Foreign Occupation, Right to Self Determination and Right to Development

Chairperson and dear Friends from Asia,

First let me begin by thanking the Asian Civil Society Forum 2002 and the organizers for this opportunity to present the case of Tibet in today's discussion. I am the executive director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy which is based in northern India and was established in 1996.

Article 1 of the International Human Rights Covenants (ICESCR and ICCPR) provides that "all peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development".

Since 1979, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been seeking a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Sino-Tibetan Issue. Today, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is calling upon the Chinese authorities to establish a genuine self rule in Tibet within the framework of the People's Republic of China. The spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people is not seeking the independence of Tibet although Tibetans have every right to regain their homeland's sovereignty. We can come back to the solution part of the Sino-Tibetan Issue but I wanted to raise this point at this stage so as to give you the current background.

In 1970, the UN General Assembly passed a declaration which elaborates on the right to self-determination (Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the UN) as follows: "all peoples have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter". Right to Self-determination is universal right. It is not restricted to a region or by any boundary. This right which is a way of life in many countries is unfortunately, not so in others, particularly peoples living under foreign occupation or alien domination. The same thing can be said for the indigenous peoples of this world who are lobbying this week in Geneva to ensure that their alienable right to self-determination is recognized by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The recent major UN World Conferences have also recognized the struggle of peoples living under foreign occupation and their right to self-determination. For instances, at the WSSD, in the Programme of Action commitment governments agreed to: "Take further effective measures to remove obstacles to the realisation of peoples to self-determination, in particular peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, which continue to adversely affect their economic and social development and are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and must be combatted and elimination. People under foreign occupation must be protected in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law."
This afternoon as a representative of the six million Tibetan people, I would like to dwell on the case of Tibet when it comes to the question of foreign occupation, right to self-determination and the right to development. The United Nations General Assembly, in 1961 and 1965, explicitly recognized the Tibetan peoples right to self-determination and called on Peoples Republic of China (PRC) to respect this right. Tibetans thus stand on firm legal ground when they insist on the exercise of their right to self-determination.

However, China claiming territorial right or integrity over Tibet, considers all matters concerning Tibet as domestic affairs of Beijing. Inspite of all the legal opinions in favour of Tibetan peoples' right to self-determination, our people have been denied this right for over 50 years. It would, therefore, be important to underline that the gross and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Tibet is the direct consequences of the fact that the people of Tibet have been denied their right to self-determination under foreign occupation by the People's Republic of China.

Dear Friends, right to development also becomes a very important issue for the Tibetan people and we can analyse this question in Tibet's case under the perspective of colonialism or we shall say Asian colonialism. During the past 50 years, the Chinese authorities have propagated a number of so-called "development projects" in Tibet and claim that these have achieved "earthshaking progress". But when one looks deeper, the Tibetan people do not seem to have benefited at all.

The Vienna Declaration of 1993 states that territorial integrity can only be invoked by legitimate governments conducting themselves in compliance with the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. A state's legitimacy derives from satisfaction of its duties to its citizens. These duties are:
- to protect the population,
- to promote the economic cultural, social and spiritual welfare of the people it governs,
- to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and
- to promote self-determination and equal rights.

The PRC pursues policies and practices in Tibet which violate international standards of human rights, that attempts to destroys Tibetan culture and economically exploits the rich resources of the Tibetan plateau. China, by occupying Tibet with its military might has even turned our homeland into militarised region which has far reaching consequences to the stability of Asia.

Article 1 (2) of the ICESCR states: "All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence".

The Tibetan case is a classic example of human tragedy when we discuss foreign occupation, right to self-determination and right to development as the background. The special quality of the Tibetan freedom struggle is also its adherence to non-violent means to achieve a future free Tibet. But when a people remains enslaved without the international community intervention, then the Tibetan Issue will become the major challenge of realpolitik in the 21st century.

