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TYC Vice President testifies in the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament

posted Feb 1, 2013, 8:47 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 1, 2013, 12:11 PM ]
 
By Tenzin Chokey
General Secretary of Tibetan Youth Congress
January 31, 2013

Dhondup Lhadhar (left), Interpreter (center) Tsering Dhondup (right)
                                Dhondup Lhadhar (left), Interpreter (center) Tsewang Dhondup (right)

Ottawa, 29 January 2013: The Vice President of Tibetan Youth Congress Dhondup Lhadar testified in front of a panel of 15 members of parliament in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada. The prestigious opportunity to testify in front of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament had arisen out of a lobbying effort in Ottawa on 10 December 2012 on International Human Rights Day during the visit of the Vice President and General Secretary to Toronto organised by RTYC Toronto. In their invitation they had specified that members would be particularly interested in the issue of self-immolations, including any recommendations we may have for Canadian action that could contribute to reducing or ending the recent wave of self-immolations.

The hearing lasted about an hour and 15 minutes during which time the translated testimony of Dhondup Lhadar was read out followed by an individual testimony of Tsewang Dhondup and the floor opened to Q&A session. Questions revolved around the issue of self-immolation and TYC’s position, asks and what it believes the Canadian government should do.

Responding to the first question on why Tibetans are self-immolating VP Dhondup Lhadar said that there are mainly two reasons behind the self-immolations. “One is the absolute rejection by the Tibetan people of the occupation of Tibet by China and secondly to protest against the systematic and malicious attempts to slander our leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and eradicate Tibetan culture and race and destroy Tibet’s environment as a result of this occupation.”

In a positive statement on the self-immolations MP David Sweet (Conservative Party of Canada, CPC) stated that, “I just wanted to be clear that the decisions that are made by the immolators are their own and is not because of some pressure that they are receiving from some other outside group. I just wanted to make sure that was on the record and I believe that’s the answer we get from the witnesses.”
 
Another important question was on what the government of Canada do to resolve the current situation inside Tibet. Mr. Dhondup Lhadar responded by stating that our foremost appeal to the Canadian government and the Parliament is to pay attention to the testaments of the more than ninety-nine self-immolators in order to understand their real aspirations and investigate the actual situation inside Tibet. To this effect it must make efforts to send independent investigation team inside Tibet as well as international media and within the Canadian Parliament to pass a resolution and make a statement on the current situation inside Tibet and pressure the government of China to make sincere efforts to bring about positive changes for Tibet. 

Just before wrapping up, Dhondup Lhadar was once again offered the opportunity to address the panel. In conclusion he said that China’s heavy handed response to self-immolations have prompted Tibetans to resort to other ways of sacrificing their lives such as consumption of poison or jumping into rivers. “This clearly substantiates the fact that Tibetans in Tibet today do not even have the right and freedom to choose the way they want to sacrifice their lives for their country through self-immolations. This obstruction to their basic freedom of choice clearly shows the epoch of darkness cast over the universal fundamental human rights and freedom and in order to dispel this darkness Tibetans inside Tibet are urging the leaders and politicians of the free world to take action and this is an appeal I would also like to make on behalf of the six million Tibetans.

MP Wayne Marston from New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee concluded the hearing by expressing that gratitude for bringing before the committee the testimonies and said that this committee is “Ceased with concern for what is happening inside Tibet and I want to assure you that members present from all parties are very concerned and troubled by what we hear. And your testimony is an important part of our study looking into this. If o have anything to add that you haven’t given us today be sure to send it to the clerk.”

The meeting was joined by members of RTYC Toronto and RTYCNY/NJ. 

This is the first time a Tibetan Youth Congress Central Executive member has been accorded the opportunity to testify in the Canadian House of Commons. 

Proceedings of the hearing can be viewed at the official website of the Canadian Parliament:
 

 
 

Testimony by Mr. Dhondup Lhadar, Vice-President of Tibetan Youth Congress before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament

 

First of all on behalf of all Tibetans and particularly Tibetan Youth Congress, which is the largest non-governmental organization, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address this important parliament session.

