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Canada Tibet Committee urges Canadian Commission for UNESCO - Stop the destruction of Lhasa’s Barkhor

May 30, 2013

Montreal, May 30, 2013 – In a letter sent earlier week, the Canada Tibet Committee has urged the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to ensure that China immediately halts construction of a shopping mall and underground parking lot in the Barkor, a historic and culturally unique section of Tibet’s capital city Lhasa.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is scheduled to meet in Cambodia in mid-June.  Canada does not currently hold a seat on the Committee but is a member of UNESCO.  Parks Canada will represent Canada at the WHC meeting.

 “Once the old buildings in Lhasa’s Barkor are destroyed, they can never be brought back” said Carole Samdup, Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee.  “It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that the Tibetan people never experience that loss.”

In its letter, the Canada Tibet Committee urges the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to recommend that the World Heritage Committee conduct an independent investigative mission to Lhasa.

In 2004, China made formal commitments at UNESCO to respect and protect Tibet’s architectural and cultural heritage sites including Lhasa’s old city, parts of which have existed for more than 1300 years.  The Barkor is home to the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s pre-eminent places of worship.  Every year thousands of Tibetan pilgrims make their way to Lhasa to circumambulate the Jokhang, many travelling on foot for weeks to complete the journey.

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May 27, 2013


Ms. Christina Cameron

Vice President

Canadian Commission for UNESCO


Dear Ms. Cameron,

As you may already be aware, recent reports emerging from Tibet’s capital Lhasa indicate that a massive modernization of the most ancient sections of the 1300 year old city pose an imminent risk of undoing UNESCO’s laudable efforts to protect this historic center of Tibet’s rich cultural heritage. 


This letter appeals to you, as an expert on the World Heritage Convention and built heritage, to ensure that the Canadian Commission for UNESCO expresses its concern about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lhasa to the World Heritage Committee (WHC) conference scheduled to take place next month in Cambodia.


UNESCO’s recognition of the significance of Lhasa’s old city was reflected in the WHC’s decisions adopted during its 28th session in 2004 which recommended that authorities “evaluate and redefine the current World Heritage protective boundaries and management guidelines pertaining to the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple (including the Barkor Historic Area) and Nobulingka, taking into consideration the heritage values of the surrounding landscape and environment…”


In 2011, the WHC reiterated an earlier request that China submit its conservation plan for these areas for review by an advisory board.  To our knowledge, no such plan has yet been submitted and yet rampant demolition is underway amid reports that a shopping mall and underground parking lot are already under construction. 


A group of international scholars has written to Mme. Irina Bukova, Director-General of UNESCO and to Chinese President Xi Jingping expressing their deepest concern and urging that immediate action be taken to avoid irreversible impacts of this ill-conceived development project.  In their petition, the scholars also emphasize that the destruction of centuries-old buildings in Lhasa will deprive Tibetans of an important “living connection” with their cultural history and identity, and that forced displacement of residents to make way for the new shopping mall will significantly diminish Tibetan presence around the revered Jokhang Temple.


As the WHC is scheduled to hear China’s report on compliance with its 2004 commitments during the upcoming session in Cambodia, the Canada Tibet Committee requests that the Canadian Commission for UNESCO urgently communicate with the WHC bureau to make the following recommendations:


·         That an independent investigative team, under UNESCO’s coordination, be dispatched to Lhasa as soon as possible;

·         That the WHC send a letter of concern to the Government of China requesting that it immediately stop development of Lhasa’s old city until an appropriate conservation plan is submitted to the WHC;

·         That Lhasa’s “old city” (Barkor) be considered for inclusion on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger”.


The Canada Tibet Committee believes that economic development can be undertaken in a manner that both respects and protects ancient architectural and cultural heritage sites. In this case, however, international pressure is needed to ensure that the necessary steps are taken.  The WHC presents an opportunity to apply that pressure and we are therefore looking to Canada to intervene on behalf of the Tibetan people at this very critical moment.



Carole Samdup

Executive Director


cc:        Hon. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs

            Hon. James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage

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