International Human Rights Day
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
In 1950, the same year that His Holiness the Dalai Lama assumed political power at the age of fifteen, the United Nations proclaimed International Human Rights Day as an annual reminder that basic rights and freedoms are the common concern of all Governments and all peoples. Less than two weeks later, on December 22, 1950, the Dalai Lama was forced to temporarily flee Tibet’s capital city Lhasa following threats against his safety made by invading Chinese forces.
Today, almost 64 years later, International Human Rights Day marks the 25th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize award to the Dalai Lama. In conferring this honour to His Holiness, the Nobel Committee said, “In the opinion of the committee, the Dalai Lama has come forward with constructive and forward looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues, and global environmental problems”.
Sadly, despite consistence adherence to such constructive proposals, there has been little progress towards resolving the conflict in Tibet. The Tibetan people continue to struggle under the yoke of Chinese oppression and, as he nears the age of 80, the Dalai Lama continues to live in exile in India while his dreams of returning home remain elusive.
Here in Canada, the national polity is often described in terms of shared common values including democracy, rule of law, and human rights. In our increasingly integrated world, however, such lofty values are themselves at risk if they are not actively protected and promoted both here at home and in the countries where Canadians are engaged via family connections, cultural history, or economic relations.
The past year has been a difficult one for the Tibetan people. The human rights violations they experience on a daily basis are systemic and rooted in a political system that seeks to eliminate all aspects of Tibetan identity. Tibetans have limited opportunity for recourse in the face of asymmetrical power relations while efforts to generate support from the international community have been disappointing. Democratic countries increasingly opt to decrease overt support for the Tibetan cause in order to protect commercial interests and encourage Chinese investment.
Mr. Prime Minister, it is easy to stand up for human rights when there is no cost to be paid. The challenge for Canadians is this – are we ready to defend our national values when there is no financial gain to be made or when potential economic benefits might be placed at risk?
We believe that Canada’s close economic relationship with China should be leveraged as an opportunity to promote human rights. We urge Canada to work together with like-minded governments in an effort to increase pressure on the Government of China to respect human rights in Tibet. We offer the following recommendations:
· Appeal to Chinese authorities to urgently grant medical parole to political prisoner, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Rinpoche has been has been imprisoned for more than seven years and is known to be seriously ill. International pressure is required so that he is released from prison at the earliest possible date;
· Monitor the activities of Canadian companies active in Tibet, and create a “Tibet Desk” within the Canadian Embassy in Beijing to brief investors about human rights concerns in Tibetan areas, and to provide best practice examples for addressing potential impacts of Canadian investment on human rights in Tibet;
· Encourage the Government of China to allow the religious pilgrimage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Buddhist holy places including Wutai Shan;
· Encourage China to re-engage negotiations with envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in accordance with the principles laid out in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People (2008) and its addendum (2010).
The Board of Directors and members of the Canada Tibet Committee acknowledge and appreciate Canada’s longstanding tradition of defending human rights in Tibet and around the world. We remain committed to working with the Government of Canada to develop new and innovative ways to ensure that this tradition continues so that the Tibetan people may soon live in peace.