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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Voices for Tibet at the UN

June 16, 2010

Posted by Leslie Butterfield
ICT Blog
June 11, 2010

Over the past week and a half I had the
opportunity to speak out for Tibet at the 14th
session of the United Nations Human Rights
Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The experience
showed me the value and importance of countering the official Chinese rhetoric.

In March 2009, the Chinese government’s
presentation to the UNHRC sang their own praises
and accolades during their Universal Periodic
Review. In fact, throughout their tenure on the
HRC, the Chinese delegation has gone to great
lengths for self promotion, expounding upon their
self-proclaimed successes in development and
their "harmonious society." The lack of vocal
protest by many other member states paints a
cheery picture of the People’s Republic of China.

Thankfully however, not everyone will accept this
high-level propaganda. Take for example Mr. Frank
La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of
expression, who has continued to press the
Chinese for their censorship and harassment of
Tibetan writers and intellectuals. In an addendum
to the Special Rapporteur’s report during the
14th session of the UNHRC is a long list of
urgent appeals sent to the Chinese government
regarding the cases of many Tibetans facing repression by Chinese authorities.

Other mandate holders have also taken up appeals
with the Chinese government over Tibetans. During
this session of the council, these include the
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges
and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the
situation of human rights defenders, the Special
Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment, and the
Working Group on arbitrary detention. A joint
report by many of these mandate holders
highlighted the cases of three Tibetans who had
been or are currently secretly detained by Chinese officials.

At the current, 14th session of the UNHRC some
states have also challenged the Chinese
delegation’s assertions about their "harmonious
society." While the EU highlighted the situation
of the Uyghur minority in Urumchi, the United
States emphasized the widespread discrimination
facing "ethnic and religious minorities in Tibet
and Xinjiang [who] are subject to particularly
onerous restrictions, including restraint on religious practice."

Also of note during this current session were the
numerous NGO statements condemning Chinese action
in Tibet. Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without
Borders and Society for Threatened Peoples all
called on China to account for their treatment of
Tibetans. Speaking on behalf of Tibetans
everywhere, the Helsinki Foundation for Human
Rights and ICT, I had the opportunity to directly
refute the official Chinese depiction of human
rights in Tibet. In three statements I raised
issues including Chinese restrictions on
Tibetans’ freedom of expression, the need for
Tibetan stakeholder participation in the
rebuilding of Kyegudo following the April 14
earthquake, the enforced disappearance of the
11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nima, and
torture faced by Tibetan political prisoners.

These statements struck a nerve with the Chinese
delegates, who found it necessary to interrupt me
and later to issue their own counter-statements
claiming that "accusations by some
non-governmental organizations on other matters were completely groundless."

While I am confident that my statements were
grounded in the reality in Tibet, I can’t help
but wonder what reality the Chinese authorities
see. My hope is that by continuing this
multi-lateral dialogue with the Chinese and other
governments, the Chinese leaders begin to see the
reality facing Tibetans today and can begin to
shift their perspective to include greater
understanding and concern for Tibetans and their grievances.
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