First of all, on behalf of all Tibetans and particularly the Tibetan Youth Congress, which is the largest non-governmental organization, I'd like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address this important parliamentary session.
Acts of aggression on Tibet by the People's Republic of China started in 1949 soon after its formation, and by 1959 the PRC had consolidated its illegitimate rule over Tibet. This resulted in His Holiness the Dalai Lama's flight into exile and the establishment of the exile Tibetan government in India.
Over half a century of China's rule in Tibet has led to the death of more than 1.2 million Tibetans due to starvation, execution, torture, and long-term imprisonment.
The latest act of protest by Tibetans through self-immolation is a powerful non-violent resistance and the highest form of sacrifice a human being can make. Between February 2000 and January 2013 there have been 99 confirmed cases of self-immolation protests, 82 in 2012 alone. In this month of January there have been four self-immolations.
With such a surge in these protests and concerns that this number will only increase, there is an urgent need to explain these actions to the outside world. Therefore I thank you for this opportunity to address the House on these self-immolations taking place on the Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan Youth Congress recognizes these acts as the ultimate form of non-violent resistance against China's occupation. Of the 99 reported cases, 86 died and the whereabouts and physical condition of 13 remain unknown. The oldest was a 65-year-old grandfather, and the youngest was 15 years old. The average age of the self-immolators is about 25.
Apart from deaths due to self-immolations, there also have been reported deaths due to the consumption of poison and jumping into rivers.
The self-immolations have taken place all across the Tibetan plateau and have included monks, nuns, parents, students, nomads, farmers, and intellectuals. Some of the self-immolators left behind children as young as a few months old.
A 32-year old mother of 4, Rinchen, died after setting her body on fire near a military camp in eastern Tibet. Her eldest child is 13, while the youngest is a few months old. The children became orphans, as Rinchen's husband had passed away a year before.
A father of two, Tsegyal, 27 years old, self-immolated on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party's 18th National Congress on November 7, 2012, in Bankar Village in Driru County in Kham in eastern Tibet. Tsegyal was immediately taken into police custody subsequent to his actions and succumbed to his injuries and prolonged neglect and ill-treatment in custody. During his detention he reportedly received no treatment for his burns and finally died on the evening of November 18 in police custody. Details of this incident surfaced a month after his protest. Tsegyal left behind two children, a six-year-old and an eight-month-old infant.
On January 22, 2013, Kunchok Kyab set himself on fire in Bora, in Amdo, northeastern Tibet, to protest against China's rule. He left behind a nine-month old baby.
The Beijing government's response to the spate of self-immolations has been stepping up security, intensifying oppression, arrest, detention, torture, intimidation, and aggressively vilifying the self-immolators by calling them terrorists and mentally sick and stating that the protests were committed by people who previously had been punished for wrongdoings such as whoring, gambling, and burglary, or who were deep in dept because of gambling. The Beijing government also resorted to corrupt practices by detaining spouses of protestors for their refusal to accept bribes to claim that their husbands or wives self-immolated due to family disputes. It also offered cash rewards of $8,000 or $30,000 for intelligence and information about impending or past self-immolations.
In many cases, Chinese authorities have confiscated the bodies of self-immolators and barred family members from carrying out religious rites and rituals after their death. Security forces arrest witnesses, family members, and relatives of those who have chosen to take this non-violent action. Citizen journalists who have relayed information to the outside world have been arrested, tortured, and sentenced to long prison terms. In a further use of intimidation, China's supreme court, the top prosecution body, and police issued a joint legal opinion whereby the charge of intentional murder should apply to anyone urging Tibetans to set themselves alight.
Efforts at damage control and attempts to avert international criticism and scrutiny also included blaming the exile community, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Youth Congress for instigating these protests. Earlier this month, China's official Xinhua News Agency it said that police investigation found that the self-immolation by a 26-year-old in Gansu Province’s Hezuo City was “masterminded by key members of the 'Tibetan Youth Congress' of the overseas Dalai clique”.
Additionally, to hide the real situation from the world, foreign media are banned from Tibet and travel is curtailed for non-Chinese tourists. Within Tibet Beijing has imposed strict restrictions on freedom of movement for Tibetans in their own homeland.
If there are any questions as to why such an unprecedented number of Tibetans have resorted to this form of protest, then the last testaments left by some of the self-immolators provide answers. As poet, writer, and blogger Gudrup, a 41-year-old who self-immolated in October 2012, said:
||Since China is uninterested in the well being of the Tibetan people, we are sharpening our nonviolent movement. We are declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom of Tibet. ... We will win the battle through truth, by shooting the arrows of our lives, by using the bow of our mind.
In their last message, Choephak Kyab and Sonam, both in their twenties, who set themselves ablaze on April 19, 2012, said that since the Chinese occupation, Tibetans suffer without basic human rights and it was for this reason, and in order for peace to prevail on earth, that they were offering their lives by setting themselves on fire. They said that the suffering of Tibetans without basic human rights is far worse than the suffering that they would endure when they set themselves on fire. They said, “You must do as we have written. Even if the Chinese take us away, do not do anything. We will be happy if nobody gets harmed because of us.”
Likewise, in his last message, Tamding Thar, in his fifties, who self-immolated on June 15, 2012, said:
||I am setting myself on fire as an offering of light with hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet, that peace will prevail on earth, and that Tibet will be ruled by Tibetans.
On 19 February 2012, 18-year-old Nangdrol set himself on fire. In his last message he said, “May Tibetan people be free from China’s oppressive rule. There is immense suffering under China’s rule, and this suffering is unbearable. There is no way to further endure this Chinese occupation, its terrible rule, this torture without trace.”
