Congressman McGovern Meets Dalai Lama, Renews Call for Strengthening Human Rights in Tibet

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Jim and the Dalai Lama! Human rights for ALL people!

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the Dalai Lama visiting the United States this week, Congressman Jim McGovern led a group of lawmakers on the House floor on Monday, June 13th in a tribute to the leader of Tibet, calling for action to strengthen human rights in Tibet. Click here for video of Congressman McGovern’s opening remarks on the House floor.

“As we seek to comprehend the senseless violence of the massacre of at least 49 people yesterday in Orlando, and the wounding of more than 50 others – most members of the LGBT community, many of Hispanic descent, all just out trying to enjoy their lives on a Saturday night – I can think of no better source of words of wisdom, tolerance and peace than His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” Congressman McGovern said on the House floor. “He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. His is a voice of tolerance.”

On Tuesday, June 14th, Congressman McGovern joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers in a meeting with the Dalai Lama in the U.S. Capitol.

This follows a November 2015 trip taken by McGovern, Pelosi, and other lawmakers to Tibet and China to keep a spotlight on human rights issues in Tibet.

“I have been inspired by the Tibetan people and outraged by the Chinese government’s treatment of them. To be blunt – it is unconscionable, and it is worsening,” McGovern added in his speech on the House floor. “We need to be doing something different. We need to have the guts to take some action. The Dalai Lama is praised and admired around the world, with heads of state and international organizations declaring how much they care about Tibet and worry about abuses against the Tibetan people. But nothing changes.

“We must all come together now to change the status quo, to change the game the Chinese government has been playing for so many decades. The situation is urgent – it can wait no longer. And shame on us if we stand by, with empty words, and continue to watch the people of Tibet suffer, and their culture, religion and way of life be exterminated, day by day, year by year, until nothing is left.

“As we welcome the Dalai Lama to Washington, I call on my government, my colleagues in this Chamber, the Tibetan diaspora and all Americans to come together, to be creative, to imagine a world that respects and honors the ancient Tibetan culture, and to act on that vision.”

Full Text of Congressman McGovern’s Speech is Below:

“This week Washington is blessed by the presence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who is visiting the city June 12th through the 16th for several events and meetings. This visit provides us not only the opportunity to listen to the Dalai Lama speak about the modern world and confronting conflict, but also to take a look at the crisis facing Tibet and the Tibetan people, and to ask why the United States is not doing more to protect the rights and support the autonomy of Tibetan people.

“As we seek to comprehend the senseless violence of the massacre of at least 49 people yesterday in Orlando, and the wounding of more than 50 others – most members of the LGBT community, many of Hispanic descent, all just out trying to enjoy their lives on a Saturday night – I can think of no better source of words of wisdom, tolerance and peace than His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

A few words on the Dalai Lama

“By way of welcoming the Dalai Lama, I would like to say a few words about him and his leadership.

“The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama when he was only two years old, and he was only six when he began his monastic studies.

“But years before he finished his education, when he was still a teenager, he was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950. When in 1954 he went to Beijing for peace talks with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders, he was not yet 20. Five years later, with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile. Since 1959 he has been living in Dharamsala in northern India – that’s more than 60 years of exile.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions. He is a warm, generous, compassionate man with a great sense of humor.

“He is also a man of peace. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, and prizes, in recognition of his messages of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. His is a voice for tolerance.

“Unfortunately, as we all know, Tibet has not been liberated. In the late 1990s, under the Dalai Lama’s leadership, the Tibetan people formally put aside the goal of recuperating their independence. Since then, they have been fighting – peacefully — for their autonomy within China.

“But that struggle is not going very well today. And part of the reason it’s not going well is that the international community today is more interested in not offending China than in vigorously supporting the human rights of the Tibetan people. It seems to me that my own government has fallen into this trap.

“I am looking forward to the Dalai Lama’s visit this week, and I know that the leadership of the House and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will welcome him with the greatest appreciation. But it’s easy to praise the Dalai Lama, meet with him, and benefit from his teachings, yet not lift a finger to help the people of Tibet. The Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan people, deserve better.

Tibetan Democracy

“The Tibetan people are setting a democratic example for the world.

