Dharamshala: As China continues to flout the universally accepted principles of human rights and the human rights protection and assessment mechanism of the United Nations, the need to hold China accountable for worsening human rights records has become more crucial than ever.
Given the necessity to preserve the international human rights system and to bring forth the ground realities in China, the Geneva Forum is now being held as an annual event. After much success of the previous two forums, this year forum focuses on the central theme- Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Violations by China by bringing together a diverse group of human rights experts, practitioners, academics, activists, governments, diplomats, think tanks, civil society groups and affected groups to monitor and evaluate the human rights situation in regions under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and concurrently counter China’s propaganda, challenge China to improve it’s worsening human rights record. Watch the inauguration of the Fourth Geneva Forum 2021 here
The forum also come at a time when China braces up for its third cycle of review of its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which is expected to take place in early 2022. Despite China being legally bound to ensure all individuals within its jurisdiction enjoy the economic, social, and cultural rights protected therein, China’s continuing push towards Sinicization (the process of bringing non-Chinese people under the influence of Chinese culture), fast economic development, and “socialist modernization” has resulted in the denial of many of the rights protected under the framework of CESCR. The forum will thus report and deliberate on the non-compliance of the Covenant by China by highlighting the plight of Tibetans in Tibet, East Turkistan, Hong Kong, Macau and others.
Following the welcome note delivered by Representative Chhimey Rigzen, Tibet Bureau Geneva, the guest speakers each delivered their keynote address. The guest speakers at the forum include Sikyong Penpa Tsering of CTA, Chief Guest Hon. Jiri Oberfalzer (Vice-President, Senate of the Parliament, Czech Republic), and the special guest Nicolas Walder, Member of Parliament, Switzerland and Gelencsér Ferenc, Deputy Mayor of 1st District Budapest, Hungary.
In his inaugural address, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, democratically elected President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) expressed solidarity with the Tibetans inside Tibet for going through extreme mental and physical suffering on a daily basis.
At the same time, Sikyong mentioned that he was sceptical about whether the United Nations is really paying attention to the plight of Tibetans and those oppressed by the repressive Chinese regime, recounting that the UN in the past has adopted resolutions on Tibet yet have failed in implementation.
“There is a certain feeling that the UN is a little undemocratic in its functioning,” remarked Sikyong and added that the UN was unequal in many ways especially for people who are incarcerated and suppressed as they are often found without space for representation and space to express their grievances to the world community.
Without such space to express the anguish and grievances, the Tibetans have resorted to self-immolations and so far, 155 Tibetans have self-immolated to oppose the Chinese regime.
“They have burnt themselves in the hope that the Chinese government will pay attention to their plight and resolve the Tibetan issue” explained Sikyong with a heavy heart.
Acknowledging the presence of prominent guests and dignitaries, Sikyong said it was a source of encouragement for the Tibetans and the Tibet issue.
While highlighting the overview of the situation in Tibet, Sikyong described how the Tibetan Language was used as a tool of propaganda by the Chinese government. But he also noted that there was a brief period of freedom for the Tibetans during the period of Hu Yaobang leadership, then Chairman of CCP. This short period of freedom allowed the Tibetans to learn and preserve the Tibetan language and resume their religious activities.
The Tibetan language which is the root of Tibetan identity is now being extinguished under Xi Jinping’s leadership.
Another significant issue highlighted by Sikyong was the degradation of Tibet’s environment under the Chinese government. The Tibetan Plateau which is widely known as the third pole is critically challenged by Tibet’s climatic conditions which is also impacting the global climate. Sikyong prompted that Tibet’s environmental issue needed to be effectively addressed emphasising the lack of transparency in how China is handling climate change and how China is one of the biggest polluters in the world.
Sikyong also highlighted the environmental issue prompted by the resettlement of nomads to compact settlements, an action he noted as depriving the Tibetans to take care of their own environment as he demonstrated that Tibetans have thousands of years worth of experience on how to manage the environment having lived there for eternity.
