Editorials are the opinion of the members of the Editorial Board. Editorials are by their nature opinionated, and are not intended to be "neutral." The Editors attempt to be fair in their analyses, but they are expressing their own opinions. The Editors invite responses from readers, especially if they disagree with an opinion expressed in an editorial.
Nepal explicitly recognized Tibet as an independent country. [READ MORE]
Important questions about the revisions to the TIbetan Charter. [READ MORE]
The significance of the 2011 Kalon Tripa election results. [READ MORE]
The candidates' views on Tibetan autonomy within the PRC [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening the Tibetan government-in-exile, where the Kalon Tripa has an important role. [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening ties between Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. [READ MORE]
Fortunately, both major Kalon Tripa candidates have clearly stated their policies on this important issue. [READ MORE]
Unfortunately, Tibetan voters are in the dark on the sources of campaign funds. [READ MORE]
We are troubled by the personal attacks emerging in the 2011 Tibetan election. [READ MORE]
In this editorial, we examine key aspects of Tethong's policy on possibly the most important issue facing the electorate: the future course of the Tibetan struggle. [READ MORE]
Widespread campaigning through the internet is generally a positive development, but the website for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa perfectly illustrates some drawbacks as well. [READ MORE]
The Editorial Board has attempted to summarize the job descriptions for these two positions. It is our hope that clarity on these offices' responsibilities will help voters better evaluate the candidates. [READ MORE]
Lobsang Jinpa clearly set out some of his policy positions, which is a step that we hope other candidates will emulate. [READ MORE]
Of all the candidates, little is yet known about what they actually stand for. That is because, so far, their statements have been largely about the candidates themselves, rather than what policies they would implement if elected. [READ MORE]
The Zurich debate between Lobsang Sangay and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong shows stark differences. [READ MORE...]
The essence of Lobsang-la’s article is that the Tibetan voting process should be made easier. Some of his suggestions are good, but some seem politically naïve. [READ MORE...]
A troubling issue is Dolma-la's assertion that the success of Tibetan refugees is -- and should be -- based on foreign hand-outs rather than their own hard work. [READ MORE...]
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
During Hu Jintao’s visit to Delhi in March 2012, about 200 Tibetans found themselves summarily detained for peacefully expressing their views. This includes well-known Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue, who was arrested as he was participating in a seminar, supposedly because of his past “notorious activities
”. The legal authority to detain these Tibetans came under the Foreigners Act, and specifically under a 27 March 2012 order of the local Foreigners Regional Registration Office. This makes clear again that stateless Tibetans in India are merely considered “foreigners”, lacking even the protection of being officially designated as “refugees”.
Incidents such as this, we believe, show need to discuss how the Tibetan people and their exiled government plan to protect themselves if political circumstances cause them to remain in India for another generation or more.
In this editorial, we examine an important part of this discussion: whether or not some tens of thousands of Tibetans in India should assert the Indian citizenship that, as a legal matter, they have automatically held since birth.
THE LAW: Whether or Not They Realize it, Many Tibetans Have Indian Citizenship From Birth
The Delhi High Court has made clear that any Tibetan born in India between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987 (and likely their children too) are automatically Indian citizens from the moment they were born. Let us repeat: Any Tibetan born in India between these dates in 1950 and 1987 is already an Indian citizen. They may have to prove it (as discussed below), but this citizenship is theirs by birth, not anything they have to apply for.
In fact, this citizenship is legally theirs whether they want it or not, unless they take steps to actively renounce it.
On December 22, 2010, the Delhi High Court ruled
that the Ministry of External Affairs could not deny an Indian passport to Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a Tibetan refugee born in Kangra, India in 1986. Looking at the Citizenship Act of 1955, the Delhi High Court declared Lhagyari an Indian citizen by birth and ordered the ministry to reconsider her application in light of that fact. (The Court also ordered the ministry to pay Lhagyari Rs. 5,000 in costs.)
The Court held: “Having been born in India after 26th January 1950 and before 1st July 1987, the Petitioner is undoubtedly an Indian citizen by birth… The fact that in the application for an identity certificate [IC] the Petitioner describes herself as a Tibetan national will make no difference to this legal position. There cannot be a waiver of the right to be recognized as an Indian citizen by birth…. The Petitioner cannot be said to have ‘renounced’ her Indian citizenship by stating that she is a Tibetan national.”
Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari
While the Delhi High Court’s holding only applies directly to the Delhi area, its jurisdiction includes the Home Ministry headquarters, and its ruling is based on the Citizenship Act that applies nationwide. The Court’s holding is a precedent for Tibetans anywhere in India to make the same case.
Obviously, a corollary point is that any Tibetan who was born after July 1987, or who came to India from Tibet, is not automatically an Indian citizen. And indeed the Home Ministry’s apparent policy against naturalizing Tibetans means that these individuals are likely to remain stateless.
Practical Steps to Asserting Indian Citizenship
This editorial is not intended to be a “how to” on asserting Indian citizenship (if any Tibetan wanted to) nor are we qualified to give legal advice on it. We also do not take a position on whether or not any Tibetan should take this step. Lhagyari proved her citizenship in the process of applying for an Indian passport, and this strikes us as a conclusive way.
There are many good lawyers in India, including Tibetans, who can advise on this process. Also, the Government of India has helpful information online at: http://india.gov.in/howdo/index.php For example, an Indian passport may be obtained within just seven days under “Tatkal Scheme”, upon submission of a notarized Standard Affidavit and just three of the following documents (one of which has to be from a-i):
(a) Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC);
(b) Service Photo Identity Card issued by State/Central Government, Public Sector Undertakings, local bodies or Public Limited Companies;
(c) SC/ST/ OBC Certificates;
(d) Freedom Fighter Identity Cards;
(e) Arms Licenses;
(f) Property Documents such as Pattas, Registered Deeds etc.;
(g) Rations Cards;
(h) Pension Documents such as ex-servicemen’s Pension Book/Pension Payment order, ex-servicemen’s Widow/Dependent Certificates, Old Age Pension Order, Widow Pension Order;
(i) Railway Identity Cards;
(j) Income Tax Identity (PAN) Cards;
(k) Bank/ Kisan/Post Office Passbooks;
(l) Student Photo Identity Cards issued by Recognized Educational Institutions;
(m) Driving Licenses;
(n) Birth Certificates issued under the RBD Act; and
(o) Gas Connection Bill
Should Tibetans Assert Indian Citizenship?
On one hand, Tibetans uniformly recognize the generosity of the Indian government and people in hosting over a hundred thousand Tibetan refugees. On the other hand, India has not ratified the Refugee Convention, and has chosen not to extend full civil rights to stateless individuals living on its soil. India can act how it wants toward stateless Tibetans because it considers them merely “foreigners” or “guests”, and guests can always be asked to leave.
It is this fundamental vulnerability that drives the strongest argument for Tibetans asserting Indian citizenship. Yes, there are personal benefits to doing so. But most pressingly, the reality is that Tibetan refugees – and even the Tibetan government-in-exile (TGIE) – exist in India only with the continuing tolerance of the Indian government. As long as Tibetans remain merely stateless foreigners rather than citizens, India’s policy can change … just as Nepal’s did.
India’s current tolerance of the TGIE dates back to the personal relationship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Prime Minister Nehru. Nehru considered His Holiness an “honored guest.” Yet Nehru passed away in 1964; when His Holiness is no longer in his present incarnation, then the basis for this “honored guest” relationship will have disappeared.
India has certainly been incredibly generous in her treatment of Tibetan refugees. The land given (leased freely) to the Tibetans for use for their settlements is just one example. But not too far in the distant past, Nepal too was a haven for Tibetans. What will happen later if, for instance, India places greater restrictions on the TGIE to smooth relations with China? What if India starts to question the benefit of hosting an administration-in-exile run by a group of stateless refugees? What if India simply starts shutting down the TGIE’s political components, or bans certain overseas Tibetans from entering India to stymie the TGIE’s operations? Whether or not things get as bad as in Nepal, the fate of the Tibetan community will be out of its own hands.
Buddhism teaches impermanence. Prudence demands that the possibility be considered that any change in India’s policy towards the TGIE may not be for the better, as far as Tibetans are concerned.
