EU diplomats visit schools, religious sites and prison in Tibet in dialogue with China on human rights

Visit was organised by Chinese authorities but EU diplomats specified where they wished to go

A member of the Tibetan Youth Congress during a protest against China's alleged occupation of Tibet. Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP

Senior EU diplomats have visited schools, religious sites and a prison in Tibet as part of a dialogue with China about human rights.

The visit, which took place over three days last week in Nyingchi and the Tibetan capital Lhasa, was organised by the Chinese authorities but the EU diplomats specified where they wished to go.

“The programme included visits to boarding schools, municipalities, cultural and religious sites, relocated Tibetan families as well as to a prison. The side visit reflected the majority of the EU’s requests, except for meetings with individual prisoners,” the European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement.

“The short and dense programme provided an opportunity to gain a certain understanding of the reality on the ground and challenges in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Following the visit the EU put forward several recommendations to ensure full bilingual education, the preservation of the cultural heritage, identity and fundamental freedoms of the Tibetan people.”


The EU last year described the human rights situation in Tibet as “dire”, accusing China of placing systematic restrictions on the right of minorities to enjoy their own culture and use their own language.

The delegation that visited Tibet was led by Paola Pampaloni, EEAS deputy managing director for Asia and the Pacific, who co-chaired the EU-China human rights dialogue with Shen Bo, director general for international organisations and conferences at the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs.

All foreigners require a special permit to visit Tibet and access for diplomats and journalists has been restricted in recent years. The EU delegation’s visit to a Tibetan prison last week was the first of its kind for 20 years.

During the human rights dialogue the EU raised a number of individual cases, including that of Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-Swedish writer and publisher who disappeared in 2015 and was sentenced five years later to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”.

“The EU reiterated its further concerns about the very serious human rights situation in China, in particular in Xinjiang, in the Tibetan areas and Hong Kong. In particular, the EU referred to reports on the crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in China. The EU urged China to investigate and stop human rights violations, expressing concern for cases of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment,” the EEAS said.

The EU is introducing legislation that will require companies to conduct human rights due diligence, including for their value chains, and regulations prohibiting the sale of products made using forced labour. China has faced numerous accusations that members of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province have been subjected to forced labour as part of an anti-terrorism “re-education” programme that saw mass incarceration in detention camps.

Unlike legislation introduced in the US, the EU measures which will come into force in 2027 are not targeted explicitly at Xinjiang or at China. Unlike the EU regulations the US legislation presumes that all goods produced in Xinjiang are made using forced labour unless proven otherwise.

During the course of their human rights dialogue the Chinese raised the treatment of refugees and migrants in Europe and racism and xenophobia in the EU. China also focused on economic, social and cultural rights but both sides said they agreed on the importance of upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The EU reaffirmed that the full respect for all human rights is a precondition to achieve sustainable and inclusive development, economic growth and prosperity,” the EEAS said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times