“The Dalai Lama’s own values and commitments are deeply democratic. He has consistently argued for democratic forms of government for the Tibetan people.

“The Charter of Tibetans in Exile, which dates from the 1960s, enshrines freedom of speech, belief, assembly and movement. Today, in an example for the whole world, the political leadership of the Tibetan people living outside of China is in the hands of democratically-elected officials.

“Every five years, in two rounds of voting, the tens of thousands of Tibetans who live in more than 30 countries outside of China elect both the Sikyong, the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, and the 45 members of the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies. The most recent election cycle began last October, with two candidates, the incumbent and a challenger, competing for Sikyong and 94 candidates competing for seats in the 16th Tibetan Parliament.

“The final round of voting was held on March 20, complete with the presence of an observation mission of the International Network of Parliamentarians on Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet. Election results were announced in late April. Of the 90,000 Tibetans registered, more than 59,000 voted.

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dr. Lobsang Sangay on his reelection as Sikyong, as well as the 45 newly elected members of the Tibetan parliament.

“This election, conducted all around the world, reflects Tibetans’ strong commitment to democracy, and sets an example for China.

November 2015 CODEL

“Last November I had the honor of joining Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and my colleagues Joyce Beatty, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Betty McCollum and Timothy Walz on an historic Congressional delegation to Tibet, Beijing and Hong Kong.

“I have long raised concerns about China’s human rights record in Tibet. As the first Congressional delegation to enter Tibet since the 2008 unrest, our trip was an important opportunity to raise the voices of the Tibetan people, and we did just that.

“Everywhere we went, in every meeting we had, we talked about Tibet; we talked about the Dalai Lama and his strong bipartisan support in Congress; we talked about the importance of respect for people’s culture and religion; and we talked about the need to strengthen and protect all the human rights of the Tibetan people.

“During the delegation visit, we felt we had a good exchange with Chinese officials and, especially, with university students, both in Tibet and Beijing. We saw our trip, and especially the delegation’s visit to Tibet, as an important gesture by the Chinese government. But it was also clear to us that our visit was only a first step, and that much more needs to be done. Since our return, we have been looking for ways to build on our visit, and to advance the reforms needed for meaningful change.

“Here are some of the things we identified that need to happen, specifically with regard to Tibet:

· The United States needs to open a consulate in Lhasa, Tibet.
· More Members of Congress, more journalists, more members of parliament from other nations, and more people in general – including members of the Tibetan community here in the United States – need to be allowed to travel freely to Tibet.
· Tibetans in China need to be able to travel freely, as well.
· The dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama to resolve longstanding issues of Tibetan autonomy, religious practice, culture, language and heritage needs to be renewed.

“I came away from our visit believing even more strongly that the Dalai Lama is part of the solution to resolving Tibetan grievances.

“Too often during our trip, we heard from some — not all, but some — Chinese officials, expressions and characterizations of Tibet and the Dalai Lama showing that people’s minds and imaginations are stuck in the past, in old prejudices. This concerned me greatly. The issue is not the past. The issue is the future of Tibet and its people.

“Renewing dialogue must be genuine and productive, and it cannot be just another guise for wasting time or going through the motions. We need to see a dialogue based on good faith and the mutual need to resolve outstanding issues in a way that is acceptable to all parties.

“Undertaking such an initiative would be a positive reflection on the capacity of Chinese authorities to engage in constructive dialogue, and would increase confidence the world over that the government is committed to reconciliation and ending abuses in Tibet.

“The Chinese government has invested a great deal in Tibet, and that was very clear to us. But that investment must not come at the price of an entire culture. You cannot confine a people’s culture and heritage – their very sense of identity – to a museum or a market of handicrafts.

“The human rights of the Tibetan people must be strengthened and protected, and I returned from the delegation visit with a renewed commitment to continue to work with my colleagues in Congress, with Leader Pelosi, to push for the reforms needed to achieve this. This is the reason we are here today.

Violations of the rights of the Tibetan people

“Terrible violations of the human rights of the Tibetan people by Chinese authorities have been occurring since the days of the Chinese invasion back in 1950. These violations have been consistently documented and publicized. All three UN General Assembly resolutions on Tibet – 1959, 1961, 1964 – recognize the violation of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people, including the right to self-determination. It’s not like the world can say it doesn’t know.