Therefore there are several considerations on whether eligible Tibetans should assert their Indian citizenship (this is just a partial list, and other considerations are welcome):
Considerations for the TGIE:
Tibetans asserting Indian citizenship may place the TGIE’s future in India on safer ground. The functions that the TGIE carries out may change over time, based on the needs of the Tibetan refugee diaspora. The TGIE should care for Tibetan refugees so long as there is a practical need to do so. However, the TGIE’s paramount legal purpose has always been to embody the legal continuation of the sovereign government of Tibet. This is the key purpose of any government-in-exile (during World War II, some governments-in-exile were just a small office in London).
The TGIE’s ability to carry out its paramount task to hold Tibetan sovereignty must be protected. It may be safer for the TGIE to be run largely by Tibetans who hold Indian citizenship, compared to being an organization of stateless “foreigners”.
If Tibetans in India attained citizenship and became, in the eyes of the Indian government, the same as its other citizens, would there be any changes towards its land policy for Tibetan settlements? What about separate Tibetan schools? These are questions for discussion with the Indian government. It may also be argued that while the Tibetans in India are stateless and ‘registered’ as foreigners in India but not citizens of India, these Tibetans’ primary legal obligation as citizens can be seen as being towards TGIE and that this fact significantly bolsters the legitimacy of TGIE. Once these Tibetans are documented as citizens of India, their primary legal obligations as citizens will be towards India (as Tibetan Americans’ primary legal obligations as citizens are towards America, and in the event of a nationwide draft, can be called upon to take arms in American defense). On the other hand, with dual-citizenship, a Tibetan can have duties to both the TGIE (the representative of Tibet’s continuing sovereignty) and another country.
If the hundred thousand plus Tibetan refugees in India—stateless refugees waiting to go back to Tibet—became Indian citizens, will it detract urgency from the Tibetan issue, in the minds of both Tibetans and the international community? How will it be perceived inside Tibet? What are the costs and the benefits to the Tibetan community in India? Why should Tibetans in India not consider Indian citizenship when Tibetans in the west enjoy the security and benefits of citizenship while still considering themselves Tibetan?
The TGIE must continue until Tibet is again ruled by Tibetans, but we should not assume that it must always continue in its exact current form.
Considerations for Individual Tibetans:
Some (including Kalon Dolma Gyari
who herself holds Indian citizenship) have argued that Tibetans remaining stateless leads to material benefits. Even if Tibetans remain stateless, however, their material position in India is fundamentally at risk once His Holiness is longer with us. Any change in India’s policy towards stateless Tibetans is unlikely to be for the better.
Additionally, it is important to weigh the material benefits of statelessness with the material benefits of citizenship. With citizenship, a large number of Tibetans born in India may no longer be treated as second-class “foreigners”, including activists or young Tibetans fired from call centers. On March 29, 2012, the Delhi High Court issued a ruling
criticizing the Delhi police for rounding up Tibetan-looking Indian citizens, in addition to stateless Tibetans. By implication, the police were entirely within their rights to preventively detain stateless Tibetans, but not anyone with Indian citizenship.
As citizens, Tibetans born in India between January 1950—July 1987 would be entitled to other benefits such as an Indian passport. Other restrictions also potentially disappear; for example under the Himachal Land Act, any Indian citizen living in Himachal Pradesh (HP) prior to 1972 has the right to own land in that state. So, if a Tibetan in Dharamsala is actually an Indian citizen, and has been living in HP prior to 1972, then he/she would no longer have to resort to “benami” but can own land in his/her own name.
As citizens, there would be no need for Tibetans born in India between January 1950—July 1987 to periodically renew a Registration Certificate (RC), or to seek an Identity Certificate (IC) for foreign travel with all the burdens that carries. RC issuance is discretionary and is not a right, and the Indian government could very well decide one day that it no longer wants to renew them, even if the possibility now may seem remote.
Finally, if Tibetans were to assert their Indian citizenship, they might save their children from a life of statelessness. Their children born after 1987 may be entitled to Indian citizenship, but only by virtue of the parent’s Indian citizenship.
The current Kashag can certainly appreciate the merits of citizenship. Dicki Chhoyang holds Canadian citizenship, Dolma Gyari holds Indian citizenship, Pema Chhinjor holds American citizenship, and Lobsang Sangay holds an American Green Card (making him eligible for American citizenship).
Would This Make Tibetans Less Tibetan? No.
Legally, applying for an Indian passport does not make one any less Tibetan, because the Tibetan Charter (Tsatrim) allows for Tibetans to take other citizenship.
Societally, it is common practice for a Tibetan to hold American or Canadian citizenship, or for a Tibetan in Tibet to hold Chinese citizenship. Why not a Tibetan holding Indian citizenship? There should not be a societal double standard.
The true test of Tibetan citizenship should be whether one holds a Green Book issued by the TGIE, not whether one also has another passport.
What Role for the Tibetan Government and the Sikyong?
What next? The TGIE should make clear that it no longer subscribes to the double-standard of the past, where Tibetans in the West were encouraged to take foreign citizenship while Tibetans in India were encouraged to remain stateless as a misguided mark of patriotism. (Although then Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche personally disapproved of Tibetan resettlement in the west, Tibetan government policy implemented the resettlement and in fact loaned most of the first 1000 Tibetans the money for the airfare to America.) It is time to face reality. This requires a shift in attitudes, as well as TGIE policy changes.
For example, currently Tibetans in India must generally show their RC in order to get a Green Book
. This policy has the (unintended?) effect of encouraging Tibetans in India to live a stateless life, and it is discriminatory. Tibetans in the West are not required to remain stateless to get a Green Book. The TGIE should revise its Green Book policy in India to do away with a requirement of an RC.
Similarly, many benefits the TGIE gives to Tibetans in India require an RC. For example, most scholarships processed by the TGIE, and admissions to Mentsekhang and Sarah Institute, generally require an RC. (Interestingly, the U.S. government’s own regulations on Tibetan Fulbright scholarships
do not care whether an applicant has an RC). The TGIE’s RC requirement should be re-assessed. Does the TGIE want to limit these benefits only to truly stateless refugees rather than Tibetans with Indian citizenship? Perhaps. But before making that policy decision, it should be recognized that the current policy again has the effect of encouraging Tibetans in India to live a stateless life.
As stated, these policies might not necessarily be designed to encourage Tibetans to remain stateless, but that is certainly the practical effect. The implicit argument of this policy is that a Tibetan who takes Indian citizenship is suddenly ineligible (or unworthy) of benefits extended to other members of the Tibetan community in India. This does not sound like a compelling argument. Indeed, it seems to us that it would be more legitimate to link benefits to the possession of a Green Book (which is issued by the TGIE) rather than an RC (which is issued at the discretion of the Indian Government).
Given that half of the current Kashag holds foreign citizenship (including one Indian national) and the Sikyong holds a U.S. Green Card, it is questionable if statelessness should really be seen as a marker of patriotism. And having Indian citizenship will mean that, even if Tibetan leaders move out of India and adopt other citizenship, they can always access rights and privileges as an "Overseas Citizen of India
" to put them in a much stronger position to travel, live, and work in India.
Indeed, Sikyong Sangay himself (born 1968, Darjeeling) is legally born an Indian citizen, as well as an adopted American permanent resident. However, many people remember the rhetoric about the then-candidate's IC during the 2011 election campaign, and this continues to inform some people’s attitudes about patriotism. If the Sikyong were to make a reassessment of his prior statements linking patriotism and statelessness, that would reinforce helpful attitudes to the benefit of the long-term interests of the Tibetan people.
While the TGIE deals with these policy changes, it should establish a “Task Force on Legal Status Questions for Tibetans in India”. These questions lay at the intersection of law and policy; a task force would be well-paced to review Indian law, the TGIE’s policies, and the needs of Tibetans in India. The task force should be geared practically to address issues that Tibetans face in India, including questions of citizenship, land-owning rights, and any related matter that would help establish and solidify Tibetans’ status in India.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Tibetans born in India between January 26, 1950—July 1, 1987, and likely their children, are legally Indian citizens from birth. As a matter of Indian law, Tibetans born in India during this time automatically hold Indian citizenship and retain it unless they actively renounce it. Unless one formally renounces Indian citizenship, one does not stop being an Indian citizen. As a practical matter, however, these Tibetans are viewed as stateless refugees until they actively assert their citizenship birthright.
