Tag Archives: Tibet

The things we do for freedom

In honor of the Human Rights Festival currently showing in Paris, I’d like to tell the stories of a few of my immigrant friends in France. As immigration laws get tighter in France and around the world, it’s worth considering their human effects. One must ask, what makes one human more worthy of rights than another? Are country borders more important than saving a human soul? Before we write a law restricting access to those in need, we must realize that in fact every person’s needs are the same, regardless of nationality: clean water and food, decent housing, education, medical care, etc. Governments must reconcile the need of those within their country borders and those who arrive seeking help.

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Mila is Serbian. She came to France 11 years ago with her Serbian husband, who worked in construction. She soon found work in a local grocery store, learned the language and integrated into society. Three years later, she and her husband divorced. She chose to stay in France, and had no problem renewing her visa. All she did when she moved houses following the divorce, was to go to the prefecture to change her address. Her new visa arrived soon after with the same status, even though now she had no links to France, besides having lived in the country for three years. At the time, her country was in the throngs of war – this may be the only reason she was not sent back home. Now, when she goes back to Serbia, she is disgusted by the prices in the clothing and shoe shops. The Serbian economy is no pitiful that an average salary is the equivalent to 150 euros a month. Yet, the prices in the shops are the same as in France. The distance between the rich and the poor is growing, and finding jobs is nearly impossible. Mila’s father has been out of work for 10 years, after the plant where he worked closed. He has since not been able to find work. Mila’s mother has never worked. Thus, every month, Mila sends part of her paycheck home to help her family survive.

Palden is Tibetan. He was born in India and has never been to Tibet. However, he was born with and always has had “refugee” status in India, given no passport but a special travel pass instead. Unlike France or America, one cannot be born into a nationality there. Your nationality is predetermined and the line between Indian and otherwise is strictly separated. For this reason, Palden came to France to find work, to leave his refugee status behind and to make a new life for himself as a French citizen. Once here, he had to stay mum on his life in India. If discovered, he would be sent back. After all, why would a Tibetan need to escape India? He is not in danger there, it is a safe haven. However, he will never have full Indian rights, so he has come to France. Thus, he says he was born in Tibet, speaks a few lines of Chinese at his visa appointment, and is given a French visa for two years before he can apply for citizenship. Once he receives it, he is free to travel anywhere in the world, in particular, Tibet. He can finally return to his unfamiliar homeland and use his knowledge from the Western world to make change in Tibet.

Tsering is also Tibetan. She was born in Tibet. When she was 18, she crossed the mountains with a friend to escape to India. The pair spent a month on foot, through dense snow and freezing temperatures, living off tsampa – patties made of flour and butter tea. They arrived in India, only to find the living conditions far less desirable than expected. Not only were they strangers in a strange land, but they had to adjust to the toxic water, polluted air and new food. The girls were often sick. They couldn’t find work and couldn’t speak Hindi or English. Eventually, they were fed up. They made the decision to go back to Tibet, fulling knowing what this meant: spending another month crossing back over those same mountains into Tibet, where Chinese police would most likely arrest them and put them in jail for 3 to 6 months. They might be tortured, they might not be. But at least they could see their friends and families again.

David is from Chad. His country has been in war on and off for ten years. After graduating from high school, he went to university in Cameroon. He also spent some time in Nigeria learning English. He decided to further his studies in France, where he was soon met with a visa nightmare. Because his country is at war on and off, he is constantly waiting it out, constantly wondering if he will be sent back home the minute peace breaks through for a few hopeful days. In the meantime, he is considered an “asylum seeker.” What he really wants is “refugee” status. At least this way, he will be on the fast track for citizenship or a more stable visa status. As things are now, he has to renew his asylum seeker visa every three months. He can never settle and never feel like he is moving in a linear, forward direction. The word “precarious” comes to mind. So does the word “stress.”

