Fighting for Dignity in Tibet with Tenzin Dhardon Sharling

Tenzin Dhardon Sharling, the youngest member of the Tibetan Parliament in exile, addresses the 6th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full Remarks


Tenzin Dhardon Sharling: Good morning everyone. 

First of all, a huge thanks to the UN watch for organizing this and for having me over here to speak about a topic that’s really, really close to our hearts: that’s Tibet. Despite the fact that in 2012, the Times magazine said that Tibet remained as the most underreported story of the year, I strongly strongly believe that Tibet really remains in the conscience of people in the free world. 

From being a second-generation Tibetan, as the chair introduced me, born in the nomadic highlands of Ladakh, which is in the northern part of India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, today, standing here amidst human rights activists, political dissidents, veteran leaders in Geneva, I think I’ve come a long way, and life in exile has taught me great many lessons. 

The political establishment, also known as the Central Tibetan Administration, holds moral and legitimate governance over the people inside and outside of Tibet. It is based in Dharamsala Himachal Pradesh, again in northern India. The year 2011 was a huge groundbreaking year for the Tibetan democracy, which has come a long way from being a theocratic establishment in Tibet, to now being a democracy in exile. 

The year 2011 was truly momentous, because that was the year when Tibetans took part in one of the most significant democratic elections, which was taking place after the devolvement of the political responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the newly elected leadership. And it was during that year that I was voted into power, or rather as one of the members of the 44 members of the legislative body. Today, I think I’m entrusted with a huge responsibility for being a voice for the people inside and outside of Tibet in the highway of global political discourse. 

The two topics that I really want to focus on today here are the human rights situation inside Tibet and the women’s rights situation inside Tibet. 

When we talk about the human rights situation inside Tibet, I’d like to flag up a very important submission made by the Human Rights Watch in October last year during the UPR, which took place in Geneva. They mentioned five areas of serious concern that it comes to China and human rights and they are: the government crackdown on human rights defenders, endemic use of torture, restrictions and control over the media; the legalization of enforced disappearances, and significantly, most importantly, extensive human rights abuses in Tibet and in the Uyghur areas. 

If you’ve all paid attention, the international and the legal recognition of the human rights abuses of the Chinese government in Tibet saw the light of the day when, last year, in October 2012, the national court of Spain made a groundbreaking decision when they announced that the former president of the PRC, President Hu Jintao, was indicted for genocide, for crimes of genocide, in Tibet. Alongside, a month later in November, another shattering announcement was made when five Chinese leaders, including the former president and party secretary Jiang Zemin were issued with arrest warrants that stand valid even today. 

Again when you talk about human rights, the last three to four years saw a triggering of a new spate of self-immolations inside of Tibet. Not very long ago, only 12 days ago, Lobsang Dorje, a 25-year-old former monk in Tibet who ran a car wash facility, set himself alight, and he succumbed to his injuries and was later cremated by the Chinese authorities without the presence and without knowledge of his family members.

On Feb. 7, the day I landed in Switzerland, I got the information that back home in Tibet, a 20 year-old, [inaudible name], a young boy who was arrested last year for an anti-mining protest in Tibet, had died in custody. He had died because of torture in the Chinese prison in Tibet. 

Again let me bring your attention to how China is responding to the self-immolations. Instead of addressing the true and legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people, the response to self-immolations is the criminalization of the self-immolations as a preventive measure. 

This year in August, Dolma Kyab, a 32-year old man, was arrested and sentenced to death. His alleged crime was that he allegedly killed his wife, while the rest of us do know that five months before, in March 2013, his wife Kunchok Wangmo, a 29-year old Tibetan woman, actually died after a self-immolation protest. And her husband is sentenced to death for allegedly killing his wife. So this basically speaks to the effect of the grave human rights violations taking place inside Tibet, which unfortunately goes unreported.

Use of lethal force, arbitrary arrest, detention, denial of religious freedom, linguistic, migratory educational policies, large-scale government-sponsored settlements of non-Tibetans inside Tibet have cost the Tibetan identity to be obliterated. And the policies that the Chinese government is implementing in Tibet, which they think is policy towards progress and towards empowerment, is actually a policy towards the degeneration of Tibetan culture, assimilation of Tibetan identity, and a basic threat to the survival of Tibetans inside Tibet. 

In November 2012, the UN chief, Navi Pillay made a public statement, a first of its kind, and she said that stability in Tibet can never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights. Surprisingly, 2013 saw an increased intensification of crackdown, use of lethal force, thus increasing the anguish and despair among the Tibetans, which is reflected in their clarion and consistent call for freedom inside Tibet, for basic human rights, and for the return of the spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, back into Tibet.

Coming on to another very important topic: women’s rights. What we see is the status of women in Tibet actually mirrors China’s lack of commitment to its own constitutional informations and to its international acceptances of different conventions and treaties on protecting women’s rights. 

