GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators called on China on Wednesday to reveal the fate and whereabouts of more than 300 Tibetan monks who disappeared after being rounded up at a monastery by security forces in late April.
Exiled Tibetans and a prominent writer have said that the crackdown was sparked by a monk’s immolation in the southwestern province of Sichuan, in apparent protest against government controls.
“We call on the authorities to provide full information on the fate and the whereabouts of the persons who have disappeared,” the U.N. working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances said in a statement.
An unknown number of monks have been released since the group was taken away in 10 military trucks from Ngaba Kirti Monastery on April 21, it said.
“The arrests were reportedly carried out by agents from the People’s Armed Police, the Public Security Bureau and the People’s Liberation Army,” it added.
The U.N. group, composed of five independent human rights experts, called for the prosecution of those responsible for the disappearances, a crime under international law.
“We encourage the authorities to undertake full investigations into the on-going practice of enforced disappearances and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and receive sentences appropriate to the gravity of the crime.”
The spike in tension in Aba prefecture, a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province, stemmed from the self-immolation of Phuntsog, a 21-year-old monk on March 16.
Instead of putting out the flames, the Chinese police beat the young monk, creating huge resentment in the monastery, according to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan protests gripped areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.
China routinely rejects any accusations about mistreatment or exploitation of Tibetans, saying its rule has brought untold benefits to what was a dirty poor and feudal society.
The Aba government said in late April after the burning incident that it had decided to give monks “legal education”, due to the “illegal activities” committed by some monks that included visiting prostitutes, getting drunk, gambling and pornography, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The U.N. working group, which helps families determine the fate of disappeared relatives, also called on China to ratify a 2007 international treaty banning enforced disappearances.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter