Tibetans as an Indigenous People

While the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not explicitly define what is meant by indigenous peoples, it does specify that such indigenous communities exist throughout the world and are not confined to former victims of European colonization. A 1983 United Nations study of the problem of discrimination against indigenous populations defined indigenous peoples as follows:

  1. "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, further develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity,as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems." UNESCO, Committee on Human Rights, 1983

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples offers a clear guide for the treatment of indigenous peoples with respect to internal self-determination including the demilitarization of indigenous lands and the right of indigenous peoples:

  1. to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs,

  2. to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies,

  3. to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures,

  4. to be consulted and prior consent through their own representative institutions before implementing state legislative and administrative measures.

While China claims there are no indigenous peoples in China, there can be little doubt that the Tibetan people do satisfy the criteria for being an indigenous people of territory claimed as China by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In addition to the Tibetans fulfilling generally accepted definitions of a "people", China’s own Sino-Tibetan Agreement of 1951 (the so called Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet) documents Tibet’s unique status.

What the world is saying

Other Considerations