Archive for ‘The View from Canada’

International Women’s Day: Time to engage the struggle for women’s rights inside Tibet

BY CAROLE SAMDUP (Montreal) - A few years ago while travelling by car across the Tibetan plateau, I was struck by the large number of brothels along the busy highways that brought supplies from China into Tibet.  It was difficult at first to differentiate between the crumbling, graffiti-covered cement block structures that characterized the many truck stops along the road between Gormo and Lhasa.  Brothels looked like any other small shop in the row, with a vendor sitting in the window waiting for customers to buy cigarettes, soap, or candy.  We soon learned however, that the young women in some windows were, in fact, the very merchandise being sold.

Brothels, we came to understand, are a standard commodity along Tibet’s remote highways.  Along with a bowl of noodles and a tank of gas, truckers could also avail themselves of a quick sexual encounter before heading back onto the long and isolated road to Lhasa.

As the days passed, my travel-mates made efforts to befriend the girls in the windows.  Despite some language barriers, it was quite easy to engage casual conversations about the weather, road conditions and local lore.  Such conversations sometimes opened the door to more intimate sharing about home, family, and plans for the future.  It was often a personal and moving exchange between women from opposite sides of the universe.

Most of the girls we met in Tibet’s highway brothels were horribly young.  Many were under the age of 18 (although most couldn’t say how old they really were).  Almost all came from nomadic families in the area and had never been further than where they now sat.  They had never lived with electricity, running water, or used a cell phone – in fact much of the highway we travelled was outside of cellphone access. Poverty was the most common reason given for leaving home for work in the sex industry – and poverty in Tibet’s nomadic communities was, we quickly learned, on the increase as both the size of yak herds and access to traditional migratory routes decreased.

We spoke with the girls about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS and were dismayed by their lack of knowledge.  They did not use condoms.  There were no hospitals or clinics within access. In the case of illness, they used medicines recommended by local shop owners.

Upon reaching Lhasa, my friends and I decided that we wanted to speak directly with the truckers who regularly drove the long haul route from Gormo to Lhasa and who were the brothels’ primary customers.  Our visit to a Lhasa truck depot late one night generated considerable curiosity from the drivers and it broadened our perspective on the issue of highway brothels.

We learned that that a significant proportion of the truckers were actually Tibetan, although many were Chinese.  Sitting around open fires and drinking local beer, we asked them about their own life and work experiences. Many had also left nomadic communities in search of cash work. We asked them how common highway brothels had become in Tibet and they explained that they had become very normal. We asked about HIV/AIDS and the use of condoms as protection and we were discouraged to learn that the drivers shared the same lack of basic knowledge we had observed among the sex workers. There was little or no awareness that sexually transmitted diseases could be brought from brothels back to unsuspecting wives at home.

Concerned about the long term impact on vulnerable communities across Tibet, we could find only one western non-governmental group actively working in Tibet on the issue. That organisation was not able to collaborate with exile groups for fear of losing its permit to operate. In any case, the permit was soon cancelled in a general crackdown on foreign NGOs and the organization was forced to leave Tibet. Subsequently, we made contact with a Chinese NGO that eventually succeeded in placing community activists in Tibet where they were able to conduct a limited number of awareness and training programs for sex workers, albeit in the Chinese language.  These, however, were soon deemed too risky and they ended abruptly.  As far as I know, there is still no coordinated action or advocacy – either inside Tibet or from exile - to confront the challenges faced by sex workers and their communities in Tibet.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to open my email this week and discover a new report by the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, highlighting some of the challenges faced by women in Tibet.  Titled “In the Shadow of Development: Maternal and Child Health in Crisis in Tibet” the report confronts head on, one of the key challenges faced by sex workers in Tibet – the lack of sufficient healthcare.

Although focused primarily on maternal health, the report reveals that in the Tibet Autonomous Region only 33% of women and 41% of children receive adequate healthcare – “the lowest rates of care in the PRC and almost half the national average.”  The report adds that healthcare is worst in rural communities.

