Disappeared: Tibet’s Panchen Lama

Panchen LamaWho is the Panchen Lama?

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest authority in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. On 14 May 1995 Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognised as the Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama; just three days later he was ‘removed’ from his home, along with his family, by Chinese authorities.

Reasons for disappearance:

Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have traditionally played leading roles in the recognition of each other’s reincarnation.

China tightly controls religion in Tibet and, despite being an atheist government, the Chinese Communist Party has stated that it, rather than Tibetans, will control Tibet’s religious affairs; including ruling on the reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

This enforced disappearance is part of efforts by China to assert its political control over the reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

Where is the Panchen Lama today?

The Panchen Lama’s location remains unknown. For over two decades the Chinese government have denied requests from United Nations human rights experts and governments for access to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family, claiming that he was leading a normal life and does not wish to be disturbed.

Tibetans, Tibet supporters, human rights organisations and world governments have consistently urged China to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, but these appeals continue to go unheeded.

In November 1995 China proclaimed a different boy to be the 11th Panchen Lama. China’s chosen boy is overwhelmingly rejected by the Tibetan people. Both young men are victims in China’s plan to undermine and control the Tibetan people, religion and culture. Tibetans refuse to believe Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is “living a good life” and continue to demand he be released, and seek proof that he is safe and well.

Life in Tibet

Tibetans have lived under a brutal occupation since 1950 when China invaded and occupied their country. Since 2015 Tibet has been ranked as the second worst place in the world for political rights and civil liberties, behind only Syria. Tibetans can be arrested for simple criticism of China’s policies in Tibet or even flying their own Tibetan national flag.

What are we calling for?

We are urging the Chinese government to:

  • Promptly sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
  • Provide tangible evidence about the well-being and specific whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in the form of date-verifiable material.
  • Allow independent access by a government or UN Special Procedures body to meet Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family.
  • Release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family immediately and unconditionally, and ensure that their future safety is guaranteed.