Lama, who turned 30 this year, remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance.
The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing meanwhile remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.
Foreign governments and U.N. human rights mechanisms including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have “consistently asked China for information on the whereabouts of Choekyi Nyima,” Mueller said.
“They have also asked to visit him. Unfortunately, China has not allowed anyone to meet the Panchen Lama, fueling fears and speculation as to whether he is still alive,” he said.
Tibetans living in Tibetan areas of China are routinely subjected to enforced disappearance following arrest, Mueller said, pointing as examples to the recent disappearance of three monks, two of them former political prisoners, in the Ngaba prefecture of western China’s Sichuan province.
“We urge the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance and other relevant special procedures to continue to express concern and request for information about the disappeared Tibetans, in particular the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima,” Mueller said.