17 November 2009
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister:
The Canada Tibet Committee (CTC) is deeply concerned about the protection of human rights in Tibet, including but not limited to freedom of religion, expression and due process. The CTC supports transparent, principled, and constructive engagement with China through a comprehensive, across departmental strategy that encompasses all facets of our relationship and that puts human rights at the centre.
We believe that it is essential that during your visit to China, you make the strongest possible representations over China’s use of the death penalty, lack of fair judicial process, religious repression and continued human rights abuses against the Tibetan people. When you meet President Hu, we urge you to move beyond pro forma statements of support for Tibet in order to make real progress toward a fair and lasting resolution for the Tibetan people and to make Tibet a substantive and results-oriented part of the agenda during your visit.
Recent issues inside Tibet
On April 8th, 2009, Chinese state media (Xinhua) reported that two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, were sentenced to death in connection with protests in Tibet’s capital on March 14th, 2008. These death sentences are the first handed down in Tibet since 2002. In light of their execution on October 20th, following trials that failed to meet even minimal international judicial standards, we urge you to condemn these executions and press for a moratorium on capital punishment in Tibet.
The trials that have taken place of Tibetans for their alleged roles in last year’s protests have been conducted in secrecy and in the absence of even the most basic level of legal oversight and due process. Human Rights Watch has recently revealed a judicial system so highly politicised as to preclude any possibility of fair trials for Tibetans.
The Chinese government’s recent decision to de-license, intimidate or otherwise restrict the right of lawyers to work on human rights cases is an affront to due process. This matter was raised in a June report by the Chinese NGO Human Rights. In 2008, a number of Chinese lawyers were also prevented from defending Tibetan citizens who were charged as a result of last year’s uprising.
The CTC urges you to call upon the Chinese government to halt this systemic interference in due process and the rights of China’s legal profession. At this juncture it is critical that China’s legal profession be afforded every opportunity at capacity building, including but not limited to respect for the rule of law.
Persecution of Tibet Activists
We raise the specific case of Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen. His film ‘Leaving Fear Behind’ premiered in Beijing in 2008. It documents Tibetans discussing their views on Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese government detained and charged Dhondup with “inciting separatism”. Born in 1974, Dhondup is being held in Xining (Qinghai Province) and will soon be put on trial.
With the CTC, close to 30 Canadian filmmakers including Emmy, Genie, Gemini and Jutra nominees and award winners signed an Open Letter to President Hu in August calling for his release. Dhondup, and other prisoners of conscience, should be offered sanctuary in Canada.
Denial of religious freedom
Last month, the U.S. State Department reported that religious repression in Tibet is “high” and Chinese government control over monasteries and other religious institutions is “extraordinarily tight.”
A common theme throughout the State Department’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report is the interference by Chinese authorities in the traditional norms, curricula and depth of study of Tibetan Buddhism, ranging from limiting the number of monks at monasteries, limiting where monks can travel for religious training – from refusing to issue passports for foreign travel through to refusing permission to travel within a single county; and from co-opting the education of young reincarnated lamas to pressuring government employees to withdraw their children from all forms of religious education.
The report details the restrictions on religious freedom for ordinary Tibetans, including the sometimes severe sanctions against people for displaying any form of spiritual devotion to the Dalai Lama, or to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the young boy recognized by the Dalai Lama to be the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, who was subsequently “disappeared” by the Chinese authorities. Restrictions on showing devotion even stretched to a ban on naming children when authorities “prohibited the registration of names for children that included one or more of the names of the Dalai Lama or certain names included on a list of blessed names approved by the Dalai Lama.”
Also detailed are numerous cases of Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as lay people, who were “subjected to extrajudicial punishments, such as beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods,” whereas “the bodies of some people who […] died during interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than being returned to their families.”
We hope you will take this opportunity to reassure Tibetans and others in China persecuted for attempting to freely exercise their faith that Canada stands with them.
Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue
The CTC does support the reestablishment of a Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue between Canada and China if it is transparent, accountable and multi-departmental with the inclusion of civil society from both countries. The dialogue should form an integral part of our Strategic Partnership, with trade and investment policy reinforcing human rights objectives. For China, the dialogue should be managed through various agencies of the Chinese government with a mandate for domestic programming in human rights areas, including those of minority rights.
Civil society groups, including Diaspora NGOs, with established experience in China and Canada should participate in all aspects of the dialogue, including organizing side-events or other forms of interaction with their counterparts. The Dialogue must be focused on a long-term approach with a baseline, objectives and ongoing results monitoring. Outcomes must incorporate key human rights principles, particularly participation, transparency and accountability.
In summary, we ask that you raise the following issues with President Hu and appropriate authorities and that the deliverables from the China visit include concrete progress on these issues.
1. The release of Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen;
2. The long-standing request for access to Gedun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama;
3. The provision of humane treatment and verifiable due process for all Tibetans in detention and in all future trials, as enshrined in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China;
4. Respect for religious freedom
5. Canada’s readiness to host a dialogue on Tibet in 2010 between China and representatives of His Holiness; and
6. Canada’s firm and principled opposition to use of the death penalty.
We also ask that we have an opportunity to meet and share with you our ideas on how Canada can best engage in a principled and constructive engagement with China on human rights as part of a "whole of Government" approach to better realize all aspects of Canadian interests with this very important nation.