Statement by Mrs. Kesang Y. Takla, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama based in London, to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ireland, on Thursday 18th December 2003.
It is a great honour and privilege for me to address the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish Parliament on the issue of Tibet and on the continuing suffering of the Tibetan people. While addressing this august Committee, I cannot help but recall the years when Ireland took the initiative in sponsoring United Nations General Assembly Resolutions on the issue ofTibet. The then Foreign Minister of Ireland, Mr. Frank Aiken, who, in appealing to the United Nations General Assembly during its debate on Tibet in 1959, said: “Looking around this assembly, and looking at my own delegations, I think how many benches would be empty in this hall if it had always been agreed that when a small nation or a small people feel in the grip of a major power no one could ever raise their voice here; that once there was a subject nation, then must always remain a subject nation…Tibet has fallen into the hands of the Chinese People’s Republic for the last few years. For thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand of years at any rate, it was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here.” Mr. Frank Aiken further stated, “The sympathy of the Irish people going to the victims of imperialism is nothing new. It goes out to the people of Tibet in their present suffering as it did in the past.” Mr. Frank Aiken quoted from Terence MacSwiney, a role model for all those engaged in non-violent struggles. Terence MacSwiney said, “It is not they who inflict most but they who can suffer most, will conquer.”
At the same time, I cannot but help recall the moving reception given to His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he visited Ireland in 1973. Ireland was one of the first western nations that His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited after his exile in India in 1959. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit then was in part to thank the government and the people of Ireland for their consistent and strong role in taking the initiative in raising the issue of Tibet in the United Nations General Assembly.
From this platform, I would also like to express our deep appreciation to Mrs. Mary Robinson who, when she was the President of Ireland and later the Commissioner for the United Nations Human Rights Commission, by her words and actions, expressed deep sympathy for the plight of the Tibetan people and took courageous steps to effect a positive change in China’s human rights behaviour.
On behalf of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, I would like to use this important and respected forum to put on record the Tibetan people’s heartfelt appreciation for these contributions that Ireland has made in the past to highlight the tragedy of the Tibetan people. At the same time, I would like to thank all those concerned in providing me this honour to say a few words on this ongoing tragedy of Tibet.
As far back as the 1950s, when the Tibetan tragedy was fresh on the conscience of the international community, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appealed to the international bodies, including the United Nations, to persuade the People’s Republic of China to initiate a process of negotiations to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully in the interest of all parties concerned. This has been the consistent approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then His Holiness the Dalai Lama has articulated his views on the satisfactory settlement of the issue of Tibet in two important documents. One is the Five-Point Peace Plan, which His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced at the Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress in 1987. The other is the Strasbourg Proposal, which His Holiness the Dalai Lama released before the European Parliament in Strasbourg in France in 1988. These two documents constitute what has come to be known as the Middle Way Approach formulated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Middle Way Approach is based on the premise that Tibet will remain as a part of the overall political framework of the People’s Republic of China. The Middle Way Approach recommends that the People’s Republic of China regulate and supervise the defense and foreign affairs of Tibet. In return, China must allow the six million Tibetan people to function as one administrative unit. This administrative unit must be given the freedom to decide and determine all domestic issues of Tibet.
The Middle Way Approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama also calls for the restoration of the whole of Tibet as a zone of non-violence and a sanctuary of environmental protection and promotion. This demilitarization of Tibet in stages will restore to Tibet its former role as an effective buffer between the world’s two most populous nations – China and India – and will contribute to Asian stability, peace and prosperity.
Although China has rejected these proposals as a disguised form of Tibetan independence, as all of you may be aware I am happy to report that beginning from September last year, China has accepted two visits of the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We have welcomed the Chinese acceptance of these two visits because we feel they are a positive development. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is always of the view that regular contacts and face to face meetings will contribute to creating an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding and respect. To expand on these two visits the Tibetan side has requested for a third visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s envoys and we await a response from the Chinese side.
Regardless of these visits, the situation in Tibet still remains grim. Our concerns on the present situation in Tibet are focussed on two major areas. One is the ongoing Chinese population transfer on to the Tibetan plateau, and the other is massive development projects initiated in Tibet. We feel that both these policies will further reduce the Tibetan people to a minority in their own land and marginalize the Tibetans and deprive them of all the benefits of development.
