DHARAMSHALA, June 14: A petition to save Lhasa, Tibet’s ancient capital city from China’s rapid urban development, signed by more than 85,000 people was submitted to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee today.
The World Heritage Committee will be holding its 37th session in the Kingdom of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap-Angkor, from June 16-27.
A coalition of Tibet groups submitted the change.org ‘Save Lhasa’ petition along with a report compiled by International Tibet Network, highlighting China’s aggressive and rapid transformation of the ancient Tibetan city of Lhasa, and expressing concern that Lhasa’s traditional architectural heritage may be at risk, to UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.
The petition initiated by former political prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol, who spent more than 11 years in Chinese prisons, appeals for urgent investigations into reports of mass construction in Lhsaa, putting the city at the risk of destruction, environmental risks, and forced evictions.
“I was born in Lhasa and I am deeply troubled by recent reports of destructive developments in my home city,” Sangdrol writes in the petition. “A city of such historical and cultural significance as Lhasa must be protected, and I appeal to Kishore Rao of the World Heritage Centre, and to Members of the World Heritage Committee to make urgent investigations into what is happening in Lhasa before it is too late.”
Beijing based Tibetan writer, Woeser, had earlier exposed China’s plans of constructing a shopping mall in the old town of Lhasa, which once completed would cover an area of 150,000 sq m and have more than 1,000 underground parking spaces.
Woeser had noted that the Old City part of Lhasa, which dates back to the 7th century, is to be divided into several large parts, thoroughly clearing the circumambulation path around the Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest shrine.
All of the residents originally living along the street will also be forcibly evicted according to reports.
Tibet groups condemned China’s record of protecting Tibetan heritage as “poor,” with many of Lhasa’s old buildings “already having been destroyed, including within the buffer zones of the UNESCO “World Heritage Ensemble” of the Potala Palace, Norbulingka and Jokhang Temple.”
“As the occupier of Tibet, China needs to be held to account for its reckless custodianship of Tibet’s priceless heritage,” said Tenzin Jigme from International Tibet Network. “We call on the World Heritage Committee to ensure China meets obligations to safeguard this irreplaceable UNESCO World Heritage site for future generations.”
Last month, the exile Tibetan administration had expressed deep concern over the “so-called ‘face-lift project’” and accused China of planning to completely transform the historical and religiously significant area at the heart of Lhasa.