April 6, 2006
He was speaking after meeting the Dalai Lama -- spiritual leader of the people of Tibet -- in Dharamsala, their place of exile in India.
"He urged us to highlight and internationalise the plight of the six million citizens of Tibet in China and the 140 000 Tibetans living in exile, mostly in India, whom he describes as victims of a profound abuse of human rights and 'cultural genocide'," Leon said in a statement received in Johannesburg.
"He was appreciative of the fact that despite protests from the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria to both the deputy speaker of Parliament and the chief whip of the official opposition, we had made the journey and were prepared to identify with the struggle of the Tibetan people.
Leon said the Dalai Lama emphasised that neither he nor his "government-in-exile" were seeking independence from China, which they enjoyed until 1951, when China invaded and conquered.
They were seeking -- through dialogue and non-violence -- a "middle way" to accommodate the aspirations of Tibetans within the context of the Chinese Constitution.
"During our visit we had the opportunity to visit and familiarise ourselves with the conditions of Tibetan monasteries, orphanages and refugee centres in and around Dharamsala.
"The stories which we heard about their flight from Tibet, and the treatment by the administration there, were harrowing and disturbing. In our view the situation in Tibet is a scar on the conscience of the world.
"The Democratic Alliance believes that the cause of human rights in Tibet is worthy of our nation's support, within the context of enjoying full and normal relations with the People's Republic of China.
"On our return to South Africa we will seek opportunities in Parliament to highlight the situation in Tibet and the doctrine espoused by His Holiness the Dalai Lama," Leon said.