We purposely tried to avoid taking a position on the key question of whether eligible Tibetans should assert their Indian citizenship. If they do, it may have benefits for themselves, and perhaps more significantly it may help put the TGIE on a safer foundation in the future. On the other hand, this action holds very real potential downsides, including a threat to how some may perceive the TGIE’s legitimacy, or at least how it currently operates.
Our entire editorial board, excepting one, holds American citizenship—we consider ourselves no less Tibetan because of that. We have but scratched the surface of the matter. We understand that there may be significant political or strategic issues that are not addressed in this short editorial. But this is an issue that may well have material effect on Tibetan lives in India, as well as significance for the continuation of both TGIE and the Tibetan struggle.
We urge all Tibetans, and the TGIE, to engage in a serious debate on this issue while there is still time. This should include the TGIE’s establishment of what we propose as a Task Force on Legal Status Questions for Tibetans in India.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
In its March 10 statement this year
, the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile made a far-reaching assertion. The Parliament warned the Tibetan people not to “resort to speaking, writing articles, and propagating information through the various communication channels without any sense of responsibility.” This statement was issued in the name of the entire Parliament, and would have been drafted by the leadership in the Parliament’s Standing Committee; it was read out in Dharamsala by the Deputy Speaker while the Speaker was traveling in Europe.
Coming from the supreme legislative authority of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), this statement should be given its due weight. The Parliament leadership is apparently suggesting that the right to free speech for the Tibetan people should be limited by a requirement to behave “responsibly”. It leaves unspoken who has the right to decide what is “responsible” or not.
The Parliament’s statement further appealed to the Tibetan people to “stand together, turn in the same direction, and direct their efforts at achieving the common desires of the Tibetan people”. It seems clear from the context that the Parliament leadership defines these “common desires” as including autonomy under Chinese sovereignty, i.e.
the Middle Way policy.
This editorial is short and is not intended to react to the Parliament's entire statement. Much of it was good and commendable. For example, it made an excellent point refuting China’s claim that the self-immolations are encouraged by Tibetan exile reporting: it asked rhetorically “why does not the same logic apply to the reporting all the other news throughout the world”. In this brief editorial, we focus instead on the one paragraph the Parliament explicitly directed “[w]ithin the Tibetan people ourselves”. We believe this is important because this was the one paragraph in the March 10 statement that appealed directly to Tibetans.
This is not the first time that the current exiled Tibetan leadership has made statements that may have a chilling effect on the right to free speech. TPR previously wrote about them in a September 2012 editorial entitled Are the Speaker and Kalon Tripa Stifling Free Speech?
Similarly in April 2012, Woeser criticized the Tibetan exiled leadership for suppressing criticism
, and warned against being “arrogant, conceited and arbitrarily denounc[ing] other ideas and opinions”. Therefore, there is a larger context to the Parliament’s statement.
The Parliament leadership’s apparent attempt to restrict the right to free speech raises a few questions for the Tibetan electorate to consider:
1. Do the Tibetan people accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’s
(UDHR) definition of freedom of speech? The UDHR says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (Article 19);
2. Do the Tibetan people want to avoid a definition of freedom of speech used by authoritarian systems? For example, the Chinese Constitution
recognizes “freedom of speech [and] of the press”. However, China limits this right by requiring it be exercised only in a way that does “not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society and of the collective”, and in a way that observes “public order and respect[s] social ethics”. (Articles 35, 51, and 53);
3. At a time when Tibetans in Tibet are literally dying for universal human rights, how do the Tibetan people feel about the Parliament leadership suggesting that the right to free speech should be limited by a “responsibility” test?;
4. Who has the power to decide what is and is not “responsible”? For example, is any view that is contrary to the current TGIE administration’s Middle Way policy thereby “irresponsible”?
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression recently wrote in a report
that “the general rule is the protection of the freedom; restriction of such freedom should be the exception to this rule.” Specifically, the Special Rapporteur stated that any restriction on free expression should be (i) provided by law, (ii) necessary to achieve a few limited goals such as public health or national security, and (iii) proportional.
With respect to the first requirement, the Special Rapporteur’s report suggests that the Parliament leadership should not attempt to limit the Tibetan people’s right to free speech unless they first pass a law to this effect.
Regarding the second requirement, it is possible that the Parliament leadership feels that it is “necessary” to Tibet’s national security for the right to free speech be limited. This is debatable, but they are certainly free to make this case if they believe it. However the burden is on them to show why restricting a universal right is necessary, not just politically convenient.
Obviously, all Tibetans should be sensitive to the nature of the Tibetan struggle against the authoritarian might of China. And obviously, all Tibetans should work toward unity in the sense of devotion to our common Tibetan nation and culture. No doubt many Tibetans legitimately wish to speak out as private citizens against speech they disagree with – and they should. But it is another matter entirely for the Tibetan legislature to use its official statement on the solemn occasion of March 10 to advocate a view of free speech that seems more in line with authoritarian systems than democratic ones. The Parliament was not talking as a private citizen.
Even setting aside normative questions, the practical situation is that the strength of the Tibetan cause is its moral clarity. It does practical damage to this moral clarity when the leadership of the Tibetan legislature endorses a view of free speech that is at odds with basic international standards. In short, this is embarrassing to the Tibetan cause.
More broadly, we reject the argument that the Tibetan struggle is so weak that it must be somehow protected from free speech. Sometimes free speech is messy or “irresponsible”, but it is firmly established in liberal democracies that the antidote to harmful speech is not less speech but more. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had it correct when he said that freedom includes the “right to be stupid.” The Parliament’s leadership should trust the intelligence of the Tibetan people to discern when they are being fed a “stupid” argument.
Finally, we firmly believe that the Tibetan cause is actually strengthened and sustained by the robust protection of all human rights, especially core rights like free speech. The Tibetan people are united in their dedication to the Tibetan nation. Some may support autonomy, some may support independence or self-determination, but all support Tibet. The cause of Tibet is made stronger through all Tibetans coming together to have their voices heard in a robust and free democratic debate. Protecting this right to free speech is the responsible thing to do.
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By the Editorial Board of Tibetan Political Review, March 12, 2013
At a press conference in Dharamsala, India, on 17 February 2013, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee said that he would carry the flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and start his second peaceful walk on 10 March. ‘I will finish what I have started. I am not taking the Chinese flag to say that historically Tibet was part of China. I am taking the flag to say that from today onwards I agree with the Middle Way Approach, which in future seeks genuine autonomy within the Chinese family.’ Dorjee further said that ‘those who do not agree with me may have their reasons or principles. Or they do not like me as a person.’
Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee and his family started a peaceful march on 10 March 2012 from Dharamsala to Lhasa amidst great show of support by some people in Dharamsala. Tibetans and many of their supporters donated money and cried as Tseten Dorjee, his elderly mother and younger sister began their long walk, carrying the Tibetan flag. Just before their reached Delhi, they raised a Chinese flag alongside the Tibetan national flag. This caused a furore and some organizations publicly opposed the family’s action, including the Tibetan Youth Congress, which issued a press release to this effect.
In a press statement issued on 5 March 2013 by Dharamsala-based five NGOs, including Tibetan Women’s Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, National Democratic Party of Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet-India, and Tibetan Youth Congress, they said that when Tibetans are risking their lives to bring down Chinese flag in Tibet no individual or organization should parade Chinese flag during protests on the 54th National Uprising Day.
A press release by the Tibetan government-in-Exile (TGIE) issued on 14 May 2012 said that “the Kashag does not endorse either the burning of nor those carrying the Chinese flag. This is the position of the Kashag.”
At the press conference on 17 February this year, Tseten Dorjee said that he will start his second peace walk carrying the Chinese flag. ‘This is my personal decision. In future six million Tibetans will wake up. Today they are at the point of waking up.’
One day after Tseten Dorjee made his remarks about carrying the PRC flag, Lobsang Choejor (a.k.a. Sharchok Khugta), who works for a Dharamsala-based NGO grandly named the Tibetan People's Movement for the Middle Way Approach , which propagates the Middle Way Policy, wrote an article titled Twelve Big Reasons for Me to Support Carrying the Chinese Flag on Tibetan website khabdha.
Among the reasons that Lobsang Choejor states are that: (i) parading Chinese flag is in tune with Middle Way Policy; (ii) this action helps win support of Chinese people; and (iii) this action permanently stops or fights back against those who only wish/demand for a “small independence” (rang.zen chung.chung zhig jung.na drig.pai ‘dod.tshul rnam ten.gog).