Another reason noted by Sikyong that defended Tibetans as the best caretakers of its environment was the Tibetan religion that teaches denouncement of any action that is detrimental to the environment and Tibetans have lived in perfect harmony with nature until China came and destroyed that harmony.
Considering how China has blatantly continued to disrespect the fundamental human rights and global order, Sikyong called out the democratic nations and the like-minded countries to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics hosted by China and meanwhile, said that those participating in the game were much an accomplice in China’s misdoing.
Sikyong contended that the exiled Tibetan administration was committed to making every effort to reach out to the Chinese government for a peaceful negotiated lasting solution to the Tibetan issue. And until Tibet’s issue isn’t resolved, he said the administration will not shy away from representing the realities inside Tibet.
Special Guest, Hon. Nicolas Walder, Member of Parliament, Switzerland in his address described the large scale repression of Tibetans spanning over 7 decades as a dark spot for humanity.
“It is a dark spot that could cost us dearly at a time when the Chinese government is openly challenging the rules of international law on which our liberal democracies have been built,” said the Swiss Parliamentarian.
However, Parliamentarian Walder noted that the Swiss government no longer hesitates to denounce the crimes of China and demand action from the international community while explaining several positive developments taken by the government of Swiss in regard to its policy on China.
He highlighted the recent acknowledgement of the Swiss Foreign Ministry on the increase in human rights violations in China while subsequently calling for greater firmness in action against China. He also mentioned the recent move by his party requesting a full report on the security of Tibetans and Uygur’s minorities including a detailed assessment of the 30 years of human rights dialogue between the Swiss and China to be presented in the Swiss parliament.
Parliamentarian Walder added that his party has also pressured the government to promote human rights in China through the Swiss enterprises and Swiss embassy in Beijing. He also mentioned the upcoming meeting of the Swiss Foreign Affairs Committee to address the issue of crimes against humanity in China.
Hon. Nicolas Walder concluded his address by sending a message of hope to Tibetans and those oppressed by China by saying, “you have many friends around the world”. He assured that he, along with the Swiss Tibet Friendship Group, will keep on pressurizing the Swiss government so it commits concretely to the defence of Tibetans.
Chief Guest Hon. Jiri Oberfalzer, Vice-President, Senate of the Parliament, Czech Republic underlined that totalitarian regimes like the Chinese government want absolute control over the bodies and souls of their subjects and anything that stands between its total claim is a fundamental threat to its power. In the case of Tibetans, the ruling power of the Chinese regime is terrified of religion, culture, in general people of any independent thoughts.
“Its external enemy is not only every free neighbouring country, but the whole free world for a totalitarian regime to remain in power anywhere in the world. It cannot do without concentration camps, gulags, and re-education centres” explained the Vice President.
He further added that without censorship, propaganda, and indoctrination of the general citizens, the Chinese government can think of no other ways to force abidance.
Vice President Jiri Oberfalze highlighted the emergence of coronavirus as an expose of the utter and cynical ruthlessness of the Chinese state power towards its own population and the peoples of the world. He added that China in doing so was following the examples of the Soviet Chernobyl model, whereby the main objective was to conceal and sweep under the rock any misconducts of the state and the party.
“Coming from a country that has its own totalitarians past, I know what I am talking about. In China, it is not just the minorities opposing the totalitarian claim and free-thinking dissidents who suffer but many in the process” Vice President Oberfalze remarked. He added that it was part of the totalitarian regime to achieve world domination not only by military force. He noted, “It only needs to make other countries dependent on it, economically and for the raw materials”.
In conclusion, the Vice President of the Czech Republic’s Senate House said it was unwise and foolish of the leaders of the democratic countries to overlook the unprecedented human rights violations in China just for the sake of economic ties and profits.
