DHARAMSHALA, December 6: The United States government has expressed its “deep concern and sadness” over the “increasing frequency” of self-immolations by Tibetans and blamed China for further exacerbating tensions in the region.
The U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero in a statement issued December 5 accused Chinese authorities of responding to the wave of fiery protests with “measures that tighten already strict controls on freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association of Tibetans.”
“The United States is deeply concerned and saddened by the continuing violence in Tibetan areas of China and the increasing frequency of self-immolations by Tibetans,” Otero said. “Official rhetoric that denigrates the Tibetan language, the Dalai Lama, and those who have self-immolated has further exacerbated tensions.”
In February 2009, Tabey became the first known Tibetan inside Tibet to set himself on fire protesting China’s rule. Since then 92 Tibetans have self-immolated, demanding freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile. The recent escalation in protests witnessed 28 self-immolations in the month of November and massive protests by thousands of Tibetans, including by school students.
Otero, who also serves as the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights in the Obama Administration noted that senior U.S. officials have directly raised the issue of Tibetan self-immolations with their Chinese government counterparts.
“The U.S. Government has consistently urged the Chinese government to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions,” the statement reads. “These policies include increasingly severe government controls on Tibetan Buddhist religious practice and monastic institutions; education practices that undermine the preservation of Tibetan language; intensive surveillance, arbitrary detentions and disappearances of Tibetans, including youth and Tibetan intellectual and cultural leaders; escalating restrictions on news, media and communications; and the use of force against Tibetans seeking peacefully to exercise their universal human rights.”
Last week, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Posner met with family members of three Tibetan self-immolators in Washington D.C. Without revealing the identities of the family members, fearing Chinese retribution, the State Department said that Posner expressed Washington’s “deepest condolences and grave concern” over the critical situation in Tibet.
Otero, who has met the Dalai Lama on several occasions, called on China to engage in dialogue with the Tibetan spiritual leader, while expressing her hope that the “tragic acts of self-immolation end.”
“We call on the Chinese Government to permit Tibetans to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully, and without fear of retribution. We call on China’s leaders to allow journalists, diplomats and other observers unrestricted access to China’s Tibetan areas. We call on the Chinese Government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions.”
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi last month, the Dalai Lama said China’s repressive policies and the unbearable situation in Tibet are forcing Tibetans to set themselves of fire in Tibet.
"The unbearable situation in Tibet is the cause for these unfortunate events. I am very sad about the turn of events. These are symptoms of fear, hard line suppressive policy practiced by China in Tibet. The time has come for China to think more realistically," reporters quoted the 77-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader as saying.