On 10 March 2013, Tseten Dorjee started his peace march from Dharamsala. This time he did not carry the Red flag. When asked about it he said that his carrying the flag is causing ‘discord among the Tibetans’ and hence he decided not to carry it.
However, Lobsang Choejor staged a lone protest in New Delhi on 10 March 2013 carrying the Chinese flag. According to Tibetan news media Tibet Times Choejor staged his protest in both at Jantar Mantar and India Gate.
Parading the PRC Flag and the Middle Way Policy
Parading the PRC flag in a peace walk for Tibet was an unprecedented and previously unthinkable act until Tseten Dorjee and his family did so in 2012. Moreover, for another Tibetan to use the Middle Way Policy to defend such an action warrants further questioning.
First, it is undisputed that every Tibetan, indeed every person, has the right to raise or display any flag of their choice, including the PRC flag. This is part of an individual’s right of free expression. As the newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently noted, freedom includes the “right to be stupid.”
We also do not doubt that Tseten Dorjee and his family carried out this peace march with the best of intentions, and we recognize the sacrifices that his and his family have made. However, we are concerned about the implications and consequences that can arise from such an act, and the toxic message it may send.
According to the Middle Way Policy and All Recent Related Documents (2010), published by the TGIE’s Department of Information and International Relations, the Middle Way Policy seeks “genuine autonomy” including “the right of the Tibetans to create their own regional government and government institutions and processes that are best suited to their needs and characteristics.” This assumes that the Chinese government would consent to such a devolution of power; not a given, based on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rejection over the past quarter-century of the Middle Way, of any challenge to its centralized power, or of any change in the political status quo in Tibet (or even in China). In fact, the TGIE also admits that “the Chinese side have misinterpreted and distorted the contents of the memorandum” and “that an increasing number of who have doubts in the minds about the Middle-Way policy suggest that it is better to explore alternative means to resolve the issue of Tibet.’
Regardless, there is one feature of the Middle Way that is inescapable: Tibet would become undisputedly part of China, and Tibetans would become undisputedly Chinese citizens. Thus, Tseten Dorjee’s act of raising the Chinese flag on a purported march for Tibetan freedom illustrates a core issue in the Middle Way’s approach, taken to its logical conclusion, but one that is often unstated by proponents of the Middle Way.
Policies change, and so do administrations, but the national goal does not. Tibet’s struggle for freedom has always been a struggle for the Tibetan people’s right to determine their own destiny. As long as this objective is not achieved, the struggle will continue.
So far, more than a quarter-century of sincere efforts on the part of the Tibetan administration in pursuing the Middle Way has not brought positive results. In fact, by all accounts the situation in Tibet has grown worse since 2008. The self-immolations of 107 brave Tibetans and the imposition of a police state on the Tibetan Plateau testify to this fact.
Symbolism of the Red Chinese Flag
During the 2008 Tibet-wide peaceful uprising against Chinese rule, a group of horse-riding nomads in Bora, a small nomadic community in Northeastern Tibet, tore down the Chinese flag and proudly raised the Tibetan national flag in its place. For these brave nomads, clearly, the Red Chinese flag is a symbol of oppression and foreign occupation.
Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have died as a direct result; His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced into exile along with thousands of Tibetans; over ninety percent of Tibet’s ancient monasteries and monastic universities were destroyed; hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were sent into hard labour camps; Tibet’s rich natural resources are excessively mined to feed China’s growing demands for industrial raw materials; more than 1.5 lakh (150,000) exile Tibetans cannot return home because of Beijing’s occupation of their homeland; and since April 2009, over one hundred Tibetans in Tibet set themselves on fire to protest against the Chinese occupation and called for the return of His Holiness.
For Tibetans living on both sides of the Himalayas, the Red Chinese flag symbolizes occupation, repression, and suffering of the highest order.
For the CCP, the this flag represents its control over the Chinese state and the dominance of the Han Chinese. According to China Yearbook 2004 the red color symbolizes revolution and the four smaller stars surrounding a bigger one signifies “the unity of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” The very flag itself is racist: the large star represents the Han Chinese people, with the smaller stars representing Tibetan, Manchu, Mongol, and Uyghur “minorities” arrayed around the majority Han Chinese.
When the so-called People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, they demanded that the Tibetan army regiments also carry the Chinese national flag, which the two then-Prime Ministers, Lukhangwa and Lobsang Tashi, flatly refused.
Like the Tibetan prime ministers, the nomads of Bora who raised the Snow Lion flag in place of the Red flag knew the importance of the national flag, its symbolism and the historical significance. The flag of a nation represents its past, its enduring present, and its future as a proud and equal member of the human family of nations. For Tibetans who raise the Snow Lion flag, it does not just represent Tibetan culture or Tibetan ethnic identity; it also represents the Tibetan nation. It is not just a symbolism of Tibet’s past independence, but also a demand for Tibetan statehood today and an end to Chinese colonialism and occupation.
Every Tibetan has the right to raise any flag of their choice, just as every Tibetan has the right to say what they think about that choice. Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee has made it clear that, for him, support for the Middle Way requires accepting the symbols of becoming part of China, including embracing the PRC flag. Our own views as members of the Tibetan community should be clear from this editorial: we encourage our readers to send in articles or letters expressing their own thoughts on this issue.
Lobsang Choejor, while still working for the Tibetan People's Movement for the Middle Way Approach, also organized a meeting of young Tibetans in November 2012 ostensibly to discuss self-immolations in Tibet. The meeting was attended by less than twenty Tibetans and was followed up by a petition on 10 December 2012 addressed to Xi Jinping. The appeal letter was issued in the name of “Tibetan Educated Youth Group” but was signed only by Lobsang Choejor, who is cited as a Chief Organizer.
The appeal, while raising some genuine issues, refers to the People’s Republic of China as the “Central Government” and Tibet simply as a “region”. How many ‘educated’ Tibetan youths are in this group? Were all of them aware about the content of the appeal? Why is there only one signature and no other names? Is there a concerted effort by one particular group or another to seemingly represent ‘educated Tibetan youth’ to accept PRC rule over Tibet in a way that seems legitimate and consensual? These are unanswered questions.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
February 13 has emerged as a potentially important new holiday in the Tibetan calendar, in a development that could indicate new self-confidence in the Tibetan struggle even as Tibet continues to experience a tragic series of self-immolations.
This year, Tibetan activists and support groups around the world marked the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Tibetan Proclamation of Independence from China, according to Radio Free Asia
Until this year, while Tibetans were generally aware of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s 1913 proclamation re-asserting Tibet's long-standing independence, few probably knew that it was issued on the 8th Day of the 1st Month in the Female Water-Bull-Year
, i.e. February 13, 1913. Now, however, looking at the activities around this day and at the widespread reporting in the Tibetan media, it is safe to say that that February 13 is firmly established in many Tibetan minds (obviously it is hard to measure this in Tibet, but certainly in exile).
In a sense, Tibetan history has literally been made, with a new national holiday commemorating the nation’s independence. Moreover, this commemoration is a unifying one that all Tibetans can support, even those who seek an autonomous status within China; all agree that Tibet has a history as an independent state.
Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) was quoted as saying, “Every country has an independence or national day regardless of its current political status and Tibet is no exception.” Interestingly, the Washington Post just conducted a worldwide comparison
of those countries who celebrate independence versus those who celebrate a revolution-related or unification-related national day. (The Washington Post’s map has been modified by TPR to include Tibet, which is colored green to indicate the commemoration of Tibetan Independence Day.) The new commemoration of Tibetan Independence Day on February 13 puts Tibet squarely in the company of the majority of the world's countries which have suffered colonization or occupation in their past.
Click Map for Larger Version
Map by Washington Post - modified by TPR (to show Tibet) pursuant to fair use
As a next step, the Tibetan Youth Association of Europe has launched an unprecedented petition campaign
to the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile to officially recognize February 13 as Tibetan Independence Day. As far as we know, there has never before been an organized petition campaign directed to the Tibetan Parliament, which is an exciting step in Tibetan democracy. The petition can be signed at www.be-tibet.com
. We urge all members of the Tibetan Parliament to support this valuable goal of officially recognizing February 13 as Tibetan Independence Day.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The topic of gender violence has been in the news recently, unfortunately, following the horrific rape suffered by a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi
. The woman, who has not been identified, died on December 29, 2012, as a result of injuries she suffered
during her attack two weeks earlier.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been the subject of considerable criticism for his handling of this case, in part for its delay in speaking out on this case, and in part for India’s general failure to address gender violence.
