They included 90-year old Mr. Robert Ford, who witnessed China’s invasion of Tibet and had his first audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who was then 11-years old. Two of the award winners, Professor Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling and Professor Theo van Boven, cited their experience of living under foreign occupation and oppression in Europe when young as the reason for their support of Tibet’s freedom struggle. The other awardees were The International Commission of Jurists, which has produced ground-breaking reports on Tibet, and Ms. Sigrid Joss-Arnd, in recognition of the important role of the Swiss Red Cross when Tibetan refugees began flowing out of Tibet in the 1960s.
The Light of Truth Award recipients were each presented with a Tibetan butter-lamp, which represents the light they have shed on the Tibetan cause, in a moving private ceremony in Fribourg, Switzerland, where the Dalai Lama was giving Tibetan Buddhist teachings. The honorees are:
- Mr. Robert Ford, the first Westerner to be employed by the Government of Tibet before 1949-50 and given an official rank, for his tireless advocacy on Tibet for more than half a century. Mr. Ford was captured by the Chinese Communists during the invasion of Tibet and spent nearly five years imprisoned subjected to interrogation and ‘thought reform’ and in constant fear of execution. He had been in charge of setting up Tibet’s first broadcasting station and training Tibetan radio operators to establish a radio communications network throughout Tibet. After receiving the award, Mr. Ford said: “I had the great privilege of having my first audience with His Holiness in Lhasa in the early 1940s. He was only 11-years old. I feel so honored to receive the Light of Truth Award from His Holiness almost 70 years later. I am a member of a rather exclusive club of Westerners who have the privilege and good fortune to see, know and witness a free Tibet before 1950. One of the advantages of living a long life like me is that you witness some extraordinary changes, some of which earlier in your life you would never imagine could have happened. This gives me great hope, and I wish with all my heart that we will once again see a return to a free Tibet.”
- The International Commission of Jurists, an NGO dedicated to strengthening the role of lawyers and judges in protecting and promoting human rights and the rule of law, for its seminal reports and legal advocacy on Tibet. The award was received by Mr. Wilder Tayler, Secretary General, International Commission of Jurists. Mr. Tayler said: “You cannot imagine the outpouring of emails I have received even from very old members of the ICJ and the pride and joy in receiving the recognition of the work of ICJ by the Tibetan community, by His Holiness, by the solidarity organisations. Really it has been so moving. This prize will be dedicated to the late Nick Howen, my immediate predecessor and very dear friend who passed away quite tragically three years ago. Nick was a devoted activist of the Tibet cause; he not only put a lot of hours, he actually put his life at risk when there was need of it in order to pursue the cause, to bring information out of Tibet.”
- Ms. Sigrid Joss-Arnd, in recognition of the contribution of her organization, the Swiss Red Cross, in rendering continued critical assistance to Tibetans in the diaspora as well as for its humanitarian projects in Tibet. Ms Joss-Arnd, who is in her eighties, was one of the founders in 1960 of the Association of Tibetan Homesteads, which led to her working with Tibetan refugee children as they started to arrive in exile. Ms Joss-Arnd concluded the Light of Truth reception with the following blessing: “May His Holiness be blessed. May the Tibetans in Tibet be blessed. May the Tibetans in exile be blessed. And may they all be reunited soon.”
- Professor Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, former German Minister and Parliamentarian, known for his international mediation and conflict prevention work through his Schwarz-Schilling Foundation, for his support on the issue of the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue. Professor Schwarz-Schilling said that he felt humbled upon receiving the award, and in his remarks said: “The vision of His Holiness has inspired so many people and his power, the spiritual power, the physical power to [carry out his vision] in that way is giving us all hope.”
- Professor Theo van Boven, Dutch jurist and Professor Emeritus in international law, former UN Rapporteur on Torture, for putting the spotlight on Tibet within and beyond the United Nations system. Professor van Boven was also an expert member of the UN Subcommission on Human Rights. Upon acceptance of the award, Professor van Boven said living for five years under foreign occupation in Europe had made him aware of the patterns of persecution, and determined to support ending oppression.
Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The international footprint of the Light of Truth Award, represented this year by honorees from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Uruguay, Germany, and the Netherlands, is testimony to humankind’s common response to injustice. The awardees’ lifetimes of experience give further testimony to the importance of determination, endurance and truth in countering injustice and oppression.”
At the award ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama paid tribute to each individual recipient of the Light of Truth award saying “All of you have been long-standing friends and supporters of Tibet, for which we are immeasurably grateful. As you know, the spirit of the Tibetan people is undiminished and the power of truth remains strong.” He said that the closed, authoritarian society under the Chinese Communist Party could not be sustained into the future but the Tibetan spirit “will carry on from generation to generation.” There was laughter when, referring the age of the group of award-winners who were mainly of his generation, the Dalai Lama said that if such change took too long, then perhaps “This group will not see it, but if it happens [sooner] then maybe you will when you are in a wheelchair.”
The private award ceremony was followed by a public reception hosted by the International Campaign for Tibet. Professor Jan Andersson, Executive Chairman of the ICT Board of Directors in Germany and Vice-Chairman of the ICT Europe Board, welcomed the guests saying: “This award signifies gratitude to those who have devoted their work to supporting the Tibetan people in various ways out of a sense of responsibility for the well-being and the rights of fellow human beings.”
Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, head of the Central Tibetan Administration since 2011, was ICT’s special guest at the reception, offering congratulations and “heartfelt gratitude” to the International Campaign for Tibet, the Light of Truth Award honorees, and friends across the globe for their generous support to Tibet. Dr. Sangay spoke at length about Tibetan democracy in exile, stressing the Dalai Lama’s commitment to government reform, the extreme lengths Tibetans have gone to in order to participate in the election process in exile, and the fact that there was a woman in the Tibetan exile parliament from 1963, “long before there was such representation even in Switzerland.” (See photos below.) ICT will shortly release highlights of the day and interviews with the awardees online.
Professor van Boven was among the speakers who paid tribute to ICT’s work on behalf of Tibetans, saying: “I should mention the important defence of rights by the International Campaign for Tibet. We should give this our full and warm support.”
ICT’s Light of Truth Award is the most prestigious award in the Tibet movement and has been presented over the years by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on behalf of ICT. Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Václav Havel, Chinese scholar and writer Wang Lixiong, Elie Wiesel, Martin Scorsese and the people of India.
The International Campaign for Tibet (www.savetibet.org) marked its 25th anniversary on March 15, 2013. On that date in 1988, the International Campaign for Tibet was established to support the Tibetan people’s struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms. From a handful of dedicated individuals, ICT has grown into an international organization empowered by the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The International Campaign for Tibet works with governments and governmental institutions and through public campaigns to promote human rights and democratic freedom for the Tibetan people.
See photos of the event below.
Previous videos of Light of Truth awards: www.youtube.com/intercampaigntibet