By Alan Cantos for GEA PhotoWords
The American doctor Blake Kerr was both a direct and indirect witness of forced abortions and sterilizations, torture and infanticide during various visits to Tibet between 1987 and 1999. In addition to these aberrations [atrocities], he witnessed deaths and aggression in the street shootings of peaceful demonstrators and passers by security forces in Lhasa (Tibet’s capital). After waiting for years, these crimes committed by Chinese police against women and children have been part of his testimony before the judge Ismael Moreno on Monday 12 December 2011. They are part of the acts denounced in the lawsuit under investigation for genocide, torture and war crimes. His declarations and the written and audiovisual evidence that he submitted to the judge regarding these birth control practices are crucial in the investigation of the crime of genocide.
When he came out of the plane he was only carrying a heavy backpack. In it he had a tie, a suit and more than 20 kilos of evidence in the form of reports, books, diaries and dozens of CDs and DVDs. All perfectly organised, listed and divided into separate packets, each one wrapped in a thangka, the white silk scarves the Tibetans give when meeting someone, taking their leave, or on auspicious occasions. The packet for the judge was wrapped in a thangka given by the Dalai Lama.
Blake Kerr has to control the tears every time he has to repeat and describe what he saw and filmed with a hidden camera on his four visits to Tibet. He explains that his emotion is double: on one hand, the fulfillment of his dream and the responsibility of telling a court what he has repeated hundreds of times to the press and the deaf ears of his country’s State Department. On the other, the knowledge and pain of what he witnessed and not having been able to do more to prevent so much suffering for so many victims.
QUESTION [ALAN CANTOS]: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU AS A PERSON WHO HAS GIVEN HUNDREDS OF INTERVIEWS FOR THE MEDIA TO TESTIFY IN FRONT OF A JUDGE?
ANSWER [DR. BLAKE KERR]: By far the most significant thing to testify in front of a judge under universal jurisdiction is that this is the first time that I have felt that there might be a result other than a passing media interest in a newspaper or on television. This is the first time that I have the hope that something can be done. Specifically: issuing arrest warrants against Jiang Zemin (former President of China) and Li Peng (former Prime Minister of China).
QUESTION: What is your opinion of Universal Jurisdiction?
ANSWER: My understanding of Universal Jurisdiction is that it is a natural evolution of civilization or of a civilized society and the international legal system. Until now I don’t know of any government or international court that has really stood up to China’s military occupation and genocide of Tibet. Until now there has been no place for the Tibetan people to seek justice. So as far as I am concerned Universal Jurisdiction is the best thing I have ever encountered to fight that kind of crime and impunity.
QUESTION: What is your inspiration and motivation in such dangerous investigations that you have been involved in.
ANSWER: When I went to Tibet 1987 and witnessed directly Chinese Police shooting unarmed Tibetan women, Tibetan children, Tibetan monks, to see a 16 year old boy who had been beaten to death with a shovel inside the police station, to see a 10 year old boy shot through the heart who died in my arms, to see a 25 year old man shot through the heart die, to see wounded Tibetans taken to the hospitals and then the police took them to prison instead of letting them be treated, and then sneaking out to treat the wounded who were hiding in their homes and monasteries and meet the victims of torture and forced sterilizations, all this had such a profound influence on me. It changed my life totally. From that point on I could not imagine doing anything else than to document what I had seen.
In reality what I saw in the demonstration of October 1, 1987 in Lhasa was just the tip of the iceberg. For the last 24 year I have been trying to peel away the layers of China´s military occupation and interview Tibetan refugees in India and Tibetans inside Tibet with hidden cameras to document China´s national policy of forced abortions and sterilization and the torture of Tibetan political prisoners in the hope that someday there would be an avenue for this evidence to be presented in a court of law or to make a difference for the people in Tibet who have no recourse whatsoever.
QUESTION: In these visits to Tibet what were the most intense moments?
ANSWER: If you had a few hours I could answer that question but there are a few that come to mind right away. Starting on October 1st during the riots when Jampa Tenzing, whose picture is well known as the monk who run into the burning police station where the Chinese police were killing Tibetan monks who had started that demonstration. When he came out through the wall of flames he had lost the skin os his arms, his face, and his neck. Tibetans were carrying him on their shoulders through the crowd. I managed to cut through the crowd saying “amchi” (doctor). When I met Jampa Tenzin for the first time, he was going in and out of consciousness and I could smell the burning flesh on his body. It was a sickening… sickening to see that.
The other very… very difficult thing for me was when I spent months with a hidden camera traveling as a doctor to different hospitals throughout Tibet, Amdo, Kham and the Tibet Autonomous Region and to film women having forced abortions and sterilizations. One time in particular I almost passed out in this room, I was filming a woman using a hidden camera. The woman was having an abortion. I could see her hands gripping the table. She was moaning in pain. There was no anesthesia. I could hear the suction sounds. I could see the fetus being sucked out… it was overwhelming to me, even as a doctor… I almost hit the floor.
QUESTION: The most dangerous moment ?
ANSWER: For me? By far the most dangerous moment was on October 1st in the late morning or early afternoon as the Chinese police had gained the positions on the rooftops of the buildings around the Barkhor (Tibetan district of Lhasa) to shoot down at the Tibetan crowds in front of the Jokhang Temple and the police station that was on fire. Suddenly 60 heavily armed Chinese policemen with AK 47 and full riot gear yelled a death cry. I did not know what they were screaming but they screamed in unison and they started stomping with their boots and running at the crowd towards the Jokhang Temple. I was in the crowd right by the front door. As the soldiers were charging us I realized I was not thinking anymore, I got so angry, I had seen three people die, some in my hands. I had blood all over my hands. I ran without thinking towards the police with about two hundred Khampas and Tibetans and we charged the police. All I could think of was looking at their eyes, their throats and their groins. It was going to be a hand to hand combat and that I was going to do whatever I could to fight them.
