Members of Congress urge administration to lead effort to end Tibet crisis

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to President Obama asking that the “United States take a leading role and engage actively with partner nations on measures that could bring near-term improvements in the human rights situation in Tibet.” The letter, dated December 20, 2012, was authored by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) and signed by a total of 58 House Members of both parties.

Congressmen McGovern and Wolf said:

“With the steep rise in self-immolations by Tibetans and the Chinese authorities’ failure to address their legitimate grievances, the United States must lead efforts to resolve the crisis. We welcome recent statements by the State Department, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom, and in this letter we urge the President to work with these governments to address the human rights situation in Tibet. The recent statement by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay provides a critical road map toward that goal.”

The McGovern-Wolf letter reflects an emerging and urgent international consensus that the Chinese authorities must end strict controls on the Tibetan population, which governments say have led to the self-immolations in Tibet (now at 95 since 2009). Since December 11, the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and the external affairs chief of the European Union, have all issued similar statements [link] calling for an end to repressive policies in Tibet and for dialogue toward a solution.

These statements followed an unprecedented statement by U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay on November 2, in which she called for the Government of China to respect Tibetans’ rights and to allow UN officials and foreign media unimpeded access to Tibetan areas.

To this end, the letter asks President Obama to take “a leading role in support of Commissioner Pillay’s statement and actively engage partner nations on measures that could bring near-term improvements in the human rights situation in Tibet and serve to de-escalate rising tensions brought about by hard-line and destructive Chinese policies and actions.”

The Members of Congress also ask the Administration to continue “promoting dialogue between Chinese officials and Tibetan leaders in order to achieve a negotiated solution to the problems afflicting Tibet and the Tibetan people.”

“This Congressional effort expresses the desire that governments take a quantitatively stepped-up effort to press the Chinese to act to end the self-immolations in Tibet,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “Their expectation is clear – that the U.S. government has a moral obligation to speak out on behalf of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people when the Chinese government has abjectly failed in its responsibility to safeguard those rights.”

A copy of the letter, and list of signatories, follow:

December 20, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.20500

Dear President Obama,

We write to strongly urge you to make Tibet one of your top priorities for U.S. advocacy, especially given the desperate protests occurring in Tibet this past year. It is critical that the U.S. take a leading role and engage actively with partner nations on measures that could bring near-term improvements in the human rights situation in Tibet. As you consider candidates to be the next Secretary of State, we urge you to nominate someone who will champion this issue.

It has long been U.S. policy to promote dialogue without preconditions to advance a solution on Tibet and to press for respect for human rights and the preservation of Tibetan religion, language and cultural heritage.

Regrettably, the policies of the Chinese government towards the Tibetan people have only increased in their level of repression, their intrusion into all Tibetan institutions, most particularly religious and educational, and their denigration of Tibetan culture. These repressive conditions have led to the self-immolations and protests by Tibetans. As incidents of self-immolation increased in frequency, so have reports of mass gatherings of Tibetans to mourn and express solidarity with those who have undertaken these often mortal acts of protest. Continued crackdowns by Beijing threaten to escalate the situation.

It is in this context that we welcome the strong November 2nd statement on Tibet by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. She cited “continuing allegations of violence against Tibetans seeking to exercise their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression, association and religion,” and pointed to “reports of detentions and disappearances, of excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and curbs on the cultural rights of Tibetans.”

We believe Commissioner Pillay’s statement requires stronger efforts on the part of the United States and the international community to press China to respect human rights in Tibet. It should serve as a clarion call for a new level of collaborative and coordinated pressure and engagement with the Chinese government on the Tibetan issue, including but not limited to allowing access by independent and impartial monitors to assess conditions on the ground, including the 12 outstanding requests for official visits by U.N. special rapporteurs; adoption by the Chinese government of policies recommended by U.N. special rapporteurs, such as suspension and review of Chinese policies and incentives that promote the settlement of mainland Chinese into Tibet; the suspension of non-voluntary resettlement of Tibetan nomadic herders; an independent inquiry into alleged excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators of 2008, and allegations of torture and ill-treatment against those arrested and detained; lifting restrictions on media access to the region; respect for Tibetans’ rights to peaceful assembly, expression and religious practice, and the release of anyone detained for exercising those rights; and renewed engagement in dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions.

The Chinese government appears to believe that by sealing off Tibet, international interest and concern will diminish. It will not. We were therefore pleased to see the recent statements by Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Under Secretary Maria Otero and by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner expressing U.S. concern over the increasing frequency of self-immolations by Tibetans and rejection of the continuing violence by Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas. But much more must be done.

We urge you, Mr. President, to take a leading role in support of Commissioner Pillay’s statement and actively engage partner nations on measures that could bring near-term improvements in the human rights situation in Tibet and serve to de-escalate rising tensions brought about by hard-line and destructive Chinese policies and actions. In addition, continued attention must be paid to promoting dialogue between Chinese officials and Tibetan leaders in order to achieve a negotiated solution to the problems afflicting Tibet and the Tibetan people.

We have the moral obligation to speak out for the Tibetan people and confront China about these abuses, to convey the aspirations for change that are being expressed so desperately by the Tibetan people directly to those who have the responsibility to heed Tibetans’ demands for change, respect and basic dignity. We ask that you make this a top priority and lead the way.

Sincerely,

James P. McGovern (MA)
Frank R. Wolf (VA)
Michael E. Capuano (MA)
Jim McDermott (WA)
Edolphus Towns (NY)
Henry A. Waxman (CA)
Jared Polis (CO)
Barbara Lee (CA)
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI)
John F. Tierney (MA)
John W. Olver (MA)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA)
Peter A. DeFazio (OR)
John Lewis (GA)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)
Betty McCollum (MN)
Timothy J. Walz (MN)
John Garamendi (CA)
Janice D. Schakowsky (IL)
Sam Farr (CA)
Ed Markey (MA)
William Keating (MA)
Mike Turner (R-OH)
Joseph Pitts (R-PA)
Gerry Connolly (VA)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Maxine Waters (CA)
Collin Peterson (MN)
Stephen Lynch (MA)
Mike Michaud (ME)
Steve Chabot (OH)
André Carson (IN)
Lois Capps (CA)
Jackie Speier (CA)
Alcee Hastings (FL)
Chris Smith (NJ)
Earl Blumenauer (OR)
Rush Holt (NJ)
Richard Neal (MA)
Mike McIntyre (NC)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Judy Chu (CA)
Mike Honda (CA)
Yvette Clarke (NY)
Albio Sires (NJ)
Joe Courtney (CT)
Peter Welch (VT)
Donna Edwards (MD)
Rosa DeLauro (CT)
Al Green (TX)
Leonard Lance (NJ)
Charles Rangel (NY)
Jim Moran (VA)
David Cicilline (RI)
Jim Himes (CT)
Adam Smith (WA)
Niki Tsongas (MA)

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