News and Views on Tibet

Letter from South Africa

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By Renato Palmi

A few days before China executed Lobsang Dhondup, South Africa and China signed an “Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters .

Last year, the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet, in his annual speech to commemorate Tibet Uprising Day on 10 March, said: “It is my sincere hope that the Chinese leadership will find the courage, wisdom and vision to solve the Tibetan issue through negotiations.” A year has passed and the complexities of China s decades-long illegal occupation of Tibet have been further complicated by China’s recent cat-and-mouse stance in this regard.

In September 2002, at China s invitation, two of the Dalai Lama’s envoys visited Tibet under stringent control by Chinese authorities. This was the first time in 20 years that Beijing had made direct contact with the Tibet government-in-exile. The Tibetan exiled leadership was hopeful that concrete and earnest negotiations towards autonomy for Tibet would begin. Four months later, on 26 January 2003, the Chinese authorities ignored an international objection and executed Lobsang Dhondup after a closed and unfair trial, during which the Chinese authorities accused the Tibetan of “inciting separatism”. These actions by China raise questions about her sincerity in finding a solution regarding Tibet.

As has become inevitable, the South African government has remained silent on the execution, even after hosting Chinese Vice-Premier Li Langing in South Africa between 19 and 22 January 2003. Li Langing held private meetings with Deputy-President Jacob Zuma and paid a courtesy call on President Mbeki. An Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters was also signed between the two countries. How is it that South Africa, having barely emerged from her own tortured past of oppression and prejudice, enters into such an Agreement on criminal matters with a country that has neither interest in nor commitment to a culture of human rights or fair trial procedures, and in which dissidents are summarily executed?

Mr. Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama who visited Tibet in September 2002, said on hearing of the execution of Lobsang Dhondup: ” I asked directly and indirectly that this case be dealt with fairly and with due process of law. I am gravely concerned that the Chinese have taken this action without such considerations.”

At the December 2002 ANC Conference, former President Nelson Mandela said that America’s approach to Iraq was arrogant and alarmingly indifferent to the United Nations. He stated: “We cannot allow a superpower to disregard the UN.” The people of Tibet are asking the same of China, and South Africa can lead by example. As China treats the UN and its resolutions with sheer disdain, (except when these support China s own agenda), our government and human rights leaders should be challenging China, as they do other countries. As prominent local social activists cite Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and the Holocaust as case-histories of genocide, so should Tibet be accorded this tragic status and given a voice before it is too late!

The 10th March 2003 will mark 44 years of exile for the Dalai Lama. For the Tibetans inside Chinese occupied Tibet, nothing has changed their religion, culture, reproductive, educational, social and economic rights continue to be violated. Young Tibetan children still attempt the perilous journey on foot over the Himalayas to escape into northern India and a dubious freedom. Tibet might not be threatened by war, but the Tibetan people have suffered relentless atrocities at the hands of the government of the People’s Republic of China.

March 10 presents an opportunity for South Africa, at all levels of our society, to raise a forceful outcry in opposition to China’s violations in Tibet and to demand meaningful dialogue between the People’s Republic of China and the Tibetan government-in-exile. As Albert Einstein wrote: The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.

*Renato Palmi works with Tibet Society of South Africa. He is an independent analyst on Tibet.

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