In fact, India has been rated the worst country in which to be a woman in the entire G20
, even worse than Saudi Arabia. It did not help that the son of India’s president insulted rape protesters as merely wanting TV publicity for themselves
. Nor did it help that Delhi's police chief outrageously claimed
that men in the Indian capital are no safer than women because they suffer pickpocketing, while other police officers outrageously blamed rape victims
for turning the crime into an issue by complaining.
Out of this tragedy, comes perhaps one bright spot: this crime set off a series of demonstrations that suggest that public acceptance of such gender violence might have reached a turning point in India. Prime Minister Singh pledged
, “it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain”. Indian voices are taking a long, hard look
at the problem of gender violence in Indian society in a way that has not been done before.
Revisiting the “Tenzingang Incident”
Every act of gender violence is deplorable in its own way, and the Delhi rape/murder should not be compared with other crimes. It stands alone.
What can be compared, however, is the response to the problem of gender violence. Looking at the responses of the Indian government and people, we cannot help but recall the Tibetan response to the June 2011 case of gender violence in the Tibetan refugee settlement in Tenzingang, in the far eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
The details of the Tenzingang case are described in a well-researched report by the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA)
. To summarize the TWA report, which used pseudonyms, a woman named Choenyi had apparently been having an affair with a man named Ngawang, with whom she had had a 4 year-old daughter that she was raising. Ngawang’s wife, Kunsang, was enraged to discover the affair and took six members of her extended family (three men and three women) to Choenyi’s house.
As described by TWA, Kunsang’s group stripped Choenyi naked, dragged her outside, and beat her over her entire body. One of the perpetrators tried to cut off Choenyi’s nose with a pair of scissors. The perpetrators also tried to permanently stain her face with black ink. Choenyi was bed-ridden for two weeks afterwards.
It is difficult to think of another word besides “torture” when describing a vicious beating and attempted disfigurement. The Official Response
According to the TWA report, on August 10, 2011, (two days after the new prime minister Lobsang Sangay took office) the TWA president visited the deputy secretary of the Department of Home and was informed that the Department of Home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGiE) had ordered the the Settlement Officer in Tenzingang to convene a meeting with community leaders. The meeting resulted in the following punishments:
The key perpetrator, Kunsang, was ordered to to pay Rs. 30,000 to a local monastery to appease local deities upset with the incident. Her husband, Ngawang, was ordered to contribute another Rs. 20,000. Kunsang’s brother, who also participated in the torture of Choenyi, was ordered to give the monastery Rs 5,000 and suspended from his post on the local Tibetan Assembly.
And the victim of the violence? For her adultery, Choenyi was ordered to apologize and prostrate before an altar with His Holiness’s photograph. Ngawang’s adultery was not addressed, nor were the needs of Ngawang’s and Choenyi’s 4 year-old daughter, being raised by Choenyi.
With that, the TGiE leadership apparently considered the case closed. In January 2012, the Sikyong visited Arunachal Pradesh
and met with 30 local community leaders from the area, including Tenzingang. There was no reported discussion of the Tenzingang event, which was a missed opportunity for the Executive Branch leadership to publicly respond to this case.
It must be noted that the Department of Home did not apparently provide any guidelines to its Settlement Office when it ordered the office to resolve the Tenzingang case, or conduct any oversight over the office’s decision after the fact. This is disappointing because it suggests either the Executive Branch’s abdication of responsibility, or its consent to the outcome.
We are happy to note that, in contrast, the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile acted decisively. In September 2011, the Parliament unanimously passed a resolution tabled by two Parliament members and former TWA officers, Dolkar Lhamo Kirti and Dhardon Sharling
. This resolution unambiguously condemned all violence against women. The Parliament’s resolution also requested the Executive Branch “to ensure the effective enforcement of the host country’s laws and acts on dealing with any forms of violence against women”, and to issue new guidelines to the settlement officers aimed at protecting women’s rights and submit it to Parliament, with a deadline of March 2012.
Unfortunately, almost a year after the deadline, the exile administration’s Executive Branch has not yet acted on the Parliamentary resolution. This is disappointing. To continue to ignore the Parliament’s unanimous resolution might send a message that promoting gender equality, and fighting gender violence, are not true priorities for the Executive Branch leadership.
On the plus side, the administration has continued with pre-existing “women’s empowerment and gender empowerment” programs in the settlements. This program, headed by a specially-appointed woman officer is the Women’s Desk, under the Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD) of the Department of Finance and provides training programs about once a year. There has additionally been an unfulfilled promise by the Executive Branch leadership to set up special coordinators in each Tibetan settlement region (zone) to promote women’s rights and gender equality. We look forward to seeing this promised initiative implemented.
The Promise of Pho-Mo Dranyam (Gender Equality)
During the 2011 election campaign, the current Sikyong campaigned on a platform that promised “Pho-Mo Dranyam
” or gender equality.
To date, the most visible manifestation in the current administration of this admirable principle has been the appointment of two women to the Cabinet. By comparison
, the current Sikyong’s immediate predecessor had one woman in his Cabinet (Kalsang Y. Takla), and the 10th Kashag from 1993-1996 also included a Cabinet with two women (Rinchen Khando Choegyal and Jetsun Pema).*
From the perspective of the invocation of Pho-Mo Dranyam
, the Tenzingang decision is seriously flawed. Whatever one thinks of the proper response to adultery, it is manifestly unfair that the TGIE directive treated the man and the woman unequally. Choenyi was made to apologize and do prostrations, whereas Ngawang was not.
The Tenzingang decision also displayed a deeply problematic attitude toward the scourge of gender violence. Regardless of the adultery, nothing should excuse the torture of an individual. The best way to combat gender violence in this case would have been to turn the offenders over to Indian legal authorities. And if the TGiE had the power to order donations to a monastery, what about also demanding civil penalties to compensate the victim? Or to provide for the victim’s innocent 4-year-old daughter?
In late 2011, Dechen Tsering, the former head of the Tibetan Association of Northern California,
urged the Sikyong and his Home Minister “to issue a strong statement condemning the incident, to ensure that the perpetrators of the Tenzingang incident are barred from immigrating to Canada under the 1000 Tibetans Resettlement Project and to spearhead development of specific policies and programs toward the elimination of gender-based violence in our community. Only then,” she wrote, “can we achieve a compassionate manifestation of Phomo-Da-Nyam”
Unfortunately, the TGiE’s Tenzingang decision instead sent the following messages:
- A woman who commits adultery must apologize, but not a man
- Gender violence is a problem because it upsets the deities, not because it hurts or demeans the victims
- Violence against women will not be punished except through forced donations to a monastery
- Children who are innocent victims of gender violence do not need to have their best interests considered
This message is not consistent with the promise of gender equality in our society. Revisiting the Tibetan Response, Toward Real Pho-Mo Dranyam (Gender Equality)
Is there a better way? Is there a way to revisit the Tenzingang case to promote real Pho-Mo Dranyam
Let us first take a look at the TGiE’s Women’s Empowerment Policy
as outlined by the previous Kashag on October 14, 2008. As a policy, it is both flawed and toothless. The policy denies gender discrimination, in the history of the Tibetan nation, no less, and includes, among its 8 points, that “priority shall be given to female candidates for the posts of pre-primary teachers” and that girls’ sports in primary school should be given the same attention as boys’ sports.
According to a memorandum sent by B. Tsering of the TWA to the exile Tibetan leadership on September 2, 2012 (which TPR was recently given and has been authorized to report) the Women’s Empowerment Policy is a “good first step” in that it “recognizes the value of women and prioritizes gender issues.” However, its “policy prescriptions rely on gender stereotypes, and it does not provide sufficient guidance for implementing women’s empowerment initiatives.”
We hope that the Kashag will put out a new Women’s Empowerment Policy, updated for the 21st century.
In the meantime, it is heartening to see that TWA has taken the lead to fill the leadership gap on this issue. TWA is working with a Finnish NGO called KIOS to implement a EUR 20,000 grant for a program on “Legal Empowerment of Tibetan Women - 2013.”