The so-called "economic development" in Tibet is handicapped by the lack of political freedom and trust or because of unsustainable development projects developed by Chinese officials in Beijing. PRC claims to have poured billions of dollars into developing the western hinterland which includes Tibet. The Tibetans are not involved in the decision making process. The money is largely benefiting the government officials, elites and the well-connected entrepreneurs and Chinese settlers. The biggest projects including the Lhasa-Gormu railway project, pipelines, highways and electricity transmission lines-are aimed at sending resources from Tibet to the China. One Chinese scholar has aptly described the Western Development Strategy of the Chinese authorities as a policy of "Western Exploitation and Eastern Development".

Another dimension of the violations of the rights to self-determination and development under foreign occupation is population transfer or implantation of Chinese settlers into Tibet which poses one of the gravest threats to the very survival of the religious, cultural and national identity of the Tibetan people. This year, the Chinese authorities even publicly admitted that more than half of the population of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is Chinese. This trend is building up in most Tibetan towns and cities at an alarming rate. The construction of the railway lines to Lhasa (four in total) will help speed up the movement of Chinese settlers into Tibet.

When a people live under foreign occupation and their right to self-determination is denied, they will have no say on how to achieve sustainable development. As the occupation of Tibet enters its sixth decade, a new force is being brought to bear on the nation.
China's economic revolution, which has transformed the far east of this massive country, is coming west and with it international capital and technology on a scale never before seen in this isolated region. The object is Tibet's natural resources - the flecks of gold locked in the dried-up seabeds; the deposits of copper, zinc, and other minerals; and the rich fields of natural gas and oil. China is pursuing these resources to fulfill its own national development goals, goals not shared by the Tibetan people.

Dear Friends, one of the most effective ways to end the human tragedy in Tibet is to urge the Chinese authorities that it is in their best interest to begin earnest and substantive negotiations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives on the future political status of Tibet.

In this regard, the China received two Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in September this year to visit China and Tibet which created the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides since 1993. This development received wide support from many quarters. Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the first democratically elected Chairperson of the Cabinet of the Tibetan Government in Exile, has even called upon Tibetans and their supporters not to engage in aggressive demonstrations against the Chinese authorities until June 2003. It has now to be seen whether the new leadership in China does have the political will and sincerity to engage in regular dialogues which leads to substantive negotiations on Tibet.

When the world is preoccupied in the fight against terrorism, the international community must not shy away from openly supporting genuine non-violent freedom struggles, like that of the Tibetan people. In the report, Truth is Our Only Weapon: The Tibetan Nonviolent Struggle, distributed here by Nonviolences International, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote: "As a leader of the Tibetan people, my prime concern is to pursue all affective means to relieve them from Chinese oppression and restore their freedom. And as a convinced follower of non-violence I support the path of reasoned and peaceful change. I feel that although it is very difficult to struggle for freedom through nonviolence, it is very important to try. If the last century was an era of war and bloodshed, I feel that this century should open an era of dialogue.
Instead of using force to resolve conflicts, we must listen to our opponent's views, ideas and opinions. We urgently need to find such a new approach to solving human problems."

As the recent BBC World News report on Tibet on 5 December showed time is running out for Tibet. Our people are facing the second invasion from China in the form of "economic development". Cheap liquor, prostitutions, karaoke bars, pool tables, Chinese videos and songs and growing Chinese neighbourboods are attempting to wipe out the cultural, social and religious fabric of the Tibetan civilization. Living under foreign occupation and denied the right to determine our own future, the Chinese authorities are using the mantra of development to silence the international opinion and to eliminate Tibetan nationalism.

In conclusion, I appeal to you all and the civil society community in Asia to help Tibet in its pursuit for freedom, peace and democracy. The non-violent freedom struggle of the Tibetan people deserves such a message of solidarity from our brothers and sisters in Asia.

Let us think of human beings first and Chinese and Tibetans second. Let us take this approach.

Thank you.