I read an article in Le Monde the other day about two Afghan men who decided to escape their war-torn country to come to London. Thus began a heroic, 6-month adventure halfway across the world. One man sold his taxi upon leaving in order to have enough money for the trip, the other quit his job. Both men spent approximately 17,000 dollars to pay traffickers to help them cross the borders of Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, then France. They were Calais, on their way to London (and thinking they were scot free) when they were found by police while sleeping in an abandoned house. The French police told them they’d be alright, that they wouldn’t be kicked out of the country. But upon arriving at the airport (even under the police’s pretext that they would be allowed to stay) they were hustled onto an airplane and sent home to Kabul. Once there, they found that their families had rejected them for having left. Their jobs were gone, they had no home and they now owed traffickers nearly 20,000 dollars each. They did all of this for freedom, making it to the last leg of their trip before meeting an untimely end in France, a country they trusted to provide them safe harbor. As one of the men mentioned to police, they were simply passing through France, not staying indefinitely. So why did the French police expel them?

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And my own story. I worked in Marseille from 2003-2005 as an English assistant. I came back to France in 2008 as a “jeune professionnelle,” which can be loosely translated into “paid intern.” I intended to stay for 18 months and hoped to stay for longer. I worked for a newspaper in Southwest France, run by a vicious alcoholic who polluted our work environment on a daily basis. Over half of the staff were clinically depressed. Eight months later, the business went under and we all got laid off. I found myself in a foreign country, alone and unemployed. When it came time to renew my visa, I did so as an unemployed citizen. My renewal was accepted. I was paid monthly installments to keep me afloat while I looked for a new job. After 8 months of searching, I found a teaching job in Paris. My visa has always said “salariee,” which means I am allowed to work in any capacity in France. However, when I tried to renew my visa this past February, it was rejected, on the grounds that as a “jeune professionnelle,” I had overstayed my welcome in France and had worked illegally for my current employer. I now have one month to do an appeal of the DDTE’s decision and if it doesn’t go through, I am expected to drop my entire life and jump on a plane back home. After a total of four years here, I speak the language almost perfectly, I pay French taxes, I have a full-time CDI (timeline undetermined) work contract – I don’t ask anyone for anything. Yet I am being told to leave.

I tell these stories because when we watch the nightly news or pick up a newspaper, we rarely hear the personal stories behind immigration. All we hear are the talking heads and their impressions of current laws. Perhaps if these same lawmakers took a few moments to listen to what is really going on around them, none of us would be in this mess. I cross our fingers for all of us.

Human rights on the line: Obama snubs Dalai Lama and meets with Chinese president

I find it interesting that Obama, the man who speaks loathingly about torture, who caused a cafuffle over Guantanamo and denounced Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters last June, is now seemingly devoid of emotion toward human rights abuses caused by China.

The most recent photos of President Barack Obama have him not sitting white-scarved and smiling with the Dalai Lama like most U.S. presidents before him, but shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Sure, Obama has every right to meet with the leader of this swiftly developing nation, but the wounds are still fresh from last month when, during the Dalai Lama’s visit to the U.S., President Obama canceled their planned meeting and postponed it to a still unidentified date.

On November 17, Obama and Jintao met to discuss environmental issues and what Obama calls their shared “burden of leadership” (as he put it to a forum of students in Shanghai). The two talked, shook hands like old friends and agreed in advance not to talk about the sticky issues.

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If anyone still remembers, Obama recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. As shocked as I am over this development, I would think that his top advisors, if not the man himself, would want to protect that award and prove to us naysayers that he does indeed deserve it. Slapping butts with the Chinese president – who recently allowed the execution of two Tibetans who participated in the deadly protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet last year – won’t get Obama any closer to winning international approval on his ability to make equal rights a priority. Especially when the Dalai Lama is a fellow Nobel prize winner himself.

The Times of India had this to say on October 6, before the Jintao/Obama meeting even took place:

“The loud sucking noise you hear? That’s President Barack Obama kissing up to the Chinese.

At least that’s what supporters of the Dalai Lama would have you believe after the U.S President passed up a meeting with the Tibetan leader in Washington D.C. this week – ostensibly to not offend Beijing ahead of Obama’s visit to China next month.

It’s the first time in ten visits to the U.S. in 18 years that the Dalai Lama has failed to meet with the American president. The political and diplomatic slight to the man widely admired in the US has brought forth a volley of criticism against Obama, hitherto hailed a champion of human rights.”