If the TGiE Executive Branch leadership wants to demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights and gender equality, it will need to follow through on action it has promised and that Parliament has mandated. Just as an example, as a next step the TGiE administration could study the U.S. Presidential Commission on the Status of Women
. This commission was founded by President Kennedy in 1961 with the goal of advising the U.S. administration on issues concerning the status of women.
The commission grew out of a promise Kennedy made to Eleanor Roosevelt in exchange for her support during his candidacy. Some argue it was actually set up as a political compromise between the women’s rights lobby and the organized labor lobby.
The point here is that the U.S. commission could have been a political tactic as much as any expression of Kennedy’s deeply-held respect toward women’s rights. However it grew into something valuable. The commission issued several important reports
, which resulted in important legislation including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as an important executive order banning gender discrimination in employment.
In the Tibetan context, it might be a natural step for a new “Tibetan Commission on the Status of Women” to be set up. It could be given a budget, a list of questions to look into, and a deadline. The Kashag could commit to publicly responding to any recommendations made, to ensure that the commission’s work does not get ignored.
For example, one of the first concrete tasks the proposed Tibetan Commission on the Status of Women could be preparing a draft directive on women’s rights, to allow the Executive Branch to belatedly respond to the Parliament’s September 2011 request.
B. Tsering’s September 2, 2012 memorandum to the TGiE, mentioned above, earlier and independently developed a very similar idea of a “Women’s Commission” housed administratively in the Department of Home, but acting as an independent body similar to the Election Commission. B. Tsering’s memorandum has developed an excellent, concrete proposal that should provide a guide to the Tibetan Parliament in setting up such a body. Whatever this commission is ultimately called does not matter. The fact is that someone with B. Tsering’s deep expertise in the Tibetan situation in India has proposed such a commission, and a similar suggestion grew out of the example of the United States, suggests that this idea transcends political systems and should be seriously considered by the TGiE.
Gender violence is deplorable. Unfortunately, in the Tibetan context, the Tenzingang case is a reminder that much work needs to be done, including in encouraging our leaders to act in a positive and decisive way on this issue. Fortunately, the Tibetan Parliament has spoken out unambiguously in favor of gender equality. TWA is also taking the lead on advancing this issue in Tibetan civil society.
It is now up to the Tibetan people to call upon their elected leadership to ensure that, for the Tibetan administration, as well as for the whole Tibetan society, promoting Pho-Mo Dranyam
(gender equality) becomes a reality.
* Sentence revised on Jan. 18, 2013.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Outgoing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Hu Jintao delivered a long speech to the 18th Party Congress that was published on Xinhua on November 17, 2012. A review of the text of his speech makes no specific mention of Tibet, but it does contain statements concerning ethnic regional autonomy and ethnic minority relations.
In the section entitled “Keeping to the Socialist Path of Making Political Advance with Chinese Characteristics and Promoting Reform of the Political Structure,”
Hu Jintao said the following:
We should fully and faithfully implement the Party's policies concerning ethnic groups and uphold and improve the system of regional ethnic autonomy. We should, keeping to the goal of all ethnic groups working together for common prosperity and development, conduct intensive education about ethnic unity and progress, speed up development of ethnic minority areas, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic minorities. We should consolidate and develop socialist ethnic relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony so that all ethnic groups in China will live and develop together in harmony. We should comprehensively implement the Party's basic policy on religion and fully leverage the positive role of religious figures and believers in promoting economic and social development.”
Hu Jintao’s speech is full of impressive language about democratic values, rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution, religious freedom, and human rights. (The full speech is available in English at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/special/18cpcnc/2012-11/17/c_131981259.htm
). In practice the CCP implements none of these laudable principles. Likewise, we cannot take Hu’s words about regional ethnic autonomy and the rights of ethnic minorities at face value but must read between the lines.
Breaking down Hu’s statement sentence-by-sentence, here is our interpretation of what he said:
We should fully and faithfully implement the Party's policies concerning ethnic groups and uphold and improve the system of regional ethnic autonomy.
This statement shows that China intends to continue its current policies of “regional ethnic autonomy” in areas like Tibet and Xinjiang/East Turkestan. Influenced by Leninism, China previously called this system “national regional autonomy”. After witnessing the break-up of the Soviet Union, the CCP realized that calling groups like Tibetans “nationalities” implied they had a right to self-determination, so they quietly switched to an “ethnicity” framework to make clear that there was no right to secession and that the CCP would always remain in charge.
As we know from the uprising in Tibet in 2008, the protests in Xinjiang in 2009, the almost 100 self-immolations in Tibet since 2009, and the police-state imposed on Tibetan and Uighur areas, China’s ethnic regional autonomy policies have been an abysmal failure. This statement is interesting, however, in that it shows adherence to the present system of regional ethnic autonomy and a rejection of Zhu Weiqun’s
(Vice-Director of the United Front Department) statements about abolishing the regional ethnic autonomy system and assimilating ethnic minorities into Chinese culture (see http://chinese-leaders.org/zhu-weiqun/
We should, keeping to the goal of all ethnic groups working together for common prosperity and development, conduct intensive education about ethnic unity and progress, speed up development of ethnic minority areas, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic minorities. We should consolidate and develop socialist ethnic relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony so that all ethnic groups in China will live and develop together in harmony.
These two sentences are a signal that all ethnic minorities must be united behind the CCP and the Chinese Motherland and are prohibited in engaging any activities deemed to be separatist or against the “unity” of China. Calls for Tibetan independence, Tibetan freedom, and support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama are all considered “separatist” activity by the CCP and illegal under Chinese law.
In addition, this statement only specifies protection for “legitimate rights and interests” of ethnic minorities. What “legitimate rights and interests” means, however, is determined by the CCP and not by Tibetans and Uighurs. Historically, the CCP has never considered genuine religious freedom or freedom of speech to be among the legitimate rights and interests of Tibetans and Uighurs, and certainly not rights like political freedom. The CCP views religion and speech as subservient to the interests of the CCP and the State.
Moreover, when Hu says he wants all ethnic groups in China to live in “harmony,” he means he wants them all marching to the same beat and obedient to the Party. Hu Jintao’s version of harmony envisions no one stirring up trouble by demanding things like human rights and dignity.
We should comprehensively implement the Party's basic policy on religion and fully leverage the positive role of religious figures and believers in promoting economic and social development.
The CCP’s basic policy on religion is that religion is backward and nothing but superstition. While there is a belief among some Chinese officials that religion can be used to manage social tensions (ironically, this would see religion being used as an “opiate of the people”), even under this utilitarian view, religion is subservient to the needs of the State. The CCP views the religious beliefs of Tibetans to be a hindrance to their policies and plans for Tibet, in particular given the link between Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan nationalism. The CCP sometimes gives the appearance that it respects religious freedom but in reality, the CCP policy aims to ensure that religion and religious believers are managed by the State, not something that should be allowed to flourish and develop on its own.
In Tibet, the CCP has passed regulations and rules to control the recognition of tulkus, to manage the monasteries and nunneries, to limit the number of monks and nuns, to ban worship of His Holiness, to force monks and nuns to take “patriotic” tests on their political views, to control the movement of monks, and to prevent Tibetans in government service and schools from participating in religious activities. This shows the fundamental policy of CCP on religion is to limit and deny ethnic minorities genuine freedom of religion.
The last part of Hu’s sentence (“fully leverage the positive role of religious figures and believers in promoting economic and social development
”) shows China will continue its practice of trying to control Tibetans by controlling Tibetan religious leaders, including the Panchen Lama and other highly respected tulkus. The CCP knows that Tibetans are strongly influenced by their religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, and many other tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism. By controlling Tibetan Buddhist leaders, China hopes to control the Tibetan people and make them more compliant. To that effect, China has installed its own Panchen Lama in the hopes he will be able to influence the opinions and actions of Tibetans. However, the overwhelming majorities of Tibetans do not recognize the Chinese candidate as the genuine Panchen Lama and he has little influence or respect among Tibetans.
As mentioned above, China has passed regulations to control the recognition of tulkus. The CCP knows Tibetans respect the advice of their lamas on both spiritual and worldly affairs. By controlling Tibetan tulkus and lamas, China seeks to control and manage the Tibetan people.
