By Tenzin Monlam
Richard Gere, Chair of ICT holding a picture of Tengha, the latest self-immolator, at the hearing before Congress on December 6, 2017 in Washington DC. Photo-ICT
DHARAMSHALA, December 7: ‘Knocked out’ by words of support from the US lawmakers during a Congress hearing on Tibet policy in Washington DC yesterday, American actor Richard Gere thanked the Congress for unanimous show of support and commitment towards Tibet issue.
Hosted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, the Chairperson of the International Campaign for Tibet was testifying on US policy towards Tibet. The bills under discussion were Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (H.R.1872 in the House, S.821 in the Senate) and the Concurrent Resolution on Tibet (H.Con.Res.89 in the House, S.Con.Res.30 in the Senate).
Gere was joined by Tenzin Tethong, Director of the Tibetan Service, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Carl Gershman, President of National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as witnesses at the hearing.
“I am totally knocked out by the words I’m hearing from all of you. I think everyone in this room is feeling this from a deep place,” Gere said, while thanking the Congress for honoring His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal 10 years ago in 2007.
Endorsing the Middle Way Approach the 68-year-old actor said, “Despite the historical, cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences, and despite decades of oppression, the proposal for genuine autonomy presented by the Tibetans shows a path towards coexistence, and away from conflict.”
He also raised the issue of the self-immolation by citing the recent self-immolation of Tengha, 63-year-old Tibetan monk, Chinese policies threatening the survival of Tibetan identity and making China accountable as per international law.
“Human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet are already in a poor and worsening state. According to the State Department’s 2016 human rights report, China engages in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population,” said Ted Yoho, Chairman of the Subcommittee.
Many representatives during the two-hour long hearing expressed concerns over Tibet being ‘pushed to the periphery of US foreign policy’ and urged for a stronger commitment. Some also raised the possibility of the US government recognizing the Tibetan government in exile as a means ‘to send a strong message to China to resolve the issue’.
Tethong describing the difficulties faced during reporting said, “On any given day, people in Tibet may wake up without access to the Internet and unable to make a phone call because authorities have shut down all communications.”
He also added that families may be taken into custody under suspicion that one individual, or a close relative, has communicated with foreign media or NGOs.
At the end of the hearing, Gere made 18 recommendations to the administration including early designation of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, to work with EU and other nations to formulate multilateral approach to the Tibet issue, and ask Secretary Rex Tillerson to meet the Dalai Lama.