The TCHRD report makes a number of useful recommendations including the decentralization of healthcare facilities in remote areas, ending the de-facto prohibition of foreign NGOs in Tibet; and allowing a visit to Tibet by the UN Special Rapporteur on Health, Mr. Dainius Pūras.  To these, Tibet supporters in Canada might add a suggestion that our own government highlight its current policy focus on maternal health and the situation inside Tibet whenever it meets bilaterally with relevant Chinese officials.

Unfortunately, the TCHRD report makes no recommendations to the Tibetan exile community and its supporters who have, in our view, failed to adequately take up the myriad of challenges faced by women inside Tibet, sexual exploitation being just one. This is not to argue that other issues are less important, but when half the population is facing extreme immediate risks that will have a specific downstream impact on families and communities across the Plateau, something needs to be done.  Perhaps this year – as we mark the 20th anniversary of the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing – it will be a good time to start.

In the Shadow of Development: Maternal and Child Health in Crisis in Tibet is available online at


International Human Rights Day: Tibet, western democracies and the challenge of principled pragmatism


In 1950, the same year that His Holiness the Dalai Lama assumed political power at the age of fifteen, the United Nations proclaimed International Human Rights Day as an annual reminder that basic rights and freedoms are the common concern of all Governments and all peoples.  Less than two weeks later, on December 22, 1950, the Dalai Lama was forced to temporarily flee Tibet’s capital city Lhasa following threats against his safety made by invading Chinese forces.

Today, almost 64 years later, International Human Rights Day marks the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama.  In conferring this honour to His Holiness in 1989, the Nobel Committee said, “… the Dalai Lama has come forward with constructive and forward looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues, and global environmental problems”.

Sadly, despite consistent adherence to such constructive proposals, there has been little progress over the past quarter-century towards resolving the conflict in Tibet. The Tibetan people continue to struggle under the yoke of Chinese oppression and, as he nears the age of 80, the Dalai Lama still lives in exile while his dreams of returning home remain elusive.

Here in Canada, as in other Western democracies, the idea of “principled pragmatism” has taken hold, particularly when it comes to discussions about the promotion of human rights in China or Tibet.  While the national polity is often described in terms of shared common values including democracy, rule of law, and human rights, these are the very principles that are abandoned in the interests of so-called pragmatic policy decisions.  It’s a dangerous road to follow.

The past year has been a difficult one for the Tibetan people.  The human rights violations they experience are rooted in a political system that seeks to eliminate all aspects of Tibetan identity.  Here are few examples:

  • The human right to be free from arbitrary detention.  On March 16, 2014, a 20 year old monk, Choeying Kalden, was detained by police after sending emails criticizing Chinese rule to the mobile phones of Chinese cadres stationed at Tsenden Monastery in Sog County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR.
  • Labour Rights.  Free trade unions are not permitted in Tibet. On April 30, 2014, more than 100 teachers from Rebgong staged a protest in Malho demanding an end to poor working conditions resulting from their 10-year status as substitute teachers. As substitutes, the Tibetan teachers receive only minimum wage and no benefits, while full time positions with benefits accrue mostly to Chinese teachers.
  • Women's Rights. In October 2014, an "alternate report" submitted by a coalition of NGOs to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), documented a series of human rights violations experienced by women in Tibet, including the trafficking of poor and illiterate Tibetan women to Chinese provinces where they are commonly exploited and often led into sex work.
  • The Human Right to Food.  According to international observers including which monitors the fate of Tibetan nomads, China’s land tenure and resettlement policies are “reducing Tibetan food security and generating reliance on distant sources for even basic foodstuffs, despite a long history of Tibetan self-reliance."
  •  The Right to an Effective Remedy. In February 2014, Reuter's news agency reported that China's Foreign Ministry had called on Spain to prevent the launch of lawsuits that seek to probe alleged Chinese human rights abuses in Tibet. The Spanish Parliament subsequently voted in favor of a bill limiting the power of the judiciary to investigate human rights abuses committed outside the country.
  • The Right to Health.  On September 29, 2014 more than 1000 Tibetans protested the dumping of toxic waste into local rivers which they claimed had killed fish, affected crops and led to health problems. The Tibetans had repeatedly appealed to local authorities over a 5-year period but their appeals were rejected and generated angry reprisals from local officials.
  •  The Right to be Free from Torture. In early December 2014, it was reported that a Tibetan political prisoner, Tenzin Choedak, died just two days after he was released to his family by prison authorities. He had sustained beating injuries while in prison and had been taken frequently to hospital accompanied by prison guards. Sources report that “His physical condition had deteriorated and he had brain injury in addition to vomiting blood.”
  •  The Right to Freedom of Religion. Early in 2014, Chinese authorities expelled more than 100 Tibetan nuns from Changlo nunnery near Shigatse. They were also forced to remove their nun's robes. Of the 200 nun's at Changlo, only 21 were permitted to remain in the nunnery. According to reports from Tibet, monks and nuns who fail to return will have their names removed from county family registration lists, their [state-issued] identification cards will be made invalid, and any government assistance--of whatever kind or amount--provided to their families will be withdrawn.
  •  The Right to Freedom of Expression.  In October 2014, the global network to defend and promote freedom of expression (IFEX), reported that Chinese authorities had stepped up persecution of independent Tibetan news providers.  They cited the cases of three writers who frequently provided information for external observers saying that their activities were "aimed at destroying social stability and dividing the Chinese homeland” adding that China was turning Tibet into an "information blackhole".
  •  The Right to Self-Determination. For decades, the Tibetan people have been demanding the right to determine their own political, cultural, and economic development. However, under Chinese rule, they remain subject to China's harsh policies. Under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, nine rounds of talks were held with China during 2002-2010 in order to lay the groundwork for a solution to the conflict in Tibet based on the "Middle Way Approach". The talks have been stalled since 2010. As China's continues to refuse constructive dialogue based on mutual respect, the Tibetan people are denied any ability to determine their own future.

It was interesting earlier this month when Ottawa welcomed two Tibetan leaders on Parliament Hill within a two-week period of time.  The occasion offered a unique opportunity to observe how the Tibetan conflict is reflected here in Canada’s halls of power. Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay is the democratically-elected political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration in India, while Lobsang Gyaltsen is Chinese Communist Party representative and Chair of the Tibet Autonomous Region.  Dr. Sangay promoted the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way Approach” and non-violent principles while Chairman Gyaltsen told his audience that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is "responsible for the problems" and that western media “distort” news coming from Tibet.  Ottawa’s vibrant Tibetan community autonomously organized a dinner and reception in Sikyong’s honour, while Chairman Gyaltsen did not announce his presence in Ottawa and avoided all contact with local Tibetans.  Dr. Sangay spoke with Canadians at a public event in Montreal and gave several media interviews to explain his administration’s policy positions, while Chairman Gyaltsen travelled to three Canadian cities under a cloak of secrecy.

And yet, the reception of these two visitors on Parliament Hill was basically identical and it remains unclear whether or not the Government of Canada actually endorses and promotes a renewed Sino-Tibet dialogue.  Efforts to increase economic ties with China, including by ratification of the controversial foreign-investment protection agreement, have clearly changed the game in terms of a transparent and principled position on Tibet.

It is easy to stand up for human rights when there is no cost to be paid. Today as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, the challenge for Canada and its allies in the coalition of democracies is this – are we ready to defend our values when there is no financial gain to be made, or when future economic benefits might be placed at risk?  Or do pragmatic concerns really trump human rights?

Canada’s role in the economic development of Tibet


Despite high levels of investment and government expenditure in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibetans themselves are increasingly marginalized by development in their homeland.

That's the conclusion of new research by economist Andrew Fischer, associate professor of Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Fischer delivered his findings during the Talk Tibet series presented for the first time this year at Montreal's annual Tibetan Cultural Fair.

The event organized by the Canada Tibet Committee was held November 8 and 9 at Notre Dame de la Salette Church on Parc Avenue. The Talk Tibet series featured a wide range of speakers discussing topics of interest to the Tibetan community and its supporters.

Fischer introduced his new book Disempowered Development of Tibet in China: a study in the economics of marginalization. A significant achievement of research and scholarship, the study analyzes vast amounts of statistical information from official Chinese sources.