China’s family planning policy had an adverse impact on the lives of women. I was just reading a book and came across an interview that Channel 4, a broadcast channel, I think, based in the UK — did an undercover reportage in Tibet in 2008. They managed to interview a victim of forced sterilization, a 40 year old woman, and she said, “I cried when I was lying on the bed after the sterilization. I was feeling sick and couldn’t look up. When they opened me up, they pulled them out by the roots.” 

Another woman that I managed to interview back in 2012, a woman who had come from Tibet, she said “normally the body’s torn apart so that a mother could give birth to a life. But today women in Tibet, their bodies are torn apart so that the life could be stopped.” So this reflects on how the family planning policies have led to adverse, very painful experiences, not just physiologically, but even psychologically on women in Tibet.

If you look at the infant mortality rate, if you look at the illiteracy rate among women, if you look at the life expectancy rate, if you look at the maternal mortality rate, that of the Tibetan women stands at an alarmingly low rate compared to all the other areas administered by the People’s Republic of China, or by the Chinese government. 

When Tibetans like us go around and speak about Tibet, we just don’t want to talk about the pain and the anguish, but also about how there still remains hope in the lives of the Tibetan people, in their everyday acts of defiance, in their resolute resilience, which, despite the firewall, manages to come across the globe. And that inspires people like me to work every day to end the systematic and sustained repression of the Tibetan people inside of Tibet. 

Jamyang Kyi, a Tibetan woman writer, singer, television broadcaster, and journalist was incarcerated, was arrested and sentenced to prison in 2008. And when she came out of the prison, everyone felt that she would go under depression or would be in solitary confinement in a home, but she surprised the world when she came out with a series of writings of her experiences during imprisonment. And today her book, in English the title of which is A Sequence of Tortures: A Diary of Interrogations, remains as one of the most inspiring books that I’ve ever, ever come across. And it talks about how people in Tibet, despite remaining under the greatest repression, continue to engage in peaceful and creative and sustainable acts of resistance. And that is what shakes the conscience of the people across the globe, and that is what puts the Chinese government in a great, great dilemma. And as someone said: “Tibet actually mirrors the true growth of the Chinese government or of the Chinese nation.” And, a political leader of the Sangha said, that Tibet sets the litmus test for China’s rise.

Finally the recommendations about what we can do. I think the first important step we should take is to make sure that China remains accountable for its actions. 

We see that the Chinese state, or the Chinese repressive regime, is the primary violator of the human rights violations in Tibet, and surprisingly they are a signatory on more than 25 international human rights treaties, they sit very proudly on the Human Rights Council, on the UN Security Council, dictating [other countries like Syria and Sri Lanka on how they should solve their human rights issues, while in Tibet, we all know the blatant truth. Therefore, in increasing the personal accountability of China, I think the UN member-states and the rest of the international community, we could thereby strengthen our mutual accountability. 

Last November, we saw how 176 members voted China into the UN Human Rights Council. Though 1 million people sent China off the human rights council, they were put back into the Human Rights Council. But now let’s seize this moment and make sure that China is deemed fit to sit on the council at every possible opportunity. Every moment, China is given an opportunity to prove that they’re fit to sit on this prestigious Human Rights Council. 

The forthcoming UN Human Rights Council, the 25th in the series, is important, because China will decide on which of the UPR recommendations they would accept or reject or term as already implementing. And at the last UPR, it was encouraging for us the Tibet groups to see that more than a dozen UN member states had raised Tibet and had mentioned Tibet in the recommendations. We’re hoping that at the upcoming session, at least 7 of them; more than a half a dozen, would again follow up on these recommendations. Because yesterday we were talking about how important the UPR is as a tool or a mechanism, but what is more important is the follow-up, and I think the forthcoming session gives us a good opportunity to actually focus on the follow-up and action.

And one of the things that we’re urging is we all know that the UN chief, Navi Pillay’s second term in her office is ending this September, and she hasn’t yet paid a visit to Tibet. We hope it won’t be a repeat of the case of former High Commissioner Louise Arbour, whose tenure ended before she actually paid a visit.

Finally, again, Navi Pillay, in June 2013, very courageously said that the Tibetan situation also needs political awareness; it’s also a political issue that needs to be addressed. And besides multilateral engagement, I think the UN mediation role even in resolving the crisis in Tibet, I think it’s significant, it’s paramount, it’s an imperative, considering the deteriorating situation in sight of Tibet. 

Let us not forget the steadfast resoluteness of the Tibetan people, who stirs our conscience and stirs up our moral responsibility as human beings. 

I think Tibet actually gives all of us a platform to work on coherent strategies that could link human rights, security, trade, education, culture, and a lot of things into something called interrelated policy baskets. Tibet also provides us an opportunity to make sure that the human rights basket is not cut loose. 

Finally, before I conclude, it’s already time up, I’d like to reiterate and say that, like a lot of conflict areas in today’s world, a peaceful resolution to these issues, including the Tibetan issue, advances respect for human rights and for human dignity as well. 

Thank you all for listening.

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