The China-Tibet issue is not the only tolerance card Obama has left undealt. He has yet to ban CIA-organized “extraordinary renditions” – in which suspected terrorists are abducted and shipped offshore, interrogated and usually tortured – despite his supposed opposition to the use of coercive cross-examination techniques.

In fact, Obama’s softening backbone also seems to apply to his definition of torture and consequences for those who practice it. His condemnation of waterboarding last year ended in a retraction to press charges against CIA officials who had employed the tactic. He claims that instead of rehashing the past – and squabbling over wrongs committed by the Bush administration – he and his team were better off focusing their energy on the future. That’s all fine and dandy, except that it sets a mean precedent: if Bush’s authorization of torture was acceptable based on legal rationale, then what is stopping Obama’s administration from following suit?

I don’t doubt that Obama, the man, is against torture, is pro-human rights, is looking out for the genuine good will of every man, woman and child in America. Behind all the media and PR hype, there is a strong, intelligent, liberal and effective man who deserves to be leader, president, Nobel prize holder (perhaps).

But without some of that early grit and resolve that made so many vote for Obama, he’s bound to lose his head among the many self-serving and manipulative world leaders hoping to profit from his hyper-egalitarian nature. And there’s simply nothing human or right about that.

Ride your bike for Tibet’s Panchen Lama

It’s that time of year again, folks. Get on your bike and help support the Minnesota Tibetan community by participating in the “Bike Ride for Tibet’s Panchen Lama” on Saturday, April 25th. Hosted by several local Tibetan associations, the bike ride will go from the State Capitol all the way to Peavey Plaza on Nicollet Mall, for a total of 15 miles on wheels.

The Panchen Lama, who is the second most revered figure by the Tibetan Buddhists, was kidnapped at age 6 by the Chinese in 1995. This year, he celebrates his 20th birthday. His story, like so many others, reaffirms that the Chinese still hold oppressive rule over the Tibetan state, where religious and political freedoms are constantly in jeopardy.

Asia’s human rights offenders: A look at Reporter Without Borders’ annual press freedom index

I promise, I am not becoming a China-hater. Despite what these last two posts may read, I have visited the country and think the people, cities and countryside of China are amazing. However, after joining Reporters Without Borders yesterday, I took a gander through their annual Press Freedom Index from 2008. I was shocked to see some of the more developed, thriving nations rock bottom on the list.

Which brings me back, of course, to China. How can a country so fraught with humanitarian issues be constantly congratulated by the U.S. government? How could they have been chosen to host the most important, influential and unifying sporting event in the world – the Olympics? They were given this honor even though Tibetans are continually enslaved in their own country, Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and imprisoned, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 167th out of 173 in terms of the rights journalists have in China.

North Korea Premier Kim Yong II Visits China

Human rights offenders Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) and North Korean Premier Kim Yong II

“Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai… is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment,” reads a passage from the report. Although liberal media outlets are beginning to form, China has a long way to go if it wants to compete with its nearby neighbors such as Japan (29th), Taiwan (36th) or South Korea (47th). Even war-torn Sri Lanka beat them by two places.

Of course not all of Asia is booming with press freedom. Not surprisingly, North Korea was listed second from the bottom, where government propaganda rules and the population is largely cut-off from world happenings. Burma and Vietnam came in as the fourth and sixth worst rated countries, respectively. Eritrea, in Northeast Africa, came in at number one.

Still, China must reconcile what it wants to become and what it still inevitably is. While the country has made huge strides economically, pulling millions out of poverty, their successes have not come without a price. Human rights activists are imprisoned regularly, religious freedom is highly restricted (the constitution forbids any practice that may cause “disruption”to society) and the media struggles to produce independent journalism.

Human Rights Watch announced just today that on February 13 China placed new restrictions on Chinese news assistants to foreign correspondents, who risk being dismissed or losing their accreditation for engaging in “independent reporting.” The government also announced that it would create a blacklist for Chinese journalists who participate in “illegal reporting.”

