United Nations Resolutions on Tibet

Three United Nations (UN) Resolutions were passed on Tibet in the 1960s. They were passed prior to 1972 when the People's Republic of China (PRC) became a member of the United Nations. 

Before 1972, China's seat at the UN was occupied by the nationalist government of Taiwan, who were anti-Communist and supported resolutions on Tibet.

Since 1972, when the PRC took over the seat at the UN, it has been virtually impossible to raise the issue of Tibet at the UN General Assembly or in the Security Council because China is a permanent member of the Security Council and has the right to use its veto. Any mention of Tibet at the UN will be vetoed by China. Therefore, most governments do not bother to raise the issue of Tibet at the UN.

21 October 1959

Resolution 1353 (XIV) called for "respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life."

Adopted by 45 votes to nine, 26 abstentions; Britain abstained.

12 December 1961

Resolution 1723 (XVI) called for "the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedom including their rights to self-determination." It also expressed "the hope that member states will make all possible efforts as appropriate towards achieving the purpose of the present resolution."

Adopted by 56 votes to 11, 29 abstentions; Britain (after initial doubts) approved.

December 1965

Resolution 2079 (XX) renewed the call for "the cessation of all practices which deprive the Tibetan people of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which they have always enjoyed." Adopted by 43 votes to 26, with 22 abstentions. On this occasion the Indian delegate accused the Chinese of trying "to obliterate the Tibetan people" and of suppression that "surpasses anything that colonialists have done in the past to the people they ruled as slaves."

Britain supported the resolution.

The People's Republic of China joined the UN in 1971, and the Tibetan question was next mentioned in March 1985, by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Non-Governmental Organisation. The Tibet issue was not raised by a government until March 1989, when Canada and Holland expressed concern about the situation in Tibet.

23 August 1991

The UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted Resolution 1991/L.19 to express 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". The resolution called on the Chinese Government "fully to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people". The resolution was passed by nine votes to seven, with four abstentions.
This was the first UN Resolution on Tibet since 1965 and the first formal statement on Tibet by a UN body since the People's Republic replaced Taiwan as the representative of China in 1971.
On 4 March 1992 a draft resolution on China's abuses of human rights including a specific mention of the treatment of Tibetans was proposed at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

A vote on a proposal "not to take a vote" was taken: 27 for, 15 against.

Further Resolutions Relevant to Human Rights in China

March 1994

China persuades the UN for the fourth year running to reject a modestly-worded resolution criticising its human rights record. 20 votes to 16 ruled that "no action" be taken on the resolution; 17 countries abstained.

The UK called for discussion of China to preserve the Commission¹s credibility. The US, however, supported the resolution only on condition that the European countries, as proposers, modified the wording so that Tibet was defined as a minority, and therefore as part of China.

This controversial insistence by the US on inserting a gratuitous statement about Tibet's political status in an inappropriate human rights context ran against European wishes, and led to fierce criticism from the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

March 1995

China avoids censure on its human rights record by only one vote at the annual meeting of the Human Rights Commission of the UN in Geneva. The resolution included specific references to abuses in Tibet.

This was the first time the resolution had been debated.
From 1992 to 1994, all the resolutions were blocked by a procedural move called a Motion for No Action which was tabled by China.

In 1996 the Motion for No Action was again passed, after vigorous lobbying by Chinese diplomats to enlist the support of developing nations.