Study finds torture and human rights abuses among Tibetan refugees

11/09/05

Torture impacts mental health of Tibetan refugees

The incidence of mental illness and torture amongst Tibetan refugees is much higher than previously expected, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC International Health and Human Rights. Researchers say that NGOs and foreign governments should be aware that the human rights abuses levied on this vulnerable population may have lasting health effects and are unacceptable under international law.

Many Tibetan refugees flee Tibet to Nepal or India in order to escape religious and political oppression, following the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950. In current Tibet, ethnic Tibetans are forbidden to worship their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, or to speak out on political issues. Such actions can result in criminal prosecutions. Accessing accurate information on the status of human rights in Tibet is difficult due to state censorship, but researchers from North America and Europe have conducted systematic evaluations of torture, imprisonment and major human rights violations and examined their impact on mental health amongst refugees who successfully escaped to Nepal and India.

Edward Mills, from McMaster University in Canada, and colleagues from Wake Forest University and Emory University in USA and universities of Toronto, York and Manitoba in Canada, found that the prevalence of reported human rights violations was extremely high within the refugee population and likely corresponds to their increased incidence of mental health illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Mills and colleagues had previously conducted research in Nepal with recent Tibetan refugees and found reported incidences of child imprisonment, torture, rape and executions. Their current study evaluated all published reports on mental health outcomes within the Tibetan population. All included studies had been conducted on Tibetan refugees that had successfully escaped Tibet, a combined analysis of 410 refugees. Their study reveals that the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, a disorder causing recurrent nightmares, crying, and numbness was as high as 23 per cent of all refugees. Anxiety disorder ranged from 25-77 per cent of the refugee population, and major depression was as high as 57per cent of all refugees.

The researchers also found that the reported incidence of torture and human rights violations were unacceptably high. The most common torture techniques across both groups were beatings, electrical torture, being forced to provide blood, and being imprisoned. In addition to torture, both groups reported traumatic events that may affect mental health. These included sleep deprivation, witnessing murder, kidnapping of family and friends, and the destruction of religious symbols including monasteries. One report examined children and found that children had also reported torture and major human rights violations.

This study provides reliable evidence that human rights violations within Tibet are unacceptably high and are impacting on the mental health of refugees. The researchers stress that "non-governmental organizations and foreign nations dealing with China should be putting human rights at the forefront of negotiations. As countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK work towards building trade relations with China, it cannot be at the expense of human rights. These studies demonstrate the lasting impact of unacceptable abuses." Clinicians and the public dealing with Tibetan refugees should be aware of the abuses many have been through.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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