Joanne Knight

January 14, 2009

Tibet’s Flame

Filed under: human rights — joanneknight @ 10:33 pm
Tags: , ,

Written 23 April 2008

It began with monks with rainbow banners peacefully marching to Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the invasion of Tibet in 1950 and ended with soldiers firing upon a crowd. The contrast of the bright purple and red robes of Tibetan monks against the Chinese military grey seemed to personify the desire for freedom against oppression. Ghostly figures stumble through a pall of smoke that hangs over a street in Lhasa littered with twisted bicycles and cars, as tanks and troop carriers roll through the coutryside of Tibet, gathering violence around them. Tibet is indeed an occupied country.

The appalling images of Chinese violence against peaceful protesters in Tibet compliment pictures of pro-Tibet supporters being assaulted by security forces in Canberra, Paris and London. Western countries including Australia have criticised China on their human rights record in Tibet but Australian government policy is to recognise China’s annexation of a sovereign state. This is a fine distinction given that Tibet’s basic right to self determination has been continuously violated by China for the last 58 years.

On the first day of his China trip, Kevin Rudd said ‘Australia, like most other countries, recognises China sovereignty over Tibet but we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet,’ Mr Rudd said. ‘We recognise the need for all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue.’ Mr Rudd seemed to forget that it was the Chinese who violently oppressed a peaceful protest by Buddhist monks.
The Rudd Government has advanced a foreign policy position of being more active in global affairs and offering stronger support for the United Nations. In an address to the East Asia Forum, Rudd said Australia must become more engaged to meet economic, security and environmental challenges posed to all nations.
‘Australia’s voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world,’ Rudd said in the speech. ‘That is why during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas where we believe we can make a difference.” International Herald Tribune March 27, 2008
As part of its aim to build and maintain the conditions in which nation states can peacefully pursue their own prosperity, Stephen Smith Minister For Foreign Affairs in a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute advocated ‘a global and regional order based on principles, norms and rules which regulate relations between nation states.’ However it seems the international principles of self determination and territorial integrity will take a back seat.

There has long been international recognition that China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 violate fundamental human rights and freedoms. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 1961 that:
‘these events violate fundamental human rights and freedoms set out in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the principle of self-determination of peoples and nations, and have the deplorable effect of increasing international tension and embittering relations between peoples.’ Resolution 1723 (XVI)
The right to self determination has a principle place as Article I in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. ‘All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’
China’s occupation of Tibet is the source of their human rights violations. Ongoing use of excessive military force to stifle dissent has resulted in arbitrary arrests, political imprisonment, torture and execution. Human rights groups have documented at least 60 deaths of peaceful demonstrators since 1987 and have confirmed, by name, over 700 Tibetan political prisoners in Tibet, although there are likely to be hundreds more whose names are not confirmed. Many are detained without charge or trial for up to four years through administrative regulations entitled “re-education through labor”. International Campaign for Tibet
The re-education camps are particularly integral to the Chinese occupation. In these classes, the Tibetans read and recite from texts that denounce the Dalai Lama as a ‘political reactionary’ and a ‘betrayer of the Motherland’. Torturing people so that they forget their unique sovereign heritage and submit to occupation clearly illustrates why there cannot be benevolent occupation.
Given the UN General Assembly has recognised the right of Tibet to self determination and the Australian Government’s much touted wish to take a strong position on human rights and in the international arena, it seems Rudd should strengthen his position. The Charter of the United Nations states that its purposes are to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. If Australia seriously seeks to take its place on the world stage, we need to make sure we support these principles.

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