By Blake Kerr, M.D. (Water Mill, New York)
Based on the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, Chinese officials including the former prime minister and president, Li Peng and Jiang Zemin, are facing criminal charges by Spain’s National Court for crimes against humanity in Tibet from 1971 to 1998. On December 12, 2011, I presented medical testimony to this court concerning egregious crimes that I witnessed and investigated in Tibet.
The Spanish National court has ruled that China’s policies in Tibet of torture, forced abortions, sterilizations, infanticide, disappearances, arbitrary execution, religious persecution, racial discrimination, and population transfer all present a prima facie case for genocide.
On October 1st, 1987, after traveling as a tourist to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, I documented 12 deaths when Chinese police massacred unarmed Tibetans demonstrating for independence. There were no medicines for a ten-year-old boy who died in my arms after being shot by a sniper, a 23-year-old man who had been shot through the heart, or a mother pouring water onto her16-year-old son’s unresponsive lips. The boy had been beaten to death, with a shovel, inside the police station.
When Chinese soldiers took injured Tibetans from Chinese hospitals to prisons, I snuck out to treat wounded Tibetans hiding in their homes and monasteries.
Besides the victims of torture, I encountered something worse. A Tibetan woman named Kunsang explained to me that she was six months pregnant with her first child when she was ordered to the People’s Hospital. Once inside, a Chinese doctor insisted that she have an operation to save her life and injected her abdomen. Kunsang heard her baby cry twice: when her son’s head appeared, and when the doctor gave a lethal injection in the soft spot on his forehead. The next day Kunsang was sterilized. On examination, her scar was consistent with sterilization.
From 1991 to 1999, I returned to Tibet three times to conduct on-site investigations. My interviews with physicians at hospitals across Tibet, first-hand Tibetan accounts of coerced abortion, sterilization and infanticide at Chinese-run hospitals in Tibet, as well as Tibetan refugee accounts in India and Nepal, indicate that these practices were prevalent throughout the 1990s.
China’s National Family Planning Policy operated on a pressure continuum. Tibetan women were informed that it is technically legal to have a second child, but it is “best” to have only one, like the Chinese. Chinese law required that both Chinese and Tibetan women must be married and have permission to give birth. Women with unauthorized pregnancies faced coercive abortion, sterilization and economic sanctions.
China’s birth control teams operated in hospitals in cities and towns throughout Tibet; mobile teams traveled to remote villages and nomad areas. Both teams had monetary incentives to induce abortions during the first trimester by D&C, and during the second and third trimesters by injections of Levanor into the uterus. The more procedures the doctors performed, the more money they received from the Chinese government.
Two monks from the Amdo region of Tibet described to me what they had seen when a mobile birth control team erected a tent next to their monastery in 1987. The villagers were informed that all women had to report to the tent for abortions and sterilizations. Women who refused were taken by force and operated on. Women nine months pregnant “had their babies taken out.”
During the two weeks the tent stood in the village, the monks stated, “We saw many girls crying, heard their screams as they waited for their turn to go into the tent, and saw the growing pile of fetuses build outside the tent, which smelled horrible.” As a physician, I found the monks’ description of coerced abortions and sterilizations, women’s post-surgical scars and other medical details to be credible.
My testimony to the Spanish National Court details the systematic violence against unarmed Tibetan civilians by Chinese security forces that I witnessed in 1987, the torture of Tibetan political prisoners, and the widespread, state-sponsored forced abortions and sterilizations of Tibetan women through the 1990s.
While the Spanish National Court seeks justice for Tibetans suffering under China’s military occupation, it also strengthens the principle that there must be no impunity for genocide or other grave crimes committed anywhere, regardless of how powerful the perpetrators may be.
Dr. Kerr graduated from Dartmouth College and SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine. He practices in East Hampton, New York, and is the author of Sky Burial, An Eyewitness Account of China’s Brutal Crackdown in Tibet.