“In its latest annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that, and I quote, “In 2015, the Chinese government maintained tight control of Tibetan Buddhists, strictly monitoring and suppressing their cultural and religious practices. Government-led raids on monasteries continued, and Chinese party officials in Tibet infiltrated monasteries with Communist Party propaganda. Reports indicated increased government interference in the education and training of young Buddhist monks.”

“Here’s some of what the U.S. State Department said in its most recent human rights report:

· ‘The government’s respect for, and protection of, human rights in the [Tibetan Autonomous Region, TAR] and other Tibetan areas remained poor. Under the professed objectives of controlling border areas, maintaining social stability, and combating separatism, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the ‘Dalai [Lama] Clique’ and “other outside forces” for instigating instability.”

· ‘[…] There was a perception among many Tibetans that authorities systemically targeted them for political repression, economic marginalization, and cultural assimilation, as well as educational and employment discrimination. The presence of […] security forces remained at high levels in many communities on the Tibetan Plateau […] Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Authorities detained individuals in Tibetan areas after they reportedly protested against government or business actions, or expressed their support for the Dalai Lama.”

“Human rights reports tend to be written in pretty dry language – they’re meant to be somehow “objective,” not emotional. Their credibility depends on not being hysterical.

“But you know what? We need some emotion here. It’s not enough to understand in some intellectual sense the terrible repression in Tibet.

“Tibetans themselves have tried to shock our conscience. Since 2009, 143 Tibetans inside China have self-immolated: 143 people have taken the unimaginable step of setting themselves on fire, some to protest Chinese government policies, others to call for the return of the Dalai Lama. Most of them are believed to have died as a result. On the map to my side, you can see where the self-immolations occurred. What a terrible thing to have to do to try to get the world’s attention.

“Seven of these self-immolations happened in 2015. That’s fewer than the 11 in 2014, and way fewer than the 83 reported in 2012. But this decline is not because things have gotten better for Tibetans. It’s not because China has done anything at all to address Tibetan grievances. No, China has responded to the self-immolations by intensifying reprisals.

“In 2012, the Chinese authorities decided that the motive of self-immolators was “generally to split the country” and so they criminalized activities supposedly associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.”

“According to an August 2014 report by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), since 2012 at least 11 Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms or death on charges of “intentional homicide” for allegedly “aiding” or “inciting” others to self-immolate. The report also listed 98 Tibetans punished since 2010 due to alleged association with a self-immolation.

“Suffice it to say, this is not the right approach.

“Just like it’s not the right approach for the Chinese government to try to take over the reincarnation process. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, also known as the Panchen Lama. Abducted at the age of six, the Panchen Lama has been held in secret by the Chinese government for more than two decades. Also in 2015, the government accused the Dalai Lama of “blasphemy” for suggesting he would not select a successor or reincarnate, effectively ending the line of succession – while also reiterating its own authority to select the next Dalai Lama.

“In case anyone has forgotten, the People’s Republic of China is officially atheist. I think we can probably all grasp the absurdity of having a government that professes atheism be the one to decide who the next Dalai Lama will be.

“Frankly, China is making one misstep after another in Tibet. Last July, Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had been serving a 20-year sentence after being falsely accused of separatism and terrorism, died in prison. Chinese authorities cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body against his family’s wishes and Buddhist practice, and detained his sister and niece for nearly two weeks after they requested his body be turned over to them.

“Tenzin Delek Rinpoche should never have died. He was ill, and many of us in the international community asked the Chinese authorities to grant him medical parole. They didn’t, and they bear responsibility for his death. And then to treat his body as they did – that was to pour salt in the wound.

“Or there’s the backstory to our CODEL. It seems that as we were preparing to travel to China last year, the Chinese authorities chose that moment to impose a lock down in Tibet.

“Here’s what a Tibetan living in Lhasa wrote about the conditions in late October and early November: “Lhasa was placed under extreme repression and the people were being constantly indoctrinated in political thoughts, using both violent and softer approaches. Free speech was also severely curtailed. So much so that people felt it difficult to even move their bodies […]”

“Anyone who thinks the human rights situation for the Tibetan people in China is improving, or is not so bad, is just wrong.”