Fischer painted a picture of an inefficient economy in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which receives large amounts of government subsidies exceeding its Gross Domestic product. This funding - mostly spent on roads, railway lines and other infrastructure projects - is not paying off in jobs and higher incomes for Tibetans.

There is no preferential hiring of Tibetans and little possibility that even well educated Tibetans can work in the public sector, where the best quality jobs are found, Fischer said.  At the same time, many Tibetans are leaving agriculture and migrating to urban areas to look for work with little success.

Fischer suggested that public protests in Tibet over the last few years have as much to with this lack of economic opportunity as with religious and cultural oppression.

Some of these issues were echoed when Carole Samdup, executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee, discussed efforts to promote appropriate due diligence for Canadian investment in China.

Samdup noted that Canada has a large presence in Tibet with numerous companies doing business there, mostly in mining exploration.

Few of these companies appear to have much awareness of human rights and environmental abuses or much understanding of the concerns that affect Tibetans, she said. There appears to be a lack of communication about human rights between the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and Canadian companies doing business in Tibet.

Among the issues that require greater attention, she said, are: discrimination in work opportunities; loss of traditional lands and forced resettlement; the environmental impact of mining; and the lack of any remedy process for those whose rights are abused.

"Tibet should be a no-go zone for Canadian investment" until basic human rights and environmental protection can be guaranteed, she said.

Canada's recent bilateral agreement with China on investor protection does not appear likely to help the cause of human rights and environmental advocates.  The treaty is one of several investor protection agreements Canada has signed or is currently negotiating with other countries, said Denis Côté, coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Working Group at the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Côté presented preliminary research into the human rights implications of such investment agreements, noting that they generally provide a high degree of protection to companies, even when human rights or environmental protection are compromised.

Such treaties confer rights on companies but not obligations to meet standards of human rights and environmental protection.  They provide the right for companies to sue governments in a court of arbitration if they feel their interests have been expropriated or otherwise harmed. These proceedings are not public or transparent and there is no right of appeal.

Côté said there could be a chilling effect on governments. They may be reluctant to legislate in the public interest for fear they might be sued by foreign investors.  He concluded that the recent Canada-China investment agreement is likely to provide a broad degree of protection for Canadian mining companies operating in Tibet.

Among other speakers in the Talk Tibet series was Kayum Masimov, president of the Uyghur Canadian Society. He drew close parallels between the oppression facing the Uyghur and Tibetan minorities in China.

The Uyghur area of East Turkestan was taken over by the Chinese in 1949. From 4 per cent of the population, ethnic Chinese now account for 45 per cent of the region's population.

Numerous religious and community leaders have been arrested and imprisoned, religious schools have been banned and the use of the Uyghur language restricted.

The area also became a testing ground for nuclear weapons for more than 30 years, with horrific results. More than 750,000 civilian deaths are blamed on the testing program and serious health defects continue to affect new-born children in the region, Masimov said.

TalkTibet is an ongoing series of events organized by the Canada Tibet Committee to stimulate debate about issues affecting the lives of Tibetan people, and to share aspects of the Tibetan culture of interest to Canadians.

Peter Hadekel is a Montreal-based journalist.

Summer Reading



Whether sitting on the beach or spending your summer days in balconville, the next two months are a perfect time to catch up on reading and to feed your Tibet obsession at the same time.


Below, you will find a list of Tibet-related books, both fiction and non-fiction, compiled from suggestions of the CTC staff. We hope you will provide your comments/reviews and also that you will add your own suggestions of Tibet-related reads that you have recently enjoyed!



Inspector Shan Series:  Book one – Mandarin Gate

By Eliot Pattison, Minotaur Books, 2012


In an earlier time, Shan Tao Yun was an Inspector stationed in Beijing. But he lost his position, his family and his freedom when he ran afoul of a powerful figure high in the Chinese government. Released unofficially from the work camp to which he'd been sentenced, Shan has been living in remote mountains of Tibet with a group of outlawed Buddhist monks. Shan has just begun to settle into his menial job as an inspector of irrigation and sewer ditches in a remote Tibetan township when he encounters a wrenching crime scene. When he discovers that a nearby village has been converted into a new internment camp for Tibetan dissidents arrested in Beijing's latest pacification campaign, Shan recognizes the dangerous landscape he has entered.


