The Right to Self-Determination

Tibetans clearly meet both the objective and the subjective components of what constitutes a people. Tibetans are a distinct ethnic group with their own language, religion, culture and history that is distinct from that of the Chinese people.

  1. "Tibetans are a distinct racial or ethnic group. Their language, Tibetan, is a Tibeto-Burmese language distinct from the Indian and Chinese languages and dialects. Tibetans are bound by their religion (Tibetan Buddhism) which is inextricably linked to the people's cultural, social and historic development. The Tibetans have a unique culture, passed down and developed through many thousands of years of separate and distinct history as expressed in the development of Tibetan fine art, literature, architecture, dress, dance, drama, medicine and way of life. They have an identifiable territory, Tibet (referred to by most Tibetans as Cholkhagsum, the three regions of Tibet) geographically and geologically distinct from China." The Case Concerning Tibet, Tibet Justice Center

The Tibetan people's right to self-determination was explicitly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in three Resolutions – 1353 (XIV) in 1959, 1723 (XVI) in 1961, and 2079 (XX) in 1965 – that called on China to respect this right.

  1. "The General Assembly ... solemnly renews its call for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination." United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 1723 (XVI), 1961

In 1991, the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed Resolution 1991/L.19 expressing concern at "continuing reports of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms which threaten the distinct cultural, religious and national identity of the Tibetan people".

In  1992, the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal examined testimonies and arguments and concluded that Tibetans met the UNESCO and other generally accepted legal criteria of a "people" and were therefore entitled to exercise the right to self-determination. The Conference of International Lawyers on Issues Relating to Self-Determination and Independence for Tibet in 1993 reached the same conclusion.

  1. "... from a legal point of view, Tibetans should be allowed, by virtue of their right to self-determination, to freely choose their future political status, including independence. This conclusion, in summary, is based on the following grounds: 1. Tibetans are a distinct people; 2. As a people, they have the rights to self-determination and 3. This right should trump China’s conflicting claim to territorial integrity because: (a) China, by repressing Tibet, has not conducted itself as the legitimate government of the Tibet people; and (b) China has not allowed Tibetans to freely select their political representatives." Options for Tibet’s Future Political Status: Self-Governance through An Autonomous Arrangement, Tibet Justice Center

Possible Paths to Tibetan Self-Determination

Article 31 of the PRC Constitution provides for the creation of special administrative regions (SARs). This could be used as the framework to realize a stable and internationally supported solution for Tibet, as was achieved for Hong Kong (“One country, two systems”).

  1. "Unless real autonomy is offered, self-determination in Tibet is bound to mean independence. China may hold down the Tibetans by force for a long time, but, as the example of Ukraine and Russia shows, even hundreds of years of repression is unlikely to extinguish the longing for self-determination among what are, incontrovertibly, a people." Paul Harris, Is Tibet entitled to self-determination?

For more information about Tibetan self-determination and possible implementations see Links to More Information.

Other Considerations

The Tibetan People’s Right