Tibet: Nonviolent Activism and the Diplomatic Politicking of Human Rights
By Heidi Basch
As submitted to the WTN
Keeping to the principles of nonviolence as promoted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Tibetans continue to struggle for a free Tibet. Most recently, three Tibetan activists from the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) showed the world that they were ready to die by starvation for some official international attention to the continued oppression of the Tibetan people. Since 1959, Tibetans have lived under pseudo-Communist China’s rule, which continues to threaten the eradication of Tibet’s cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions.
Many generations of Tibetans have now passed through the cycle of life in exile. Yet the love for this land continues to flourish abundantly in the hearts and minds of all the generations-in-exile. Among the younger Tibetans, fury and frustration augments due to the international decision makers’ inertia toward the continued occupied status of Tibet. It is exacerbated by the continued hopeless status of refugee outside the Land of the Snows.
On May 3, 2004, holding a carton of orange juice in each hand, Carolyn McAskie, UN Deputy Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs descended the steps of the United Nations building in New York, pleading with the remaining two of three Tibetan activists to cease their hunger strike to the death. Mr. Sonam Wangdu, Mr. Gyatso, and Ms. Dolma Choephel of TYC withstood thirty days of fasting for the sake of a Free Tibet, for the sake of the integrity and future of the Tibetan people
For most people, nonviolent activism conjures up an image of the emaciated, khadi (homespun) wearing, bespectacled Mahatma Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi, one of the leaders of the Indian Independence movement. Gandhi too was a fan of the hunger strike for the sake of socio-political change. After independence, when Hindu-Muslim tensions escalated and communal violence erupted, Gandhi invoked his Law of Suffering by employing the hunger strike until hostilities subsided. Through Gandhi’s self-induced suffering, he moved the hearts of those with whom he worked so tirelessly to establish a British free India, who had turned against each other. Each time Gandhi-ji began a hunger strike, the violence slowly ebbed, only to cease when Gandhi’s death seemed imminent. Fear of losing their leader paralyzed the aggravated and unsure citizens of a fledgling India. For Gandhi, hunger strikes worked because the target audience of his strike was the people of India who sincerely cared for him.
I’m not saying that the officials of the United Nations who voiced and documented their support for the TYC strikers weren’t genuinely concerned with the welfare of the hunger strikers, and the Tibetan people as a whole. However, I’d like to draw attention to the fact although the strikers addressed a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which was published in the International Herald Tribune, he sent out one of his assistants. The diplomatic politicking of a subject as sensitive as Tibetan human rights with regard to the reactive Chinese Communist regime, overrode his ability to personally propose a compromise to the withered hunger strikers.
Placing one’s life in peril on the steps of the United Nations bears great symbolic significance. In the aftermath of World War II’s bloodshed, the nations of the world united and pledged to obligate themselves to the establishment and maintenance of global peace and security. Over the past five decades, convention after convention, conference after conference, and resolution after resolution have been codified and debated to create this framework of order and respect for human rights. Drawing from the example of Tibet, these efforts simply are not enough.
Maybe Sonam, Gyatso, and Choephel are convinced that something will come of their self-sacrifice. But I am much more cynical. In fact, certain that the Chinese government, delusional body of ideological bureaucrats that it is, will not yield to any criticisms or international demands that should result from the hunger strikers’ campaign.
In a letter to the strikers from Acting High Commissioner to Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, he assured the strikers that the United Nations has Tibet and the pressing issues brought forth such as the pending death sentence of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, on the highest alert. There is no doubt in my mind that Ramcharan is sincere in his words, but that’s all that they are -- words.
What is the United Nations today? An international organization that, unfortunately is forced to forfeit its authority as countries such as the United States and China continue to undermine international decision making on key issues involving the dignity of human beings. I hate to compare Chinese policy to that of the United States. Nevertheless, a state acts in its own interest first and foremost. Apparently, the human rights of Tibetans fail to come before budding economic relations with China. But then, how will we make progress?
Sadly, the bulging biceps of China’s trade market and the irresistible glisten of gleaming capitalistic opportunism will succeed in continuing to body check any country who dares to blaspheme against the Chinese government and their management of Tibet.
A Free Tibet? A Tibet free for China to ruin with highways and pipelines and railroads and hegemony and deprivation of anything traditionally Tibetan.