The Mandarin Gate is the first of six books in the Inspector Shan Series.


The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver
By Chan Koonchung; translation by Nicky Harman, Doubleday, 2014

Champa, a young Tibetan, is a simple chap. He has a stable job in Lhasa as chauffeur to a successful Chinese art dealer, Plum. Champa doesn't have a gripe against the Chinese. He's not the sort of guy to get caught up in politics either: he just wants to get on in life. For Champa, a sure sign that he's made it would be to move to the Chinese capital and live there like a young Beijinger. But then he begins a romantic affair with Plum and life gets complicated. Shifting balances of power, deliberate manipulations, the force of sexual desire, and the ache of longing are par for the course. And relationships are even more complex when there are vast differences in wealth, culture and power between the man and the woman, between Tibet and China.


NON-FICTION (updated)


The Friendship Highway:  Two journeys in Tibet

Charlie Carroll, Summersdale 2014

Hoping to reach Tibet after a 20 year obsession, Charlie Carroll plans a trip to China.  Contending with chinese bureaucracy, unforgiving terrain and sickness-inducing altitude, Charlie experiences twenty-first-century Tibet in all its heart-stopping beauty. Tibetan-born Lobsang fled the volatile region over the Himalayas, on foot, as a child in 1989. An exile in Nepal, then a student in India, he was called back to Tibet by love. At the end of the road known as the Friendship Highway, he met Charlie and recounted his extraordinary life story, exemplifying the hardship, resilience and hope of modern Tibetan life."

Escape from Tibet (revised edition)

Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio, Annick Press, 2014

A true story first told in an acclaimed documentary, Escape from Tibet, this is a riveting tale of courage, adventure, and triumph.  It tells the story of two young brothers who escape an oppressive existence by fleeing to India alone and on foot over the Himalayas. On the forbidden journey they face challenges, including unimaginable cruelty of border police, and the unforgiving severity of Mother Nature. In this updated edition, the Dalai Lama provides a forward and the authors tell how the brothers fared in exile and what they are doing now.

The Disempowered Development of Tibet in China: A Study in the Economics of Marginalization

By Andrew Martin Fischer, Lexington Books, 2013


In March 2008, a wave of large scale demonstrations quickly fanned out from Lhasa to the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu over the course of about three weeks.  Despite mounting tensions and brewing discontent that had been evident for years, the usual developmental alibis were nonetheless presented through various state organs in China even as the demonstrations were still on-going. The government argued that the “riots” were due to political meddling and manipulation from abroad, particularly from the Tibetan exile community and their western supporters and that Tibetans had no valid cause for grievance given the growing prosperity in Tibetan areas.  Andrew Fischer takes a deeper look at the characteristics of subordination, discrimination and disadvantage that led to the 2008 demonstrations and that have inspired more than 130 self-immolations since 2009.  He concludes that without efforts to resolve the asymmetrical power relations in Tibet, economic development will not produce lasting benefits for the Tibetan people.

A Hundred Thousand White Stones

By Kunsang Dolma, Wisdom Publications, 2013


A Hundred Thousand White Stones is one young Tibetan woman's fearlessly told story of longing and change. Kunsang Dolma writes with unvarnished candor of the hardships she experienced as a girl in Tibet, violations as a refugee nun in India, and struggles as an immigrant and new mother in America. Yet even in tribulation, she finds levity and never descends to self-pity. We watch in wonder as her unlikely choices and remarkable persistence bring her into ever-widening circles, finding love and a family in the process, and finally bringing her back to her childhood home. A Hundred Thousand White Stones offers an honest assessment of what is gained in pursuing life in the developed world and what is lost.


