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An Open Letter to Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay

posted Aug 31, 2013, 7:53 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Sep 8, 2013, 6:09 PM ]
By Dechen Tsering (August 28, 2013, Berkeley, CA).

Dear Sikyong Dr. Sangay,

On Thursday August 22, 2013 you gave a late-night talk in Berkeley, California to the Tibetan community. During the Q&A part of the evening, many questions were raised but understandably there was not enough time for detailed answers to all questions. I have some burning questions that I would like to raise to you through this public letter as I imagine others might be equally interested in your answers.

1. Tibetan-Sino Dialogue

Throughout the last set of attempted dialogues, it became clear that China was not willing to negotiate Tibet’s future political status with His Holiness’ envoys. According to an article on on June 28, 2013 titled: “The impact of the resignations of Gyari and Gyaltsen” your administration’s interest to resume the dialogues received a cold response: “China responded by saying they will NEVER negotiate with Sangay or the TGIE”.

Recently, you re-stated that your administration is committed to resume dialogue with the Chinese government and that an advisory committee on the dialogue process will hold its’ 26th meeting next month.

QUESTION: Why do you believe that CHINA will now enter into SUBSTANTIVE negotiations with your representatives over the future political status of Tibet when they have refused to do so with His Holiness’ representatives in the past?

2. Genuine Autonomy

The Memorandum and Note submitted by His Holiness’ representatives to the Chinese counterparts in 2008 and 2010, respectively, states that Tibetans would not challenge the rule of the Chinese Communist Party over Tibet. Your comments at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on May 8, 2013 affirmed this position and took the proposed compromise a step further by stating: “Democracy is what we practice in exile. We’re not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet.” Additionally, you stated that you would accept a time limit – like Hong Kong’s 50-year autonomous arrangement – to any autonomy in Tibet as well as leave militarization in Tibet to “China’s discretion”.

I fail to understand how any meaningful Tibetan self-rule can be achieved under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, an atheist body. Nor do I understand how GENUINE AUTONOMY for Tibetans is possible in a political system that does not allow Tibetans to participate in their own governance through a democratically elected process. It seems to me that GENUINE AUTONOMY cannot be realistically achieved if – as per your statement - “we’re not asking that democracy be implemented or allowed inside Tibet.” Moreover, it is clear from your statements at CFR that you do not believe that Tibetans will have the right to freedom of expression and free political elections under the system that you are proposing. Essentially, that gives the Chinese government control over the autonomous government, which is the current scenario inside Tibet.

QUESTION: How can the proposed areas of self-rule be implemented under a political system in which the Chinese Communist Party has the ultimate say and in which Tibetans have no democratic voice?

QUESTION: Isn’t the current situation inside Tibet - ruled by the Communist Party and lack of democracy - the very cause for the ongoing oppression, which has led to the current wave of self-immolations inside Tibet?

The irony of China’s refusal to accept the Memorandum (2008) or the Note (2010) is not lost on many of us. That said, I believe that the past dialogue efforts failed not for lack of earnest attempts by the Tibetan envoys, but due to China’s refusal to accept a non-violent proposal that was already significantly compromised for the Tibetans.

QUESTION: Would it not be more appropriate to withdraw the past proposals (Memorandum and Note) and develop a new proposal that guarantees Tibetans democratic participation and control in their self-governance in a future Tibet?

To avoid any misunderstanding, let me be very clear that I do not question the Middle Path Approach nor our principles of non-violence. What I do question is whether it makes sense to put forth the same proposal that has been rejected and/or an even further compromised proposal. It seems that now would be the time to rethink our proposal for an autonomous arrangement. I do not think at this time China would respond positively to our proposals and would certainly not agree to provide us with democratic rights, as that would spark similar demands from the Chinese people for themselves. However, I do believe that with time, the Chinese Communist Party will fall and at that time, I believe it would be a grave mistake to have a proposal on the table in which we Tibetans give up our democratic rights. To that end, I feel that the best way to move forward at this time would be to withdraw the past proposal and put forth a new proposal for an autonomous arrangement that is based on democratic principles of governance.

I would earnestly like to understand your thinking around these crucial questions.

3. Gender Inequality

I am particularly concerned with programs addressing gender-based violence as more of these cases are coming to light most recently, one involving a five-year old girl. It is imperative that your administration develops clear protocols on how to handle acts of violence within the community and how to promptly and forcefully seek justice in collaboration with the legal system of the host country.

QUESTION: Does the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) Women’s Empowerment Policy (2008) include provisions regarding violence against women and girls and what specific programs have been established to implement these policies?

During your talk to the Bay Area Tibetan community, you focused mainly on girls excelling in schools rather than on specific policies and programs for addressing violence against women and girls in our communities. You briefly mentioned gender-sensitization but gave no details.

QUESTION: Is the CTA implementing gender-sensitization programs and if so, where are these being implemented and by who?

While the CTA has a Women’s Empowerment Policy (2008) and a Women’s Empowerment Desk (curiously within the Department of Finance), there are questions raised about the effectiveness of the policy and its implementation. For instance, on June 14, 2012 Tibetan parliamentarian Dr. B. Tsering, recipient of the prestigious Reagan- Fascell Democracy Fellowship and former president of Tibetan Women’s Association, made a presentation at the National Endowment for Democracy in D.C. entitled:

Empowering Tibetan Women in Exile: Reflections and Recommendations in which she shared that CTA’s Women’s Empowerment Policy “relies on gender stereotypes and lacks a single implementing body and concrete timeline.” In a memorandum dated September 2, 2012 sent to CTA, she recommended the following:

“To ensure the effective implementation of proposals from the Women’s Empowerment Policy and other new initiatives, the Women’s Commission should be established as an independent body under the CTA. With other independent bodies in the CTA—the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, and the Auditor General—serving as models, the Women’s Commission would operate with a small staff of 5-6 government officials, serving on the Commission as one component of their varied civic duties. In order to integrate the work of the Commission with broader initiatives centered on the welfare of the Tibetan community in exile, the Commission could be housed administratively under the Home Department, drawing on external funds and/or other revenue sources to operate with an annual budget.”

QUESTION: What are your views on the above proposal for establishing a Tibetan Women’s Commission within the CTA?

I hope you understand that I am posing these questions as someone who supported you in the elections. As voters in a democratic system, I believe it is our individual responsibility to voice our questions to our elected leadership and to seek dialogue on controversial issues. That said, thank you for your attention and I look forward to hearing your views.

Dechen Tsering is an activist and advocate for human rights, social justice, and gender equality. She was the former president of Tibetan Association of Northern California (TANC) in the United States.

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