The few sentences in Hu Jintao’s speech to the 18th Party Congress regarding ethnic minorities demonstrate a “business as usual” approach regarding Tibetans and Uighurs. Although he is stepping down as Party chief, Hu Jintao would not have been allowed to publicly make this speech without pre-approval from all Politburo Standing Committee members, including Xi Jinping. Therefore, we do not expect any positive changes or genuine reforms regarding ethnic minorities by the new Xi Xinping administration.
An additional key factor leading to a “business as usual” approach regarding Tibetans and Uyghurs is that Hu’s close ally, Ling Jihua, was recently installed as the new head of the United Front Work Group. In a stranger-than-fiction twist, Ling was demoted to this office after a botched cover-up following Ling’s son’s death in a Ferrari crash that also killed one Tibetan woman passenger and seriously injured another. Given Ling’s loyalty to Hu, it is expected that Ling will work to ensure that his patron’s “ethnicities” policy will remain in place at the United Front office.
To the Chinese Government, unity, stability and the supremacy of the CCP trumps minority rights, human rights, and ethnic regional autonomy. China’s policies concerning ethnic minorities, especially towards Tibetans and Uighurs, have utterly failed. Rather than attempt to correct these mistakes, the Chinese Government seems determined to continue the status quo and increase repression of Tibetans and Uighurs who do not accept Chinese rule or refuse to comply with the CCP’s version of regional ethnic autonomy.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Watching the Radio Free Asia (RFA) controversy unfold has been a painful process, not the least because it threatens to overshadow the tragedy inside Tibet and complicate support for Tibet in the US Congress. Given that this unwelcome controversy cannot be wished away, however, the only real choice is how to handle it. In our view, the Tibetan government-in-exile (TGIE) has an opportunity: it can show its people – and the world – that it is mature, transparent, and capable of juggling multiple crises like any other democracy.
The RFA Controversy in Context
There is a disturbing lack of uncontested public facts so far, which makes it inappropriate to speculate on culpability. All parties agree that Jigme Ngapo lost his job as director of RFA's Tibetan Service on November 4, 2012, after 16 years of service. A copy of an October 19 letter
to RFA President Libby Liu has also been released, signed by 37 out of 40 RFA Tibetan Service staff, declaring "full support and loyalty to Jigme la."
On November 8, the Tibetan blogger Woser wrote that Ngapo was dismissed with no public reasons given, and escorted by security out of the building (she wrote from Lhasa, so her information was not first-hand). She expressed her "greatest admiration" for his work. She even commented that when she herself was fired by Chinese authorities, at least they had told her the reason she was being fired and had not expelled her from the building like a "big black dog on a leash." However, in a following post on November 21, Woeser wrote, “Since at present the information I have obtained so far is incomplete and there is also the language barrier, it might be possible for me to misunderstand the situation.”
This matter is about much more than just one man’s job (although anyone’s loss of livelihood should be empathized). RFA’s reporting on the self-immolation crisis has been unparalleled. Tibetans in Tibet risk their lives to send information to RFA, international news media have cited RFA heavily, and of course RFA broadcasts news of the self-immolations back to Tibet. Given RFA’s critical two-way linkage between Tibet and the outside world, the decapitation of RFA Tibetan Service’s leadership comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Tibetan cause.
Don’t Jump to Any Conclusions
Readers will no doubt be aware of the letters that Congressman Dana Rohrbacher sent to RFA President Libby Liu and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay on November 17 and 19. Rohrbacher accused Liu and Sangay of “political censorship” at RFA, and warned Sangay that “actions taken by you and other Tibetan leaders … are eroding support within the US Congress for the Tibetan cause.” In addition, Rohrbacher also alluded to “serious accusations that US funding meant for Tibetans may have … [gone] into the pockets of the Communist Chinese and Tibetan power brokers.”
Readers will also be aware that, on November 21, Sikyong Sangay issued a statement in which he called Rohrbacher’s charges “completely baseless.” (More on this below.)
It is beyond question that it is premature to jump to any conclusions. The burden is squarely on Rohrbacher to provide evidence to back up his charges against Sangay.
There are, however, two additional considerations. The first has to do with the way the TGIE conducts its foreign relations and public diplomacy, and the second with the larger question of the need to improve the TGIE’s internal checks.
Foreign Relations and Public Diplomacy: A Self-Inflicted Wound
At times like this, it is easy to let emotions get carried away. From an objective perspective, this much is clear:
The fact is that an important Congressman who chairs the foreign relations investigations subcommittee has made serious allegations. Given the critical role of the US Government for the Tibetan struggle, it is beyond obvious that the Congressman’s concerns must be taken seriously and respectfully. (Recall that Rohrbacher warned that the alleged “machinations” would threaten Congressional support for Tibet.)
Who is Rohrbacher? He has been a staunch Tibet supporter for many years. He co-founded the US Congress’s Tibet Caucus
in 2008, and called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics over China’s treatment of Tibetans. He is also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on investigations. This powerful subcommittee conducts oversight on matters related to foreign affairs. Rohrbacher thus has a legal right and responsibility to oversee RFA.
It is worth noting that RFA was set up by the US government and is entirely funded by US taxpayers. It is a testament to the enormous success of RFA’s mission that many Tibetans feel a deep affinity for the radio station, even feeling like it is a Tibetan institution. But it must be remembered that, when it comes to ownership and control, RFA belongs to the US government and US taxpayer.
Could Rohrbacher’s letter to Sangay have been more diplomatic? Surely. In fact, Speaker Penpa Tsering referred to his language as “denigrating and unparliamentary”. However, Rohrbacher is known for his blunt speaking style (in 2011 he called Hu Jintao a “gangster”
). More generally, Members of Congress who chair powerful committees are accustomed to aggressively grilling people like the Secretary of State, CEOs, and four-star generals. The fact is that some powerful Members of Congress speak this way; this is nothing personal or worth getting insulted over.
So keeping all that in mind, it becomes clear that the TGIE’s response so far has left significant room for improvement.
The Sikyong’s Letter:
On November 21, two days after Rohrbacher’s letter, the Sikyong issued a terse, unsigned statement
in which he called the charges “completely baseless.” Specifically, he stated, “I have never approached either RFA President Ms. Libby Liu or members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors on matters related to RFA personnel.” He also declared the CTA’s “fiscal integrity and transparency”.
Although we applaud the speed with which Sangay denied Rohrbacher’s charges, unfortunately his statement is unlikely to resolve the issue. People in the US Congress parse such statements as a matter of habit. They will note that Sangay’s statement was oddly specific in what it actually denied. Sangay denied “approaching” Liu or the BBG on matters related to “RFA personnel”. Intentionally or not, Sangay left the door open to having been approached by Liu, or to approaching Liu first on a different matter. Also Sangay did not define what he means by an “RFA personnel” matter.
Lest anyone think that this is needless lawyerly parsing, Republicans like Rohrbacher will recall that President Clinton once tried to escape perjury charges by basing his defense on what the meaning of the word “is
” is. So it is not a stretch that Rohrbacher will notice that the key term – “RFA personnel” – is undefined. (He will also surely notice that Representative Lobsang Nyandak used the same term, “RFA personnel”, in a publicized letter to Jamyang Norbu
on November 30, suggesting that this term may have been purposely chosen.) Members of Congress may therefore think – rightly or wrongly – that Sangay is not being fully forthcoming.
The Speaker’s Letter:
Then on November 23, Speaker Penpa Tsering sent his own letter to Rorhbacher
on behalf of the Tibetan Parliament. It made some good points, but as it objected to Rohrbacher’s “denigrating and unparliamentary language”, it unfortunately used its own undiplomatic tone.
Additionally, the letter asserted without any apparent basis that Rohrbacher’s charges were “clearly based on insinuation and hearsay”. Rohrbacher’s committee has access to non-public information and deals with the most sensitive issues in US diplomacy (like military threats
, and terrorism
). The Speaker could not have known the basis for Rohrbacher’s charges (since he did not ask), nor did he have enough time to conduct his own credible independent investigation.
Speaker Tsering also took the step of copying his letter to the most important people in the US government, including President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Reid. This step is questionable and may further escalate the matter. Thus, Speaker Tsering may have intended his letter to quiet this controversy, but that will not be the likely result.