The development projects that are being initiated in Tibet by the Chinese authorities are of enormous and lasting concern to the Tibetan people. We believe that these development projects, including the construction of the railway line connecting Lhasa with China, are geared towards accelerating the exploitations of the natural resources of Tibet and to have these transported to China to meet coastal China’s increasing demand for energy, water and mineral resources. Apart from fundamentally changing the traditional way of life of the Tibetan people, these projects are attracting large and increasing number of Chinese settlers, who come to Tibet to take advantage of the development boom and the administrative bias towards employing Chinese settlers in all State-run enterprises.
In view of these concerns, we feel that it is absolutely necessary for the European Union to increase its pressure on Beijing. In particular we feel that the European Union should continue to hold China accountable for its appalling human rights record. It is our belief that consistent and strong commitment by the European Union to the values of civil liberties and human freedom will send a strong message to the Chinese government that China can be no exception from upholding the principles of human dignity and individual choice.
The European Union’s position on human rights in Tibet will be made that much stronger, and its commitment reflected that much more clearly, when the European Union appoints a Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs. We believe the appointment of such an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs will be interpreted by the leadership in Beijing as an indication of the seriousness of the European Union in facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Tibetan issue. We believe that an amicable solution to the issue of Tibet will naturally lead to the end of human rights violations inTibet.
At the same time, the appointment of a European Union Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs will facilitate a dialogue and eventual negotiations between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the leadership in Beijing on the vexed and protracted issue of Tibet. The appointment will also be a clear and concrete signal of the European Union’s support for non-violent freedom struggles. It is our firm belief that one effective way for the international community to combat the scourge of terrorism is to lend effective political support to non-violent struggles. Human logic and the grim political realities of our present world demand that it is foolish to combat international terrorism while at the same time ignoring peoples who have been consistently struggling non-violently for their lost rights and freedoms. Successful non-violent struggles supported whole-heartedly by the international community will become models for other similarly downtrodden people and show to them that there are peaceful ways for conflict resolutions.
In view of this, we feel that appointment of a European Union Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs will constitute a major step in facilitating a meaningful dialogue between Dharamsala and Beijing. It will go a long way in resolving the issue of Tibet peacefully.
As you are all aware, we are happy to note that China, in the last couple of years, has released three prominent political prisoners. They are Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Ngawang Choephel and Ngawang Sangdrol. Tanak Jigme Sangpo is presently in Switzerland and is undergoing medical treatment. Both Ngawang Choephel and Ngawang Sangdrol are in the United States of America.
While we welcome their release, we would like to request the governments around the world to urge China for the speedy release of all the political prisoners in Tibet, including Gedhun Choekyi Nyima who in 1995 was recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since his house arrest in 1995 – at the age of 6 – we have no idea where the young Panchen Lama is – or that of his parents.
Another major concern is the fate of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who, along with his attendant, Lobsang Dhondup, was arrested and charged with involvement in a series of explosions in Sichuan province. Regardless of numerous and prolonged appeals by the international community, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death and Lobsang Dhondup was executed on 26 January 2003. We have every reason to believe that the charges against these two Tibetans were politically motivated. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is a popular religious leader in eastern Tibet. Both are known for their loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in particular is respected throughout eastern Tibet for his social work, such as building monasteries, schools, and health clinics in impoverished Tibetan areas. Till now the local Chinese authorities have yet to produce any compelling evidence of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s involvement in the explosions and the prosecutions have not met the minimum standards of the due process of law. On 18 January 2003, in a tape smuggled out of Tibet, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche said, “Whatever the authorities do and say, I am innocent.”
We appeal to governments around the world and particularly the governments in the west to use their influence to stay the execution of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and urge the Chinese authorities to release all prisoners of conscience.
Once again I would like to use this opportunity to express my profound appreciation for being given this opportunity to speak about the issue of Tibet and the plight of the Tibetan people from this important forum.
I respectfully request that this Committee does everything in its power to urge the Irish Government to introduce and implement the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs during its forthcoming Presidency of the European Union.