Tibet Wild: A Naturalist's Journeys on the Roof of the World Hardcover

by George Schaller, Island Press, 2012


Tibet Wild is Schaller’s account of three decades of exploration in the most remote stretches of Tibet: the wide, sweeping rangelands of the Chang Tang and the hidden canyons and plunging ravines of the southeastern forests. As engaging as he is enlightening, Schaller illustrates the daily struggles of a field biologist trying to traverse the impenetrable Chang Tang, discover the calving grounds of the chiru or Tibetan antelope, and understand the movements of the enigmatic snow leopard. What begins as a purely scientific endeavor becomes a mission: to work with local communities and regional leaders to protect the unique ecological richness and culture of the Tibetan Plateau. Critics have said that Schaller lacks respect for the Tibetan people – what do you think?

Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World By Gabriel Lafitte, Zed Books, 2013

The mineral-rich mountains of Tibet so far have been largely untouched by China’s growing economy. Nor has Beijing been able to settle Tibet with politically reliable peasant Chinese. That is all about to change as China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, from 2011 to 2015, calls for massive investment in copper, gold, silver, chromium and lithium mining in the region, with devastating environmental and social outcomes. Despite great interest in Tibet worldwide, Spoiling Tibet is the first book that investigates mining at the roof of the world. A unique, authoritative guide through the torrent of online posts, official propaganda and exile speculation.

TIBET: An Unfinished Story
Lezlee Brown Halper & Stefan Halper
, C Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2013


An Unfinished Story is a tale of Tibet seen through the Cold War blinkers. It traces the origins and manifestations of the Tibetan myth and discusses how, in the post war world when so many nations emerged out of colonial yoke, Tibet failed to gain freedom.  The authors Lezlee Brown Halper and Stefan Halper argue that Tibet became an unintended casualty of Cold War and how a small elite, unfamiliar with real politik, misread the intentions of the giant neighbours India and China. They hoped against hope that Washington might intervene. Based on personal interviews with key players across continents and archival materials, the Halpers have ferreted out new secrets and fascinating accounts like the difficulties that CIA faced in training Tibetan operatives.  


With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple

By Susie Carson Rijnhart, Foreign Christian Missionary Society, 1904


Often cited as the first Canadian in Tibet, Susie Carson Rijnhart (1868 - 1908) offers her personal account of the years she spent in Tibet as a missionary with her husband, Petrus Rijnhart, in the late 1800s.  In the book, Susie Rijnhart documents their experiences with Tibetan officials, lamas and lay people as they attempted to travel overland from China to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.  Often providing medical services to the locals, the Rijnhart’s experiences ended in tragedy when Petrus was killed by bandits and the Rijnhart’s small baby died of illness.  Still, the account provides an interesting insight to the Tibetan culture and polity in the years before China’s occupation.


Tibet should be no-go zone for Canadian mining investment

by Carole Samdup

First published in Embassy News

Over the past several years, there has been considerable debate about the activities of Canadian mining companies and their effect on human rights in countries around the world. In fact, the Canadian government is currently reviewing its Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the International Extractive Sector and just a couple weeks ago Parliament debated the so-called sunshine bill on financial transparency for mining, oil and gas companies.

With at least 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies based here in Canada, it is fitting that our government assume a leadership role in efforts to better protect human rights in the places where our companies operate.

Unfortunately, however, even the best policy and regulatory frameworks will not be enough to avoid the myriad challenges confronted by people affected by conflict and systemic human rights abuse perpetrated by their own government. Nowhere is this truer than in present-day Tibet where mining is not a development opportunity—it is a resource grab that marginalizes communities and threatens the fragile environment. In such a context, the introduction of “no-go zones” for Canadian investment could provide a brief respite.

Let’s imagine for a moment that Canada is the world leader in promoting human rights in the extractives industry. Let’s imagine that not only does Canada publicly endorse important international standards such as the OECD Guidelines or the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but that it also requires Canadian companies to respect those standards. Let’s imagine that when Canadian companies are implicated in or are complicit in violations of human rights in other countries, our government demands appropriate responses from those companies. Let’s imagine that when those companies fail to make necessary changes to protect human rights, our government’s financial and diplomatic support is suspended until the changes are made. Let’s imagine that if a Canadian company knowingly continues to abuse human rights, victims are able and encouraged to seek remedies through judicial or non-judicial processes here in Canada.

