By Ngawang C. Drakmargyapon
Phayul Special Correspondent
United Nations, Geneva, 31 January – According to a UN press bulletin of 25 January on the proceedings of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Committee in New York, a representative of China defamed the Dalai Lama when the quadrennial report of International Press Institute (IPI) was discussed by the body for approval.
China’s representative noted that, “during the NGO’s annual meeting in 2001, the Dalai Lama had been invited to the closing ceremony. The Dalai Lama had long been a promoter of separation of Tibet from China. His behaviour ran counter to the United Nations principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” China hoped that the NGO would refrain from becoming a platform that could be used by separatist movements and asked for the organization’s response to the issue, the bulletin added.
The Vienna-based IPI website, http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/
, says that the organization is a “global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists…dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the promotion of free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.”
As IPI is recognized as one of the NGOs in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic Social Council (ECOSOC), this status requires the NGO to submit a report on its activities every four years to the NGO Committee.
Although the response provided by IPI is not known, the event to which the Chinese representative referred to was actually the organisations’s World Congress and 50th General Assembly that took place in the Indian capital, New Delhi from 26 to 29, 2001. The then-Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Bihar Vajpayee, was the main guest at the opening ceremony of the gathering.
The Dalai Lama and Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics, were the main guests at the closing ceremony of the IPI event. The Dalai Lama’s talk was on the subject: “The Future of Humanity” according to a transcript available on IPI website. In the speech, the Dalai Lama said: “I always share with media people. You have every right to investigate thoroughly in order to know the reality – whether it is good or bad. I usually tell the press people: You should have a long nose, as long as an elephant’s nose, and you should smell in front, behind, above and beneath”.
With regard to the situation in Tibet, the Dalai Lama said: “I feel that if the Chinese government would give Tibet a meaningful self-rule that would be the best way to develop genuine stability and a genuine unity. I think that is the best way to achieve a national unity. So this is a mutual benefit and this is my main effort. Despite a negative response from the Chinese government, now lasting more than 20 years, my position has not changed and I still am committed to this way.”
China's scrutiny on the organisation could also be linked to IPI’s critical view on the freedom of press in present-day China. IPI's World Press Freedom Review of 2005 said that “millions of Tibetans are deprived of the right to be informed and express themselves due to repressive measures, according to RSF (Reporters Without Borders). Chinese authorities ban all foreign publications, and printed or audio-visual material advocating Tibetan independence, said the Indian-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. Original Tibetan-language programmes are almost non-existent on television, all news media in Tibet are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party or state bodies and articles undergo lengthy censorship. In addition, radio signals beamed into the country by foreign media are often jammed, including those from Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and the India-based Voice of Tibet.”
The UN NGO Committee is composed of 19 diplomats who represent Angola, Burundi, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Guinea, India, Israel, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation,Sudan,Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
For a governmental body, this was not the first time that China used its muscle on NGOs with Consultative Status with the United Nations who had expressed their concerns over the situation in Tibet either in their reports or in statements to UN human rights meetings.
In 2002, France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterand became the target over its position on Tibet with China reportedly threatening the NGO with withdrawal of its Consultative Status.
In early 1990s, the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples was pressurised for supporting the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination in a statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Another situation is that of Nonviolence International whose application for UN Consultative Status took almost five years for clearance due to endless questioning by China, especially because the NGO published a report on Tibet’s nonviolent freedom struggle, “Truth is Our only Weapon.”
During this session of the NGO Committee in New York, China’s representatives, as on previous occasions, questioned NGO applications when they did not refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan, Province of China". Due to such politicised scrutiny, the applications of World Wind Energy Association based in Germany and the International Harm Reduction Association in United Kingdom were deferred on 22 January. Similarly, the application of Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international organization in Belgium, aiming to implement proven non-violent peacekeeping techniques, was deferred on 25 January “to permit continuation of bilateral contacts between the Chinese Mission and the NGO.”
On the other hand, proceedings of the UN NGO Committee show that when it comes to applications or reports of "NGOs" from China, they received full diplomatic backing from Beijing. As such on 22 January, the report of the “Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament” was accepted by the Committee without scrutiny. According to observers, since the early 1980s, China and its ruling Communist Party created many “NGOs” who are known to the wider NGO community as GONGOs (Government organised Non-Governmental Organisations).
During the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in South Africa when GONGOs from China criticised the Tibetan participation, three Tibetan NGOs in a press statement voice their concern. On 29 August 2002, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, International Campaign for Tibet and Tibet Justice Center in a statement said: “Once again, Chinese participants have shown that they are not interested in constructive dialogue, and instead are intent on silencing Tibetan voices. Our NGOs have been working and will continue to work to create dialogue, to discuss environment and development issues pertinent to Chinese-occupied Tibet and Tibetans, and to push for a human rights-based approach to sustainable development around the globe”.
A scholar once said that the Chinese government’s NGO policy can be characterized as inconsistent or even ambivalent. On the one hand, there are very strict regulations for NGO registration and a lack of an effective institutional structure for charitable contributions. On the other hand, the government has established GONGOs and has played a major role in promoting some NGOs focusing on politically non-controversial issues, the scholar said.
Hanifa Mezoui, Chief NGO Section at the UN headquarters told the NGO Committee that since 1996, the number of NGOs in consultative status had increased from 1,184 to 2,865. On 21 June 2004, the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations formed by the then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan released its report: "We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance". This report suggested drastic changes of the current system of processing applications for NGO Consultative Status. However, this report does not seem to have received the support of Member of the UN without which nothing will be implemented.
The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) in a letter to Kofi Annan said they “wish to affirm the report's emphasis on measures to de-politicize the Non-Governmental Organization accreditation process. We believe that NGO accreditation is, or should be, an objective and professional rather than a political function. We strongly support the intent of all proposals that seek to emphasize attention to "expertise, competence and skills", as the Report underlines, and to minimize political involvement therein, such as was sometimes the case in the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs.”
Despite the pressure from China, NGOs with Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic Social Council, continue to speak out on the human rights situation in Tibet. One recent example was when 16 such NGOs in a joint statement questioned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the third session of the new UN Human Rights Council on the measures taken concerning the killings of Tibetans on the Nangpa Pass.
On 17 January, IPI in a statement stated that it was “deeply disturbed by the killing of a Chinese journalist, who was beaten to death while investigating an unlicensed coalmine and urged Chinese authorities to do everything in their power to make sure that the perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice according to international standards. By doing so, the Chinese government will be sending a clear signal that the killing of journalists is not tolerated."