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Lobsang Sangay
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Lobsang Sangay
2016-11-23 13:04
Thank you, Chairman Michael Levitt and members of the human rights subcommittee.
It's a great honour to be back at the subcommittee today. I'll speak about the current human rights situation in Tibet.
Historically, Tibet was an independent country. It's under occupation now and there is political repression, economic marginalization, social discrimination, cultural assimilation, and environmental destruction.
The size of Tibet is also important, because some people think it's a small place in the Himalayas, but it is as big as western Europe or, in an American context, California and Texas combined. It is 2.5 million square kilometres of land. It is also called the third pole because after Antarctica and the Arctic, it has the highest reserve of ice. The top 10 major rivers of Asia flow from the Tibetan Plateau: Indus, Sutlej, Bhahmaputra, Mekong, Salween, Yangtze, and Yellow River, among others. Hence, Tibet, as far as size is concerned, is big. Environmentally speaking it is vital, and from a civilization point of view, it's very old, ancient, and its culture is also very rich.
As the chairman just mentioned, when I came last time, there were self-immolations taking place and, the number of them has now reached 145. Among the self-immolators, there were young and old, teachers, students, monks, nuns, nomads, farmers, people from all walks of life and all parts of Tibet. That clearly shows the desperation and determination of the Tibetan people, and it is still going on. It also reflects that the repressive policies of the Chinese government are so severe that people resort to burning themselves. Of the 145, more than 120 have died.
I must make it very clear that of the 145 Tibetans who have committed self-immolation, none of them have harmed even a single Chinese person or property. Self-immolation is a violent way to die, but it's not violence because it has not caused any harm to any Chinese person or property.
Similarly, there is almost the same level of repression that there was in the cultural revolution era. As you know, after the occupation of Tibet in 1959, by 1962, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government had destroyed 98% of monasteries and nunneries; 99.99% of monks and nuns were defrocked, sent to prison, tortured, or made to do forced labour, and many died.
Now, there is almost a revival of that situation, because, as we speak, the Larung Gar monastery and Yachen Gar are being destroyed, are being demolished. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 monks and nuns in that area. Voluntarily, Tibetans and Chinese have come to build their own shelters and shacks to be with their religious teachers.
In 2001, the Chinese government destroyed a major portion of the Larung Gar monastery and, as we speak, a second phase of destruction is going on because the Chinese government wants to reduce the number of monks and nuns from 30,000 to 6,000.
We fear that this is just the beginning of the destruction, because they will continue similar destruction to other monasteries and nunneries all over Tibet.
I think the Chinese government has a draft of a religious policy that is very repressive, that is very restrictive. If this Larung Gar monastery goes on, followed by destruction of other monasteries, I think then the very repressive religious policy will be introduced. That's our biggest fear.
I hope the current Government of Canada, which advocates human rights, religious freedom, and environmental protection, will take this situation into consideration and speak for the Tibetan people who are suffering in Tibet.
Also on the economic front of human rights, if you go to the capital city of Lhasa, I think 75% to 80% of shops, restaurants, and businesses are owned or run by Chinese, and at least 10 to15 years ago there were signboards outside, clearly inviting people to apply for jobs within. The salaries, if you were Chinese, were $50 a day, but if you were Tibetan, were $30 a day. Imagine in Ottawa if there were shops with a sign saying that if you are Chinese we'll give you $50 a day but if you're Canadian we will give you $30 a day. How would you feel?
Not only is there domination or control of the economy by Chinese in urban areas, and now increasingly in certain rural areas but also there is blatant discrimination, so economic marginalization in Tibetan areas is also real.
The Chinese government has come out with a grid system, which is very intrusive. For example, every nomad and farmer is issued an ID card with second-generation biometric chips in it. Having an ID card with biometric chips sounds kind of logical, but what it does is to monitor the movement of nomads and farmers. Each time you travel within Tibet, there are very many Chinese police checkpoints. You keep swiping your ID card and some days they'll track you down, and ask where you're from and where you have been, and that could land you in trouble as well.
