Authoritarianism in Tibet with Dicki Chhoyang

Dicki Chhoyang, Minister for Development and International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration, addresses the 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Dicki Chhoyang: Thank you for the very nice introduction.

I want to start speaking about self-immolation by sharing with you some of the last words from the self-immolators. Because what we hear in the news are numbers, but behind these numbers are real people like you and me, who through their personal experience, made very difficult decisions.

Soinam was a 24 year old student who loved Tibetan culture, who loved Tibetan songs and dances, and who felt a tremendous pride in his Tibetan identity. What he said in the message he left was: “Tibetans have a distinct religion and culture. We believe in love and compassion, however Tibet has been invaded, repressed and cheated by China. We self-immolated for our misery and lack of basic human rights, as well as for world peace.”

Second person is Nya Drul, an 18 year old student who had just finished high school: “we are unable to remain under these draconian laws, unable to tolerate this torment that does not leave a scar. Because the pain of not enjoying any basic human rights is far greater than the pain of self-immolation.”

And lastly, I would like to share with you the quote by a 42-year-old monk, Sopa Rinpoche, who was very respected in his community for his constant concern for the welfare of the community, collective welfare. He self-immolated shortly after the local authorities denied him permission to travel to India to attend an important teaching in Bodh Gaya given by the Dalai Lama last year in January. He said: “dignity is the spirit of a nationality, the courage for justice, the compass leading to future happiness. My fellow Tibetans, to seek the same happiness that is shared by all people in this world, we have to remember our dignity and make an effort in all matters. Dignity is the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong.”

Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, said: “nali you cheya, nali jiu you fankang”, which means where there is repression, there is resistance. This is what we’re seeing right now in Tibet with the self-immolation. After over 50 years of Chinese occupation, this new generation of Tibetans, who were born and raised after Chinese occupation, are showing this unequivocal resolve to send a message to the world about the gravity of the situation.

Self-immolation is the last option left to them after attempting all other conventional forms of protests, demonstrations, petitions. But living in a police state, such means of protest are silenced within a matter of minutes and the world is never to hear from these individuals who are imprisoned, tortured, executed. Since February 2009, we have witnessed now 102 cases of self-immolation that we know of. 86 of them have passed away. They are clear political acts of protests, solitary acts of protest. Without exception, they have all called for the return of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for freedom for Tibetans. While it began with monks from Kirti monastery in Aba prefecture, under what is now known as Sichuan province, the 102 self-immolators that we know of include men, women, Tibetans from all regions of Tibet, all age groups, all sections of society, monks, nuns, nomads, farmers, students. 

What are the causes behind these self-immolations? We can trace them back to at least four or five policies, starting with political repression, where Buddhist monasteries are now run by the Chinese Communist Party through democratic management committees, and monks are forced to undergo patriotic reeducation where they must swear allegiance to the communist party, where they must also denounce the Dalai Lama, who is their most revered leader. There are the policies of cultural assimilation, with the late recent decision by the Central Chinese government to change the language of instruction in all Tibetan areas from Tibetan to Chinese, from elementary school all the way to tertiary level. There’s environmental destruction, with mining operations without consultation [with] local communities, without proper studies of the impact on local communities.There’s nomad settlements where nomads, thousands, millions of Tibetan nomads so far, have been forced to abandon their traditional way of life, sell their livestock, because the Central Chinese government believes that the environmental problems on the Tibetan pastures are due to Tibetan nomads who have lived there for generations and generations, for centuries and centuries. It is economic marginalization policies, where with the growing influx of Chinese migrant workers, we’re witnessing an increasing number of unemployed Tibetan youth. China wants Tibet, but not Tibetans.

Of key concern with the nomad settlement is the fact that nomads are settled in these row brick houses without running water, where families are given a flat amount of money with no long term planning. What will they do once they run out of this money? Once they’ve abandoned traditional livelihood, how will they earn a living? Needless to say, this is leading to already significant social problems that are visible even now. The position of the Central Tibetan Administration that I represent, is as was stated earlier during the introduction, as early as January 2012, when the cycle of self-immolation began, we appealed to Tibetans inside Tibet not to resort to drastic actions, including self-immolation. Despite our appeals, the fact remains that the self-immolation has persisted. Given the situation, we feel a moral duty to our fellow Tibetans inside Tibet to speak up on their behalf to the international community and explain why these actions are taking place.

China’s reaction to the self-immolation has been one of further repression. They are offering large sums of money for anyone who will give information about individuals who they suspect may self-immolate. On January 26, Lobsang Kunchok and his nephew, both affiliated with Kirti monastery where the first self-immolation took place, were sentenced; one was sentenced to long-term prison, one to [a] death sentence. What they were accused of was for inciting self-immolation. So what we’re seeing now is the criminalization of self-immolation of anyone suspected of being affiliated with them. We are also seeing the confiscation of satellite dishes of entire Tibetan villages to prevent them from getting news from the outside, particularly international news services in Tibetan, such as that of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Voice of Tibet. We’re also seeing the arrest of people who are suspected of having sent news about the self-immolation to the outside world.