(This is not the first embarrassing letter sent by Speaker Tsering to a head of state. On May 8, 2012, the Speaker extended his “heartfelt best wishes” and congratulations to Vladimir Putin
for his “historic” election to a third term as Russian president; independent observers had denounced Putin’s election
as tainted by rampant fraud, media intimidation, and state-sanctioned violence against opposition parties.)
A Golden Opportunity for the TGIE
The above comments on the TGIE’s response may seem critical, but they come out of a conviction that the Tibetan cause needs a strong TGIE, and therefore all Tibetans have a duty to provide constructive feedback. By taking an objective and non-emotional perspective, we believe it is possible to see that there were certain shortcomings in the way the TGIE leadership responded to a serious controversy. The good news is that in theory these shortcomings are entirely fixable.
The best advice in dealing with any political scandal is: “get ahead of the controversy.” The TGIE leadership so far has come off as defensive and not entirely convincing, but there is still time to get ahead of this controversy and display confidence, maturity, and transparency.
When the Tibetan Parliament does not live up to its role as a separate branch of government (e.g.
when it rubber-stamped the Sikyong’s Kashag nominees
without any question or discussion), it is as if one leg of a three-legged stool is wobbly. Woser said it best in her second post on the RFA issue
I believe that Tibetan exile society needs to raise the level of its own political modernisation. This kind of modernisation is not just the appearance of democracy only on the surface but a real understanding of and compliance with the ideas and principles of democracy, especially to accommodate a variety of views, receive criticism, as well as to monitor those who are in control, these things are the true essence of democracy.
This “political modernisation” can start with the Tibetan Parliament living up to its duty of oversight over the executive (the Kashag). It is well known that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has expressed a wish that the TGIE function as a full democracy, with basic principles like separation of powers and checks-and-balances.
In the case of the RFA controversy, imagine if the Tibetan Parliament had responded to Rohrbacher instead with a mature, confident, and diplomatically-worded letter stating:
the Parliament believes in the presumption of innocence, and has full confidence in the Sikyong;
- given the seriousness of the charges and the respectability of the source, the Parliament requests Rohrbacher to reveal his reasons for his beliefs as stated in the letter;
- based on Rohrbacher’s information, the Parliament can refer this matter to an independent investigative committee if necessary; if there is any truth to these allegations, the Parliament is confident that the truth will be revealed;
- the Parliament thanks the Congressman for his long-standing support for freedom for the Tibetan people.
Such an approach would have displayed a level of confidence and even-handedness that would have reflected very well on the maturity of the young Tibetan democracy. Additionally, this approach would have recognized that transparency requires being proactive. The fact is that Rohrbacher’s subcommittee has the power to call hearings and issue subpoenas. In the event that there are any facts at all behind Rohrbacher’s allegations, it would be far better if the Tibetan political system – rather than the American one – brought them to light first.
More broadly, the Tibetan Parliament could form a “Transparency and Oversight Committee” that is specifically tasked with investigating any time credible questions are raised about the functioning of the TGIE. This committee could be provided the ability to hire a small staff as needed and the power to hold hearings, demand documents from within the TGIE, and compel testimony from TGIE officers.
This imagined Transparency and Oversight Committee should have strict conflict-of-interest rules. Its members should not be the same as the Parliament Standing Committee, which has a different role. Given that any Chitues
who are not on the Standing Committee are only in session twice a year, the Transparency and Oversight Committee should have the power to come into session on an ad hoc basis.
All this would be a way to improve the functioning of the TGIE as a robust democracy with transparency and separation of powers.
The critical importance of bolstering the TGIE as the legitimate and democratic voice of the Tibetan people was noted by Sikyong Sangay himself in his S.J.D. dissertation
The very existence of an exile government questions the legitimacy of the Chinese government in Tibet. If the exile government establishes itself well and gains credence internationally and internally, then it becomes a bigger threat because both Tibetans inside Tibet and the international community might look at the Tibetan exile government as a power to recond with, or recognize it as the de-jure or de-facto government and express or show loyalty to it.
We agree. Improving and strengthening the Tibetan democracy is a task that has every bearing on the success of the Tibetan struggle. That is why the TGIE needs the constructive engagement of all Tibetans.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
In an exciting development, Tibet Fund has been awarded a $2 million grant by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement USAID’s Tibet Education Project. At a time when Tibet Fund looks to replace its recently-departed Executive Director, this grant presents a major opportunity but also a challenge.
How Did the Tibet Education Project Start?
In 2009, the U.S. Congress committed $2 million for Tibetan refugee settlement revitalization. This money was earmarked for “revitalization of the refugee communities in India, Nepal, and Bhutan with a focus on workforce development and organic agriculture
No discussion of U.S. government action on Tibet can ignore the primary role of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the bedrock of Tibet’s bipartisan support. This specific 2009 funding bill was also a major success for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), as well as other U.S.-based Tibet groups. ICT, Students for a Free Tibet, U.S. Tibet Committee, and Tibetan associations across the US have made enhanced U.S. Government funding a prominent part of their annual “Tibet Lobby Day” campaign for a number of years, and of course ICT is a constant advocate for Tibet in Washington.
According to ICT
, the Tibet Education Project developed out of the 2009 Congressional funding commitment. ICT states that the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was consulted in the Tibet Education Project’s design, and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Under Secretary Maria Otero guided the project to its launch phase. Critically, Under Secretary Otero gained first-hand knowledge of the needs of the Tibetan settlements in India thanks to a historic visit there in February 2011, facilitated by the CTA (then led by Samdhong Rinpoche) and ICT
Under Secretary Otero (front center) in Bylakuppe, India, Feb. 2011 (photo: ICT)
Perhaps confusingly, the $2 million for the Tibet Education Project is related to – but separate from – the $2 million earmarked by Congress in 2009. Instead, the education funds came from separate revenues already within the control of the Executive branch (specifically the State Department, which oversees USAID). The State Department cited the 2009 Congressional action as a basis for its action. Thus, the $2 million for education appears to be the first time that a new Tibetan aid program was initiated in the Executive Branch, rather than Congress, demonstrating the institutionalization of the support for Tibetans within the U.S. Government.
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has played a notable role in the State Department’s decision to direct funds toward Tibetan refugee education. His administration also provided input in the design of the State Department program. Sangay has declared education his administration’s “number one priority”, something many people (including us) supported. In his visits to Washington DC, he lobbied Members of Congress
for “funding that will help young Tibetans in exile receive an education in India and Nepal”. Therefore, Sangay’s role in directing these incoming funds towards education should be applauded.
Based on all this input, the U.S. Government set up a $2 million Tibet Education Project, to be awarded by USAID to the winner of a grant competition. The six objectives
of the Tibet Education Project include:
- intensifying teacher development and training;
- expanding the scholarship program;
- scaling the counseling program;
- prioritizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics education;
- supporting test preparations and coaching for students; and
- improving education management.
According to USAID, the wining NGO will be expected to “work in close coordination with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) to support Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal to acquire educational skills and knowledge”.
An Opportunity and a Challenge for Tibet Fund?
Tibet Fund has now won the USAID competition, and has been selected as the NGO to administer this program. This $2 million grant will be a significant addition to its budget, which totaled $8 million in 2010
Tibet Fund has a long track-record of development work in the Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal, as well as in Tibet. Clearly, the Tibet Education Project is a tremendous opportunity, and speaks to USAID’s confidence in the capacity and professionalism of Tibet Fund. Furthermore, all the parties involved should be congratulated, including those who secured the funds in 2009, and those who secured the education funds more recently.
There is, however, one issue that we believe merits close observation. Tibet Fund has recently lost its Executive Director, Robyn Brentano. Although the head of Tibet Fund still remains President Rinchen Dharlo, a former Representative of His Holiness at the Office of Tibet NY during whose watch Tibet Fund was created, the organization is now without an Executive Director
, and the question of who will be hired for this critical position at this critical time will be of significant interest to its wide range of stakeholders.
Tibet Fund plays a unique and critical role as an organization that is close to the Tibetan community, yet is also an independent, non-profit NGO able to tap into resources that the CTA might not. As the Tibet Fund selects its next Executive Director, we have little doubt that the organization will consider how its new leader will contribute to the organization’s professionalism, transparency, and independence as well as its core mission. We look forward to wishing Tibet Fund’s new Executive Director well, whoever he or she is.
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