Tibetan Human Rights Get U.S. Congressional Attention

By Lea Terhune
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who described Tibet as having “a mystical attraction to so many Americans,” was among a group of legislators on Capitol Hill who heard Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, actor Richard Gere, and the Dalai Lama’s representative, Lodi Gyari, testify on the status of the dialogue between China and representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Human rights and protection of Tibetan cultural heritage in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) were the focus of the March 13 session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Congressman Tom Lantos.

“Beijing must understand that it will take more than spaceships and skyscrapers for the international community to recognize it as a global leader worthy of great power status,” Lantos said. He also quoted the Tibet section of the State Department’s 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Report, which said, “[Chinese] Authorities continue to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, house arrests, surveillance of dissidents and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement."  

In her testimony, Dobriansky reiterated that the United States acknowledges Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China, saying that U.S. goals are “to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representative, and to help sustain Tibet's unique religious, linguistic and cultural heritage.” She noted that Congress passed the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 to advance these ends.

She expressed concern that discussions begun between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government “have not produced results.” In the past year, she said, “The Chinese government has ramped up negative rhetoric, and there are no indications from Beijing that they are prepared to engage on issues of concern to us or the international community.”

The incident on September 30, 2006, when the Chinese army fired on a group of Tibetan refugees at the Nepal border near Mount Everest was cited by Dobriansky and several others at the hearing. A 17-year-old nun was killed, several others injured and dozens more arrested. The incident was witnessed by mountain climbers and filmed by Romanian TV cameraman Sergui Matei. The video is posted on the Internet.

“It is in China's self-interest to defuse tension in Tibet by moderating their repressive and assimilationist policy, by substantively engaging the Dalai Lama or his representatives, and by inviting the Dalai Lama to China,” Dobriansky said.

Lodi Gyari, who has participated in the dialogue with the Chinese government on behalf of the Dalai Lama, said the Dalai Lama “very clearly reaffirms his commitment to seek a solution, not independence for Tibet, but for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.” Gyari said that even though regional autonomy is written into the Chinese Constitution, it is not implemented sufficiently.

Actor Richard Gere, long an activist for Tibetan rights, said that with China’s increasingly significant global role “an intensified public discourse on China” is warranted. “Americans expect and need solid analysis of China’s issues from our politicians,” he said.

“China's breakneck economic success has, in Tibet, led to inappropriate economic and social policies that make certain the even further, and perhaps permanent, marginalization of Tibetans,” Gere said, adding: “These policies, which are rapidly transforming Tibet, are based on an urban technocratic model that favors Chinese settlers and does not take into account Tibetans' needs, Tibetans' views or the way of life that has sustained them most successfully on the highest plateau of Asia for centuries.”

Dobriansky said President Bush is concerned about the Tibet issue and consistently brings it up every time he meets Chinese officials. She said there is concern that “in the area of religious freedom, there has not been improvement.”

 “We care a great deal about the welfare of Tibetan refugees,” she said. The United States funds humanitarian aid to Tibetan refugees outside Tibet. Inside the TAR, U.S. funding for development programs is channeled through the Tibet Fund. The Tibet Fund receives funding from foundations, corporations and numerous individuals. The congressionally mandated Humanitarian Assistance Grant from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Tibetan Scholarship Program from the Fulbright Program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are important sources of funding for The Tibet Fund.

“China’s positions on human rights and democracy are examples of areas in which we do not see eye to eye,” Dobriansky said, but the United States strives to encourage the Chinese government to match growth of economic freedom with the growth of political freedom, including freedom of speech, assembly and worship.

The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal later in 2007. The award dates back to 1776 and it is the highest civilian award given by the U.S. Congress. The first recipient was George Washington. More recent recipients include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, and Mother Teresa.

The full text of the 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights is available on the State Department Web site.