Even if such an idealist (but not impossible to achieve) scenario were actually real today, it would still be impossible for Canadian companies to respect and protect human rights when conducting business inside present-day Tibet. A recent “request for review” submitted by the Canada Tibet Committee to Canada’s National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises offers some insight as to why this is true.

First, Tibetans do not participate in the policy decisions affecting their communities. It is not possible to convene open consultations about new projects or their potential effects, free of government interference and control. Any public conversation about human rights, organized by an investor as part of a standard due-diligence package, could be considered as “interference in internal affairs” by state authorities, perhaps threatening promised licensing agreements. In the absence of a credible stakeholder engagement process, there is no way to obtain informed consent.

Second, access to information in Tibet is highly problematic. State records are opaque at best and a prevailing climate of fear in Tibetan areas discourages potential witnesses from documenting or reporting human rights violations. Tibetans living in communities affected by Canadian mining cannot freely express dissent. They cannot send information outside of Tibet via the Internet without risking arrest. They certainly cannot travel to foreign countries such as Canada to offer testimony or share their personal experiences. Any of these acts would result in reprisals not by the company, but by the state itself.

Finally, the days of Western governments influencing China’s human rights behaviour are clearly over. In 2014 the lure of China’s market overrides all other concerns and it is increasingly difficult to engage Canadian companies in a discussion about human rights in Tibet. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to retract his public support for Tibet after Chinese leaders gave him the cold shoulder. Moreover, a growing percentage of Canadian extractive companies currently in Tibet are closely affiliated to Chinese state-owned companies and have no practical scope or desire to confront government policy or to promote a Canadian CSR strategy. The largest shareholder of Vancouver-based China Gold International Resources, for example, is the state-owned enterprise China National Gold.

In essence, even if Canada were to adopt the world’s best CSR strategy, it would not have any effect in Tibet. For CSR strategies to work, an enabling environment in the host country is required. In its absence, a no-go zone designation is the logical response in order to avoid complicity with the legacy of current and past abuse. A no-go zone designation would impose a moratorium on the provision of diplomatic and trade services, credit and loan insurance, and other benefits (including potentially, those provided by bilateral investment treaties).

In the work of defending human rights in Tibet, we are often told not to expect much in the way of government support. China is too big and Tibet is not sufficiently strategic to Canada’s interests to merit confrontation with the economic powerhouse. And yet, no less than 125 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 in a stirring appeal for help from the international community. If it is not possible to proactively promote human rights via the application of a CSR strategy, at the very least Canada should adopt a do-no-harm policy and take the appropriate steps to discourage Canadian mining investment in Tibet until a happier time in its history.

Carole Samdup is the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee. It promotes human rights and democratic freedom in Tibet. The CTC’s submission to the National Contact Point is found here.

La lumière de l’espoir brille a la foire culturelle tibétaine de Montréal

Peter Hadekel

Pendant une fin de semaine froide à la fin de l’automne, le Comité Canada Tibet a tenu sa 25e foire culturelle annuelle dans la salle paroissiale de l’Eglise Santa Cruz à Montréal.

Malgré le froid à l’extérieur, l’ambiance au bazar était chaleureuse et accueillante, alors que des marchands vendaient de l’artisanat, des textiles, des bijoux, des vêtements tibétains, ainsi que des articles bouddhistes, pendant que des artistes interprétaient des chansons et des danses tibétaines sur scène.

C’était non seulement l'occasion d’acheter des cadeaux pour la période des fêtes, mais aussi de soutenir le peuple Tibétain dans leur longue lutte contre l’oppression chinoise.

C’était également une occasion de rencontrer les marchands qui se trouvaient sur place, dont tous avaient une histoire à raconter à propos de la marchandise et du voyage qui les a amené ici.

Tenzin Choegyal, de Toronto, était typique des marchands à la foire. Il y assiste depuis huit ans, et il souligne l’importance de cet événement, non seulement pour lui, mais pour l’ensemble de la communauté.