The issue of China and Tibet I want to share with you is not a problem between Chinese and Tibetan people, as much as the Central Chinese Government would like the world to believe and particularly, the Chinese community to believe. It’s an issue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people and it is certainly not what we call a zero sum game, where the international community must choose between Tibet and China as they are led to believe. We firmly believe that one can be a friend of China, but also care about Tibet. This [is] because resolving the issue of Tibet peacefully and in a sustainable manner is in China’s long term interest. As an emerging international economic power, political power, it is now devoid of any moral authority, partly due to how it’s handling the issue of Tibet. Chinese civilization is a very rich civilization. It has a long history. How China is handling the issue of Tibet now does not do justice to the richness and the wisdom of that civilization. We are very encouraged, however, by the growing attention given to the current situation inside Tibet by Chinese civil society, including Chinese NGOs in North America and Europe. We also see a growing number of Chinese intellectuals and authors writing about the issue of Tibet and expressing their concern at the way that it is being addressed by the Chinese government.

What is the solution to the current situation? Like the self-immolators, the Central Tibetan Administration, which is a democratically elected leadership of the Tibetan community, does not challenge the political or territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China. We want to do everything within our power to help the Chinese government address the current situation inside Tibet. The last round of discussion, of dialogue, that took place between the Chinese government and the invoice of the Dalai Lama took place over two years ago in February, 2010. It is absolutely essential that dialogue be resumed. What we’re asking for is genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of China; a single administration under which all Tibetan areas would come with the autonomy to decide in matters such as education, culture, and religion. We know, based on the example of Hong Kong, that where there is a political way in China, there’s a political way, there’s a political will that can make it work.

The Tibet struggle is a struggle of a people for its right to exist. While the world cares deeply and holds the highest esteem for people like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is currently a disconnect, where people do not seem to realize that he is a product of a culture that is in danger of disappearing. Tibetans now are being reduced to a Disneyland, a facade, a tourist attraction. We are fighting for our right to exist as a people.

You may ask, why should Tibet matter? Why should the resolution of Tibet matter to the international community? I want to remind you today that Tibetans have never compromised in their nonviolent approach to our struggle. The nonviolent principles that we uphold [are] not a public relations exercise, it is deeply rooted in principles and our beliefs and who we are as a people. For the international community, Tibet is a very strong test of all the discourse that we like to engage [in] when it comes to peaceful conflict resolution. We have to hold this discourse beyond classrooms and meeting rooms, and stand behind these principles to send a very clear message to other political movements who may not be as committed as we are to non-violence, saying that non-violence does pay in the end. Principles of peaceful conflict resolution, of peace period, are principles that need to be upheld, not when it’s convenient but when it’s inconvenient, and I think that is the challenge that Tibet is presenting to the international community.

We have spoken earlier since this morning about the notion of courage, and I want to conclude today with these thoughts. I want to salute, first of all, the courage of today’s fellow speakers. I think that their testimony is a true example of human resilience in the face of deep hardship. We’re privileged in the sense that when we talk about courage, we think about the traditional definition where we have to make difficult decisions involving sacrificing our life through personal experience. But the courage that we must show, those of us who live in the free world, is slightly different, it’s a different form of courage. I totally agree today with the statement made by Marina Nemat, where she said, “silence is a weapon of mass destruction”. The courage that we’re asking the international community to have is the courage to speak up in the framework of the mandate that you have, of the role that you have, of the identity that you have. For example, for those of us here who work in the UN system, hold China accountable as a member of the United Nations. 

China, as was stated by Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, in her statement in November 2012, there are still 12 outstanding requests by special rapporteurs to visit China that have gone without a response. Amongst them is an invitation by China to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion that dates back to 2004. Nothing has happened since then. China extended that invitation in 2006, the Special Rapporteur tried to confirm a date for the visit; no response. Why can’t we ask China, as a member of the Security Council, of the Human Rights Council, to uphold the highest example of respecting the UN mechanism? That is for people who work within the UN system. 

For governments, have the courage to meet people, like the Dalai Lama, who has relinquished his political responsibility to the elected leadership; have the courage to meet him. Have the courage when the Chinese embassy calls you to say, we are an independent government, we are an independent nation, we have the right to decide who we will meet.

For students – and I know many of you here today are students – simple things like sharing the link to websites like, which I think will be posted, where we are trying to educate the international community about what’s going on inside Tibet, and challenge China’s tremendous effort to silence the voices of people who are self-immolating by not letting the media travel to Tibetan areas and sentencing people who send news about the self-immolation. 

And for those of you who are part of the media, your mandate is to write about the truth, to inform people, and especially when the Chinese government is trying to silence the media not to talk about what’s going on inside Tibet, please do write about what’s going on in Tibet, because people don’t even know what is going on about the self-immolation. 

So I want to conclude by making an appeal to you to have the courage to stand and be the change that we want to see happen; have the courage to use the freedom that we have for those of us who don’t. Thank you.

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