The fundamental aspirations and reasons for the self-immolators to choose this non-violent action are clear from these messages. The Chinese government and the world at large should not misinterpret these acts as ethnic conflicts or China’s flawed repressive policies or simply as a struggle for religious freedom. The immolations are a symptom of a far greater problem: the Chinese occupation of Tibet. As long as China continues to occupy Tibet and oppress the Tibetan people, they will continue to resist.
Additionally, supporting China’s aggressive condemnation of the immolations as an act of violence is to blame the victim while completely neglecting to see the violence of the oppressor. Rather than debating the ethics of immolation, we need to look at the horrible conditions that motivated these actions. Without solving the root problem, the immolations will persist because Beijing's rule of over half a century has only resulted in cultural destruction, economic marginalization, and irreparable environmental damage.
Furthermore, forcing the Tibetans to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and undermine his spiritual leadership only exacerbates the grim situation. Tibetans place high hopes on democratic countries such as yours to pressure China to respect and fulfill the aspirations of Tibetans who set themselves on fire. To this effect, I would like to request this Parliament to address the recommendations that follow.
The first is to send a fact-finding parliamentary delegation into Tibet.
The next is to issue a statement and pass a resolution in the Canadian Parliament condemning China’s continued occupation and its oppression of the Tibetan people, leading to self-immolation, harassment of relatives and friends, and a crackdown on citizen journalists and human rights defenders.
Finally, recognize that Canadian companies doing business with China, such as Continental Minerals, Lara Exploration, Eldorado Gold, Inter-Citic Minerals, Sterling Group Ventures, Bombardier, and Vancouver-based China Gold International Resources—as well as the Nexen-CNOOC deal, etc.—are indirectly funding PRC’s human rights abuses and its undermining of Tibet’s unique culture, language, tradition, and fragile ecosystem.
I put these recommendations before you on behalf of six million Tibetans, especially those who have set themselves on fire. This resistance movement in Tibet will continue unless those in the world who have power break their silence and, above all, hold China accountable for forcing Tibetans to take such drastic actions. By speaking up, you are not only standing in solidarity with the Tibetan cause but also defending your own democratic values.
The world recognized and supported Thich Quang Duc, who self-immolated in 1963 to protest against discrimination and mistreatment of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, which ultimately led to the end of Diem’s regime. In the same way, I strongly urge the world to support Tibet’s struggle for freedom and to stand in solidarity with those Tibetans who have set themselves on fire so that their basic aspirations are met and this non-violent action does not spiral out of control.
History condemns those who walked silently away from holocausts and genocides. The tragedy of Tibet is playing out before a largely mute world audience. To believe that the People's Republic of China cannot be brought to book for its illegal rule in Tibet is to slide onto the wrong side of history.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Canada and its people for allowing a large number of exiled Tibetans to reside here and make this country their second home. The fact that you have given me this opportunity to stand before you is a clear indication of your support to Tibet and its people in their pursuit of freedom. It also shows Canada’s strength and courage to face China.
First of all, I'd like to thank the foreign affairs subcommittee for the opportunity to speak in front of you.
I'd like to say that there are no human rights in Tibet. I myself am evidence, and I'd like to express that as a witness.
China accuses Tibetans of not following His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is not true.
In Tibet, there are actually two sources of livelihood. Some people lead a nomadic life, and some people farm. China does not allow that to happen either.
For example, I myself am a farmer and I cannot actually grow grain on the land. China would force us to grow wood and grass.
To do that, they actually give us little support in order for us to grow those things.
Recently there has been huge stress from repressive policies inside Tibet. It actually started in the district and is now in the villages. Finally, in 2008, the Chinese army would come into our village and go to each family's unit and asked the family members to sign something saying they would like to go against His Holiness's wishes. If we did not do that, we would be punished and we would not be given any sanctions or help. Tibetans would never do that, because we consider His Holiness a spiritual leader of Tibet.
Tibetans would never do that. We would never go against His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama, but if someone did not go against them, their family members would disappear. Either the father, the mother, or members of the family would disappear.
They are Communists. We regard highly His Holiness the Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama. Actually, China's policies are very bad.
Because of the ongoing repressive policies against Tibetans living in Tibet, we were forced to protest in 2008. I did not actually break any law; I just exercised my right at that time.
I simply exercised my right on that day, March 24. I was only trying to save a monk and protect him. At that time there were two shots fired, and one went through my back and pierced through my kidney in the front. The other one, after I had taken about three steps, went through my forearm and shattered my forearm bones.
The high lamas, the spiritual heads of the monastery, would advise all Tibetans to remain non-violent, and would also constantly advise them to remain peaceful, but those highly regarded lamas would then be poisoned or blinded, or they would be mentally tortured. Sometimes they would be imprisoned for two or three months, and they would finally disappear and also lose their lives.
I stand here today on behalf of the Tibetans inside Tibet to talk about the horrifying situation that's happening inside Tibet. My situation is actually very small in comparison to the lives that have been lost and the torture that people have experienced inside Tibet.
The Chinese government tries to insinuate that Tibetans living inside Tibet are happy, that they are liberated and live normal lives. However, that is not true. The suffering of Tibetan people inside is similar to imprisonment, similar to staying in a prison setting.
For example, in Tibet, in the valleys there is what's called the grass worm. Tibetans live on that, but the Chinese would not even allow them to dig them. If you continue to do so—dig the worm and not sign the agreement that the Chinese government puts in—then your support, which is about 500 yuan, would be lessened, and maybe in the future you might be imprisoned.
Tibetans inside live in a very desperate situation. Human beings consider the self-life as having the highest value, and people are actually sacrificing their own lives by setting themselves on fire. It's not just one or two; there have now been more than a hundred. Tibetans living inside Tibet are forcefully and desperately sacrificing their lives. Not only that, but the family members of those who have self-immolated are actually blamed for instigating these horrifying deaths.