“If we allow oppression anywhere in the world, we are contributing to the aggression in the whole world, step by step. Democratic countries should stop making the same mistake, ignoring the nature of their trading partner and building their own prosperity on the suffering of their people. We shouldn’t tolerate the evil even when it brings partial benefits”, he concluded.
Hon.Gelencsér Ferenc, Deputy Mayor of 1st District Budapest, Hungary associated the bullying behaviour of the Chinese government to that of a bully kid at school who thinks that the rules don’t apply to him, who is aggressive towards the other kids. “That the kid was only actually suffering a serious self-esteem problem who is afraid that the truth will come out much like what China is doing,” he said.
Likewise, the Deputy Mayor added that those oppressed and bullied accept such behaviour of China is because, most often, ‘they simply can’t comprehend the reasons of the bully and so they try to reach agreements and settle conflicts with a set of commonly accepted protocols’.
“By respecting each other’s borders, we expect our neighbouring nations to respect ours too. However, there are those in the international community, who out of fear, out of low self-esteem, or simply hoping to reach dominance, do not follow the rules and bully other nations” asserted the Deputy Mayor.
He further said it was high time that China is called out for its bully. He recounted and shared some of his personal experiences that have led him to be determined about raising the issue of Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and Taiwan.
“The least we can do is raise awareness. I am from Hungary, a country that knows submission well enough. We had 150 years of Ottoman subjugation, more than three centuries of Hapsburg rule, and almost 50 years of Soviet occupation. Presently, China is standing at the doorstep and politically buying itself into Hungary” added the Deputy Mayor of 1st District Budapest while emphasizing that China should be made to follow the common values of basic human rights or they get punished through hard sanctions.
Deputy Mayor expressed his lament over Hungary’s relationship with China over a deal of building a 5G network in the country and now the government of Hungary is also intending to set up a campus for the Chinese University of Fudan. He explained that Fudan was a well-known and respected institute, however, its loyalty doesn’t lie with science but with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. He asserted that the mayor of Budapest was willing to hold a referendum on whether Budapest should defund the university while pointing out he was hopeful that 90% of the citizens of Budapest would say no to the campus.
Besides Huawei and Fudan, Deputy Mayor mentioned the construction of Budapest Railways costing around an estimated 2.5 billion USD of which 85% is covered by a Chinese loan of EXIM bank and is constructed by Chinese companies, stressing that China was using Hungary as a pawn through debt trap diplomacy which was evident in Hungary constantly blocking EU statements condemning China and blocking sanctions imposed on China for its human rights violations.
In conclusion, Deputy Mayor reminded the government of Hungary that an economic deal of any kind with the Chinese government meant selling their conscience to China and standing up for the bully.
The very same day, a panel of experts discussed the issue of Tibet’s stolen child-11th Panchen Lama Gendhun Choekyi Nyima. The speakers included Sikyong of CTA, Interim Vice President of International Campaign for Tibet Tenchoe Gyatso, Dr. Michael Van Walt Van Praag, Executive President of Kreddha and Senior Fellow of the Sompong Sucharitkul Center for Advanced International Legal Studies, President of the World Uighur Congress Dolkun Isa, Tsolongeral Khatgin, Secretary of International Human Rights Center for Mongolians, Dr.Tenzin Desal, Senior Research Fellow at Tibet Policy Institute, Dr. Martin A.Mills, Director of Scottish Center for Himalayan Research, Pierre-Antoine Donnet, French Journalist, and Vijay Kranti, senior journalist & photographer specialises in Tibet & China. The other speakers during the panel sessions also include the staff of DIIR of CTA.
The two-day Geneva Forum 2021 is jointly organised by the Tibet Bureau Geneva and CTA’s Department of Information and International Relations with an aim to build a network of organisations and experts focusing on human rights and religious freedom in China and develop coordinated efforts to challenge and improve China’s human rights record. It also expects to strengthen mainstream media attention and public discourse on the deteriorating human rights record in the most remote parts under the rule of the CCP.