Great nations are not only formed by swift economic growth and a reduction in poverty but by an open society where all citizens are free to express themselves and to strive for what they want to achieve. Great nations are those which respect the environment, engage in constructive dialogue with their allies and their foes, educate their children, and provide services to the poor and underprivileged.

I would never presume to list any of today’s countries as “great nations,” and certainly not my own. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give China a chance to improve themselves. After all, they haven’t been at this whole “developed country” thing for very long.

But still, certain issues just can’t wait to be dealt with. How many people will have to die before China’s human rights records improve?

Tibetans remember, this uprising day

Today the Dalai Lama, speaking before crowds from his home-in-exile of Dharamsala, India, condemned China’s handling of Tibetans and the issue of Tibet in a poignant Tibetan Uprising Day address. His Holiness severely changed gears from his normally nonconfrontational and soft approach to China’s rule over Tibet, stating that the last five decades had brought suffering and destruction to his people.

Dalai Lama Marks Fifty Years In Exile

Fifty years ago on this day, Tibetans rose up against Chinese rule on the streets of Lhasa, Tibet. The thousands of deaths in that fight for freedom has since been referred to as Tibetan Uprising Day. In remembrance of those who fought in the struggle, Tibetan communities across the globe have since organized annual peaceful protests on March 10th.

What continues to mystify Western audiences is the way the story of the Tibetan freedom struggle is twisted in the Chinese media. Or should we, as Westerners, assume that Tibetans were indeed poor, miserable slaves before the Chinese “liberated” them? Following the Dalai Lama’s address today, I ran across so many conflicting reports about the history and present situation in Tibet that one could easily be fooled into thinking that the whole Sino-Tibetan debacle was a sham.

However, after living in Dharamsala and working directly with the Tibetan people, I can no more say that violence, discrimination and murder of Tibetans did and does not exist than can I say that slavery was not utilised against the black community in America or the extermination of Jews did not happen during the Holocaust. What Tibetans did and still face in Tibet, not to mention the thousands who have fled their homeland over the years in order to free themselves of religious and political persecution by the Chinese, is real and tangible and displayed by free presses around the world for all to see.

Yet for some reason, China is still feeding its people with lies upon lies. It still seems to feel the need to prove something, to show that it is the big fish in the pond by “claiming” Tibet as its own. Regardless of what history proves (that Tibet was indeed its own country at one point), what does it matter to China that Tibet is a part of their country? Already claiming roughly the same sized land mass as the United States with three times the population, China is the fourth largest country in the world. Why does it need Tibet?

With so many unanswered questions, a good place to start would be with a few snippets that have been floating around cyber space today. Only by reading between the lines will any of us get to the real truth about what is going on in Tibet, and force the Chinese government to start making some changes.

Displaced Tibetans Protest On Streets Of Kathmandu

Dalai Lama’s utter distortion of Tibet history

(March 10, 2009 – Xinua News Agency)

BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) — On March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his supporters started an armed rebellion in a desperate attempt to preserve Tibet’s feudal serfdom and split the region from China.

On Tuesday, exactly 50 years later, the Dalai Lama claimed that Tibetans have been living in “hell on earth,” as if the Tibet under the former feudal serfdom ruled by him were a heaven.

The Dalai Lama also alleged at a gathering in India’s Dharamsala to mark his 50 years in exile that “these 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet.”

Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama has not only been on the wrong side of history, but also has got the history upside down. Miseries of “hell on earth” and “untold suffering” occurred nowhere but in the slavery Tibet symbolized by the Dalai Lama. (…)



Dalai Lama to speak out 50 years after failed uprising

(March 10, 2009 – AFP)

(…) Chinese troops entered the devoutly Buddhist region in 1950 to “liberate” it from feudal rule, according to Beijing, but Chinese control there remains widely unpopular.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of seeking to split the Himalayan territory from China. But the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner has repeatedly said he is only pursuing autonomy for Tibet.

“For the last 50 years we have been living in India as exiles and there is some heartburn now,” said Tenzin Norsang, general secretary of the influential Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which wants outright independence for Tibetans.