QUESTION: What is your opinion about the attitude of Western governments with respect to China, human righst and Tibet ?
ANSWER: I´d like to start answering that with my own experience. When John Ackerly and I got out of Tibet and came back to the United States we went to the State Department to tell the China Desk Officer what we had seen in Tibet. We were horrified (word emphasized) that they were not interested at all in the military occupation of Tibet and the killing and the wounded we had seen and the forced abortions and sterilizations. They were primarily and still are primarily interested in doing business with China. There are some instances where Western governments as you know have criticized China for human rights violations and China says this is an internal affaire of China so it´s none of your business. It´s sickening (emphasized) to see governments refuse to stand up for the rights of people who cannot stand up for themselves… and that is the… (broken voice) although I am a bit emotional now and upset, this is the first time that I have had an opportunity to talk and give testimony to a judge under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction.
Thanks to CAT team (Comité de Apoyo al Tíbet), I hope that something might be done other than paying lip service to the Tibetans who are continuing to live under China’s military occupation. This is the first time that maybe, just maybe there can be arrest warrants for the heads of the Chinese Government who are the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Tibetan people.
QUESTION: The Tibetan movement and Gandhian Satyagraha, any relationship?
ANSWER: Mahatma Gandhi was trying to empower the people of India to stand up in a non- violent way and liberate them from an oppressive colonial regime. To me this is identical to what I have seen in Tibet with my own eyes over and over again. Think of nuns or monks demonstrating. They know they are going to go to prison. They know they are going to get tortured. The women are going to be raped. They are going to spend months in hell in prison and probably die if they defy their interrogators, if they say the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet, if they say the Chinese are occupying Tibet. They will be beaten severely for their beliefs. So in my experience in Tibet it is a non-violent resistance. I have seen it with my own eyes that Tibetan people stand up against the Chinese police who are shooting at them and their children and to stand up and to make the demonstrations over and over again.
There have been over 50 major demonstrations that did not get out to the West before the ones John and I witnessed on October 1st 1987 with other western travelers that we managed to photograph and report… I think that Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent resistance and what His Holiness and Buddhism preaches and practices of non-violent resistance, I think they are identical.
QUESTION: People associate justice with punishment and prison. Where do you think justice starts and ends?
ANSWER: In my thinking justice is not about imprisonment, justice is about the truth and Universal Justice is about people who are trying to stand up against an oppressive regime, country or army and are powerless to denounce it or to fight it.
Going back to the context of Gandhi and Tibetans in Tibet, there are no Tibetan terrorists. No Tibetan has ever made a bomb in Tibet. They are facing the extermination of their culture and their people with nonviolent resistance. Without Universal Justice and International Law, without other international organizations, without help from other governments the Tibetans are going to be exterminated. They need help.
They need Universal Justice in order to survive.
QUESTION: What would you say to the citizens and who say that Universal Justice is not effective ?
ANSWER: The concept of Universal Jurisdiction has been around for a long time but as far as putting it into practice, as far as International Law, we are at the very, very beginning of trying to get Universal Justice for the people on this planet wherever they are being slaughtered and exterminated. We have a long way to go.
But this is the only path. This is the Gandhian path. This is the Buddhism of International Law: that no power, no country is beyond the law of Universal Justice. Wherever crimes against humanity are taking place, it is the responsibility of every person outside that country, every person who is free, every country who is signatory to the international treaties and conventions on genocide, torture, sterilization, etc.
We are at the beginning of a new frontier in International Law. Without Universal Justice we will all perish not just as individual people but as a planet, as a spirit. We very much need the evolution of International Law to embrace this principle of Universal Jurisdiction and to enforce it, to have other countries, other lawyers other judges stand up and enforce it. This is where we have to go as a people because we are all connected. If we let any people perish we all loose.
By Alán Cantos - Director of CAT (Comité de Apoyo al Tíbet) . Photograph of Dr. Kerr copyright (c) Ángel López-Soto.
1) EL MUNDO (paper edition) on the day of the testimony : 12 Dec. 2011 “Thirty years of forced sterilizations and abortions. A doctor from the United States denounces the birth control policies of China in Tibet”. Article available in Spanish by request to CAT.
2) PUBLICO (paper edition on the 13 Dic. 2011) : “A witness testifies in the Spanish Nacional Court about the tortures he saw in Tíbet” by Ángeles Vázquez. Link: http://www.publico.es/internacional/411821/un-testigo-relata-en-la-audiencia-nacional-las-torturas-que-vio-en-el-tibet
3) EFE (News Agency) 12 de Dic. 2011 : “Un médico dice ante un tribunal español que vio esterilizaciones en el Tíbet”. Link: http://noticias.terra.com.co/internacional/un-medico-dice-ante-un-tribunal-espanol-que-vio-esterilizaciones-en-el-tibet,196159cdeb134310VgnVCM10000098f154d0RCRD.html
4) EUROPA PRESS: An American doctor declareUn médico estadounidense relata ante el juez abortos forzados y asesinatos de niños”. Link: http://www.europapress.es/epsocial/menores-00645/noticia-medico-estadounidense-relata-juez-abortos-forzados-asesinatos-ninos-tibet-20111212131928.html
5) EL PAIS paper edition (coming our shortly as back cover interview)
6) TIBETAN POLITICAL REVIEW: "Genocide in Tibet" by Blake Kerr, M.D. http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/genocideintibet
And other interesting articles in: Intereconomia, Sanghavirtual, etc. (in Spanish).