 

Acts of aggression on Tibet by the Communist China started in 1949 soon after the formation of the “People’s Republic of China”, and by 1959 it had consolidated its illegitimate rule over Tibet. This has resulted in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile and the establishment of the exile Tibetan government in India. Over half-a-century of China’s rule in Tibet has led to deaths of more than 1.2 million Tibetans due to starvation, execution, torture and long-term imprisonment.  The latest act of protest by Tibetans through self-immolations is a powerful non-violent resistance and a highest form of sacrifice a human being can make.

 

Between February 2009 and January 2013, there have been ninety-nine confirmed cases of self-immolation protests.  Eighty-two in 2012 alone. In this month of January there were four self-immolations. With such a surge in these protests and concerns that this number will only increase, there is an urgent need to explain these actions to the outside world.

 

Therefore, I thank this opportunity to address the self-immolations taking place on the Tibetan Plateau to the House.

 

The Tibetan Youth Congress recognizes these acts as the ultimate form of non-violent resistance against China’s occupation.  Of the ninety-nine reported cases, eighty-six have died and whereabouts and physical condition of thirteen remain unknown. The oldest was a sixty-five-year-old grandfather and the youngest was fifteen years old. The average age of the self-immolators is about twenty-five.  Apart from deaths due to self-immolations, there have also been reported deaths due to consumption of poison and jumping into rivers.

 

The self-immolations have taken place all across the Tibetan Plateau and included monks, nuns, parents, students, nomads, farmers and intellectuals. Some of the self-immolators left behind children as young as a few months old. Thirty-two-year-old, Rinchen and a mother of four died after setting her body on fire near a military camp in eastern Tibet.  Her eldest child is 13 while the youngest is a few months old. The children became orphans as Rinchen’s husband had passed away a year before.

A father of two, Tsegyal, twenty-seven-year-old, self-immolated on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress on 7 November 2012 in Bankar village in Driru County in Kham in eastern Tibet.  Tsegyal was immediately taken into police custody subsequent to his actions and succumbed to his injuries after prolonged neglect and ill-treatment in custody.  Since his detention, he reportedly received no treatment for his burns and finally died in the evening of 18 November in police custody.  Details of this incident surfaced after a month since his protest. Tsegyal left behind two children ¾ a six-year-old and an eight-month-old infant.

On 22 January 2013, twenty-three-year-old Kunchok Kyab set himself on fire in Bora in Amdo, northeastern Tibet, to protest against China’s rule. He left behind a nine-month-old-baby.

 

Beijing Government’s response to the spate of self-immolations has been stepping up security, intensifying oppression, arrests, detention, torture, intimidation and aggressively vilifying the self-immolators by calling them terrorists, mentally sick, and stating that they were “committed by people who previously had got punished for their wrongdoings such as whoring, gambling and burglary, or deep in debt because of gambling”.

Beijing government also resorted to corrupt practices by detaining spouses of protestors for their refusal to accept bribes to claim to that their husbands/wives self-immolated due to family disputes.  It also offered cash rewards of $8000-$30,000 for intelligence and information about impending or past self-immolations. 

In many cases Chinese authorities have confiscated the bodies of self-immolators and barred family members from carrying out religious rites and rituals after their death. Security forces harassed witnesses, family members and relatives of those who have chosen to take this non-violent action.  Citizen journalists who have relayed information to the outside world have been arrested, tortured and sentenced to long-term prison terms. 

In a further use of intimidation, China’s Supreme Court, top prosecution body and police issued a joint legal opinion whereby the charge of “intentional murder” should apply to anyone urging Tibetans to set themselves alight.  Efforts at damage control and attempts to avert international criticism and scrutiny also included blaming the exile community, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Youth Congress of “instigating” these protests.  Earlier this month, in their official Xinhua News Agency it said that, “police investigation found that the self-immolation by a 26-year-old in Gansu province’s Hezuo City was masterminded by key members of the Tibetan Youth Congress of the overseas Dalai Clique.”

Additionally to hide the real situation from the world, foreign media is banned from Tibet and travel is curtailed for non-Chinese tourists.  Within Tibet, Beijing has imposed strict restrictions on freedom of movement for Tibetans in their own homeland.

 

If there are any questions as to why such an unprecedented number of Tibetans have resorted to this form of protest, then the last testaments left by some of the self-immolators provide answers.  As poet/writer/blogger, Gudrup forty-one-year-old, who self-immolated in October 2012, said, “…since China is uninterested in the well being of the Tibetan people, we are sharpening our nonviolent movement. We are declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom of Tibet… We will win the battle through truth, by shooting the arrows of our lives, by using the bow of our mind”.