Surveillance is taking place all over Tibet. I have seen photographs of kind of small remote villages, and they have a gate on top of which they have put cameras. The surveillance, the grid system, and the biometric ID chips are very intrusive and repressive for the Tibetan people.
On the economic front, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which was historically known as central Tibet, they have “upgraded” the Tibetan towns or prefectures to a city level. From a developmental point of view, upgrading a town to a city looks like progress, but in towns there are certain regulations that protect the local residents and also provide some subsidies to local residents. When you upgrade to a city level, it opens it up for Chinese migrants to come in and dominate the economy and control the system.
From a developmental point of view, when you say you have upgraded Tibetan towns into cities, it looks like progress, but in actuality it helps Chinese migrants to come and control business and the economy. Hence, in that way also Tibetans are facing discrimination as far as the economy is concerned.
I would like to touch on Tibet being vital, as far as the environment is concerned, but there's also a human rights element to it. As we speak, in Deqin County in Yunnan province, there are Chinese, but in the Kham area, the nomads, mainly farmers, are also protesting against Chinese companies that have come to mine a sacred mountain in the area. A Chinese company wants to go and exploit the minerals that are there in the mountain. Farmers have come out and they're protesting, but now they're being beaten up; some are being arrested, and some are being put behind bars and labelled as splitists. This is a political act.
Actually, Tibetans are simply protecting a sacred mountain, which they worship, which they regard and respect very highly. That kind of exploitation is going on. Unfortunately, it's not only in Deqin County. The mineral extraction that is going on in the Tibetan areas is happening without due regard for the sustainability and protection of the local environment, without being culturally sensitive, and worse, without benefiting local Tibetans. The Chinese companies bring their own workers; they exploit it; and they take the minerals back to China without much benefit to the Tibetan people.
This is serious, because Tibet is the water tower of Asia. As I said, Tibet is the “third pole” according to some Chinese environmentalists as well, because after the Antarctic and the Arctic, Tibet has the third-highest reserve of ice. I think 14.5% of glaciers are in the Tibetan plateau. The difference is that in the Antarctic and the Arctic, when the ice melts, it goes to the ocean, but when the Tibetan glaciers melt, they form fresh water and turn into rivers; hence all the top major rivers of Asia flow from the Tibetan area.
That fresh water provides water to 1.4 billion people in Asia. According to Chinese environmentalists, 50% of the Tibetan glaciers have already melted. By 2100, 80% of the glaciers will disappear. If that happens and Tibet dries up, what will happen to the 1.4 billion people downstream who are basically surviving on Tibetan water, whether they're in agriculture, fisheries, or any kind of businesses depending on Tibetan fresh water? Tibet is thus vital from an environmental point of view as well.
Finally, I want to conclude by asking where the solution is. How can we move forward? I propose the middle way approach, which is to seek genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people. The middle way approach is the middle of two extremes, two views.
There is repression going on. We say that the Chinese government should end the repression of the Tibetan people and grant genuine autonomy, as per Chinese laws, and within China. If that happens, we will not seek separation from China or independence from China. This is a win-win proposition, and I think Canada can play an instrumental role because of its own experience towards minorities here in Canada.
The Canadian government stance towards first nations and Quebec is that the Canadian government is willing to address and solve these issues and to grant as much autonomy as possible and permitted within the Canadian constitution. Similarly, a middle way approach seeks genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution. We say that if the Chinese government implemented its own laws, we could take that as genuine autonomy and we would not seek separation from China.
This is a win-win proposition for the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. This is my request to the Government of Canada. It could play a very important role, given the experience that Canada has, which it could share with the Chinese government.
To do that, we must have dialogue between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese representatives. From 2002 to 2010 we have had nine rounds of dialogue. The envoys of the Dalai Lama have talked to Chinese representatives nine times, but the last discussion was in January 2010. We have to continue the dialogue, and I hope the Government of Canada will play an instrumental role in reviving that dialogue.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I will end my short presentation.
Thank you.
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