Senator Wellstone’s statement on the introduction of S. Res. 252

SENATE RESOLUTION 252
Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding human rights violations in Tibet, the Panchen Lama, and the need for Dialogue between the Chinese leadership and the Dalai Lama or his representatives

Mr. WELLSTONE. Mr. President, I rise today to acknowledge and celebrate the 13th birthday of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest spiritual leader.

As you may know, shortly after the Dalai Lama recognized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama in 1995, the Chinese government abducted him with his family. He was 6 years old at the time. Today, the Panchen Lama remains in detention, and his whereabouts are unknown. For the past 7 years repeated requests from both governments and private humanitarian organizations to meet with the boy have been denied. It is intolerable that the Chinese leadership is using this young child in their efforts to tighten their grip on Tibet. On his 13th birthday, he remains one of the world’s youngest political and religious prisoners.

Tibetans are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Prior to the Chinese invasion of 1950, Tibet was a deeply religious society. Religion remains an integral part of the daily lives of Tibetans, and it forms the social fabric connecting them to the land. Since the Chinese take over, religious practice and belief have come at a great cost. Over 6,000 monasteries and sacred places have been destroyed by the Chinese. Religious leaders are incarcerated with great frequency. They are forced to perform “reeducation labor,” and often subjected to torture, including electric shock, rape, and other serious forms of abuse.

The Chinese Government continues to exert power over Tibetans by requiring monks to sign a declaration rejecting independence for Tibet, rejecting the Panchen Lama, rejecting and denouncing the Dalai Lama, recognizing the unity of China and Tibet, and ignoring the voice of America. Monks who refuse to accept these terms risk expulsion from their monasteries, or possible incarceration. Fleeing is the only other option for Tibetans who refuse to accept these terms. Historically, up to 3,000 Tibetans enter Nepal each year to escape the conditions.

Religious persecution is not the only type of persecution in Tibet. Tibetans are also subject to political imprisonment. A few months ago, I had the honor of meeting with Ngawang Choephel, a former Fulbright scholar who taught at Middlebury College in Vermont, who was imprisoned in 1995. What was his crime, the crime for which his brave mother labored intensively to have him freed? He was arrested and jailed for espionage while filming a documentary on performing arts in Tibet. After serving more than 6 years, he was released on a medical parole. Regrettably, his story is emblematic of the daily struggles faced by Tibetans.

China has consistently used excessive military force to stifle dissent, which has resulted in untold cases of arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, torture, and execution. Moreover, the Tibetan people are denied the rights to self determination, freedom of speech, assembly, movement, expression and travel, rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Population transfers, environmental degradation, forced abortions and sterilizations, and the systematic destruction of the Tibetan language and culture continue unabated.

The problems in Tibet go beyond continuing human rights violations. As long as the Tibetan people are denied the right to self determination, human rights violations and political unrest will continue. For almost 40 years Chinese oppression in Tibet has been met by resistance. However, despite over four decades of force and intimidation, the Tibetan people have proven again and again that they will not succumb. Until a negotiated settlement is reached, Tibet will remain a contentious and potentially destabilizing issue for China. The only way to settle the question of Tibet is for the Chinese leadership to enter into negotiations with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.

Both publicly and privately, the Dalai Lama has stated his willingness to negotiate with the Chinese in his own words, “anywhere, anytime, and with no pre-conditions.” Thus far, Beijing has refused to even consider talking to him. Despite the fact that the Dalai Lama is respected worldwide as a spiritual leader and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Chinese Communist party leaders continue to eschew dialogue.

Next week, Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit the United States for the first time. Many believe that he will be the next Premier of China. As you may know, Hu Jintao was the Party Secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region, TAR, from 1988 to 1992. During his tenure as Party Secretary, Hu Jintao made a name for himself as a tough administrator of Beijing’s control mechanisms in Tibet, including the use of deadly force against unarmed Tibetan protestors.

Despite Hu Jintao’s record as TAR Party Secretary, I, like some Tibetans, remain hopeful that he can play a positive role in the future. Because Hu has direct experience with the sentiments of Tibetans, he could be more responsive to Tibetan interests than past Chinese leaders. On November 9, 2001, Hu told journalists in Berlin, “I have been in Tibet for almost 4 years and I am very familiar with the situation.” It is a positive factor that Hu Jintao knows conditions in Tibet from first-hand experience.

In light of his visit, I am introducing a resolution in the Senate calling for the release of the Panchen Lama. With this action, I am also hoping to see a serious and substantive discussion of the continued human rights violations in China and Tibet. I will continue to communicate these objectives directly to the administration and the Chinese leadership. Specifically, I strongly believe we should urge the Chinese leadership: To release the Panchen Lama and allow him to pursue his traditional role at Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Tibet; and to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives in order to find a negotiated solution for genuine autonomy that respects the rights of all Tibetans.

Today, across America Tibetans and their supporters are staging events to draw international attention and support for Tibet. This includes five Tibetan men who are biking from the state capitol in St. Paul, MN, to the Chinese Embassy in Chicago. There, they are calling for the release of the Panchen Lama, the second highest leader in Tibetan Buddhism. Today, I ask that the Senate join their cause. Free the Panchen Lama.

I offer my deepest respect and prayers to them and to the countless brave men and women who have lost their lives in the struggle to bring freedom and democracy to Tibet. It is my hope that the United States will be “on the right side of history” by pressing hard for negotiations and a peaceful solution to the Tibetan situation, in accordance with U.N. resolutions.

Finally, I would like to commend the Tibetan people, who under the leadership of the Dalai Lama, have remained steadfast in their commitment to non-violence. While in other parts of the world individuals seeking freedom have employed any means available, including violence and terrorism, the Tibetans have not altered from the path of nonviolence, even while their homeland, their families, their religion, and their culture are decimated. To turn away from the Tibetan people in their hour of need, would send a message to the world that the international community does not care about what is just. I urge Tibetans to stay the course of nonviolence.

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