Tibetan lobby groups are mustering supporters to launch protests after the Dalai Lama’s address on Tuesday.

“Up to 10,000 people will join our movement, which aims to escalate tensions with China,” said Tenzin Choeying, president of Students for Free Tibet, which also campaigns for independence.

“Anything can happen, as these protests will be spectacular,” he said on the eve of the anniversary. “We intend to embarrass China.” (….)



Dalai Lama criticises China on 50th anniversary of Tibet uprising

(March 10, 2009 – Deutsch Welle)

Tibet’s spiritual leader has condemned China on the 50th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule in the province. The Dalai Lama said the past five decades had brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and its people, and added that Tibetan culture was nearing extinction. Addressing supporters in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala, he also accused Beijing of launching a brutal crackdown in the Himalayan province since last year’s anti-Chinese protests. (….)


Dalai Lama Marks Fifty Years In Exile

Sarkozy meets Dalai Lama. But will it be enough?

More and more, China reminds me of a certain wealthy British couple living in the Dordogne, who likes to irrationally throw its money around in lieu of using actual power.

French President Sarkozy met with the Tibetan exiled leader, the Dalai Lama yesterday in Poland, and he’s paying for it. China is threatening to boycott trade deals and pulled out of the China-EU summit in France. Yet, in his direct, calm but forceful manner, Sarkozy told China not to make things “tense” and mentioned that their actions were not based in reality. In the coming weeks, we will see if China is just full of hot air or if they’ll make good on their threats.

As Sarkozy accepted the traditional white scarves, a symbolic Tibetan offering (which he promptly took off his neck and lay awkwardly in a pile to the side) he became the first EU president to challenge China’s threats and meet the Tibetan leader. But where’s the pay off?

As a fervent Tibetan supporter, I will always hold hope that Tibet will one day be free, just as the thousands of exiled natives wish for every day in their new homes in India, New York, Minnesota and beyond. But after the Beijing Olympic Games, where throngs of Tibetans were killed in protest, with no positive outcome, one wonders where the light at the end of the tunnel will be.

It is obvious to me that China is waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass on.

Dalai Lamas are chosen at a young age by Senior Tibetan monks, who use meditation to find the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Then the children, often as young as two years old, are given a series of tasks to perform (like identifying the former Dalai Lama’s personal belongings) before one is selected.

While Tibetan Buddhism is broken into multiple branches, the Dalai Lama is considered the spiritual leader of Tibet, and unofficially holds the highest position in the Gelugpa sect. Throughout the country’s history, the Dalai Lama has exercised varying degrees of political power, depending largely on the country’s level of turmoil. Alongside him are two other spiritual leaders, the Panchen Lama – the second highest member of the Gelugpa sect, but without civil authority – and the Karmapa, the head of the Karmapa sect.

With the abundant challenges posed by China, the current Dalai Lama is taking on an increasingly important political role, one that many Tibetans worry will not be easily replaced if he should die in the next few years (he is already 73). This sentiment has prompted the Dalai Lama to suggest that he name a successor before his death, straying away from the normal selection process of choosing the next Dalai Lama after the previous one has passed.

For if tradition were upheld, the new Dalai Lama would be but a young boy, without any knowledge of the suffering his people have been through over the past decades. China would finally be able to take full control of the powerless country, as they would have no visible leader for several years.

So while China appears to be in a constant state of “armed and ready to fight,” they are simply biding their time, hoping to throw off Tibet and its supporters until His Holiness meets his final day.

France’s latest ploy to knock China off its haunches will be brief, at best. The two countries will have words, a few more threats will be thrown around, and then everyone will forget about the meeting. If thousands of Tibetans launching rocks at Chinese store windows in Lhasa won’t open up Sino-Tibetan dialogue, I seriously doubt a few white scarves between friends will do the trick.

So, Mr. Sarkozy, the next time Chinese leaders send you menacing messages, don’t let yourself be put on the defensive. Make sanctions against the communist country first so that they are forced to react – and not the other way around.

Unless we pressure China politically, we will never manage to crush their ideology, which is determined to blow out the already dwindling flame of the Tibetan spirit.