In their last message, Choephak Kyab and Sonam, both in their twenties, who set themselves ablaze on 19 April 2012, said: ‘After the Chinese occupation, Tibetans suffer without basic human rights. It is for this reason, and in order for peace to prevail on earth; we offer our lives by setting ourselves on fire. The suffering of Tibetans without basic human rights is far worse than the suffering that we endure when we set ourselves on fire. You must do as we have written – even if the Chinese takes us away, do not do anything. We will be happy if nobody gets harmed because of us.’

 

Likewise, in his last message, Tamdin Thar, in his fifties, who self-immolated on 15 June 2012, said, ‘I am setting myself on fire as an offering of light with hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet, that peace will prevail on earth and Tibet will be ruled by Tibetans.’

 

On 19 February 2012, eighteen-year-old Nangdrol set himself on fire. In his last message he said, ‘May Tibetan people be free from China’s oppressive rule, there is immense suffering under China’s rule, and this suffering is unbearable. There is no way to further endure this Chinese occupation, its terrible rule, this torture without trace.’

 

The fundamental aspirations and reasons for the self-immolators to choose this non-violent action are clear from these messages. The Chinese Government and the world at large should not misinterpret these acts as ethnic conflicts or China’s flawed repressive policies or simply a struggle for religious freedom. The immolations are a symptom of a far greater problem: the Chinese occupation of Tibet. So long as China continues to occupy Tibet and oppress the Tibetan people, they will continue to resist.

 

Additionally supporting China’s aggressive condemnation of the immolations, as an act of “violence” is to blame the victim while completely neglecting to see the violence of the oppressor.  Rather than debating the ethics of immolation, we need to look at the horrible conditions that motivated these actions.  Without solving the root problem, the immolations will persist because Beijing’s rule of over half-a-century has only resulted in cultural destruction, economic marginalization and irreparable environmental damages.  Furthermore, forcing the Tibetans to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and undermine his spiritual leadership only exacerbates the grim situation.

 

Tibetans place high hopes on democratic countries such as yours to pressure China to respect and fulfil the aspirations of Tibetans who set themselves on fire. To this effect, I would like to request this parliament to address the following recommendations:

 

- Send a fact-finding parliamentary delegation into Tibet.

 

- Issue a statement and pass a resolution in the Canadian Parliament condemning China’s continued occupation and oppression of the Tibetan people leading to self-immolation and harassment of their relatives, friends and crackdown on citizen journalists and human rights defenders.

- Recognize that Canadian companies doing business with China such as Continental Minerals, Lara Exploration, Eldorado Gold, Inter-Citic Minerals Inc. Sterling Group Ventures, Bombardier, Vancouver-based China Gold International Resources Corp ltd. Nexen-CNOOC deal etc. are indirectly funding Communist China’s human rights abuses and its undermining of Tibet’s unique culture, language, tradition and its fragile ecosystem.

 

I put these recommendations before you on behalf on six million Tibetans and especially those who have set themselves on fire. This resistance movement in Tibet will continue unless those in the world who have power break their silence and above all, hold China accountable for forcing Tibetans to take such drastic actions. By speaking up you are not only standing in solidarity with the Tibetan cause but also defending not least your own democratic values.

 

The world recognized and supported Thich Quang Duc, who self-immolated in 1963 to protest against discrimination and mistreatment of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, which ultimately led to the end of Diem’s regime. In the same way, I strongly urge the world to support Tibet’s struggle for freedom and stand in solidarity with those Tibetans who have set themselves on fire so that the basic aspirations are met and this non-violent action does not spiral out of control.

 

History condemns those who walked silently away from holocausts and genocides.  The tragedy of Tibet is playing out before a largely mute world audience. To believe that the People's Republic of China cannot be brought to book for its illegal rule in Tibet is to slide onto the wrong side of history.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Canadian Government and its people for allowing a large number of exile Tibetans to reside and make this country their second home. The fact that you have given me this opportunity to stand before you is a clear indication of your support Tibet and its people in their pursuit for freedom. It also shows Canada’s strength and courage to face China. 

 

Thank you.

 

Dhondup Lhadar

Vice-President,

Tibetan Youth Congress

29 January 2013

 

 





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