“Une fin de semaine comme celle-ci est très importante pour mon commerce. Je vends de l’artisanat, and j’ai un petit magasin à Toronto. Toute la marchandise est faite par des réfugiés Tibétains au Népal et en Inde, mais c’est difficile de survivre à cause des marchandises chinoises qui entrent au pays.”

Ses parents sont nés dans l’est du Tibet et se sont enfuis en Inde, où il est né. A l’âge de 21 ans, il est arrivé en Amérique du Nord. Il est arrivé d’abord à New York, et s'est établi ensuite à Toronto.

“Cet événement est très important puisqu’il permet à la communauté de prendre conscience du Tibet,” dit-il avec fierté.

A côté de lui se trouvait un jeune marchand qui ne voulait pas donner son nom parce que ses parents sont encore au Tibet, où la répression chinoise devient de plus en plus sévère.

Son père a été emprisonné par les Chinois à Lhasa à l’âge de 16 ans. “Mon père était en prison pendant 10 ans. Plus tard, ma mère est allée à Lhasa, et ils se sont rencontrés. Je suis né là-bas, et à l’âge de 12 ans je me suis enfoui par le Népal jusqu’en Inde.”

Il évoque les difficultés de ce voyage au cours duquel il fallait traverser les cols himalayens pendant 27 jours. Au milieu du voyage, le groupe a commencé à manquer de nourriture. Et lorsqu’ils se sont approchés de la frontière du Népal, ils courraient constamment le risque que des soldats ou des policiers les voient et les dénoncent aux forces de sécurité chinoises.

“C’était la première fois de ma vie que je n'avais rien à manger, mais dans mon groupe tout le monde a survécu, bien que beaucoup de personnes ont eu des engelures.”

Il est arrivé au Canada en 2007, et est déménagé à Toronto, où il a ouvert un magasin d’artisanat. Mais la communication avec sa famille au Tibet est difficile. Parfois quand il essaie d’appeler au Tibet, la communication ne peut être établi ou il entend le son de quelqu’un qui d’autre qui parle sur la ligne, ce qui fait qu’ils ne peuvent jamais parler de politique. “On ne peut pas mentionner le nom du Dalaï Lama. Ils ont peur. On sent que c’est difficile de parler.”

Phurbu Risnewa, qui vend des chemises tibétaines, de l’encens, des drapeaux de prière, des châles et des bijoux, a poursuivi un autre chemin vers le Canada. Il est né au Tibet et s’est évadé avec sa famille à travers le Bhutan quand il avait 11 ans. Son père avait une vie difficile et a travaillé avec des équipes de construction routière en Inde. Finalement, ils se sont établis près de Dharamsala, où pendant les années soixante le jeune Phurbu a étudié la musique traditionnelle tibétaine à TIPA, le Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. Il a maîtrisé plusieurs instruments, et plus tard on l’a invité à jouer à travers le monde, notamment en Europe et en Amérique du Nord.

Après une trentaine d’années à Dharamsala, “le Comité Canada Tibet m’a invité à venir au Canada en 1989 pour enseigner la musique et la danse tibétaine, et je suis resté ici. J’ai trouvé un petit emploi, et j’ai fait un peu d’argent afin de pouvoir faire venir ma famille.”

Il continue à visiter régulièrement l’Inde pour acheter les articles qu’il vend. Il trouve que des événements comme celui-ci jouent un rôle important dans le renforcement de la culture tibétaine qui subit des menaces constantes.

Cette culture est reflétée dans la belle papeterie du marchand Phurbu Tsering, qui est né au Népal de parents Tibétains. "Nous nous spécialisons dans le papier himalayen écologique fait à la main, ainsi que dans les cartes de voeux, les cartes de drapeaux de prière, les cahiers de différentes dimensions et le papier en feuilles," dit-il. "Tous nos produits ont un design tibétain."

Il y a également des articles pour la méditation, tels que les bols chantants et des chapelets de bois de santal et de palissandre. "Nous devons vérifier soigneusement les sources de nos produits à cause de toutes les marchandises chinoises." Il retourne au Népal aux deux ans environ pour visiter sa famille et pour acheter des produits authentiques.

Il explique que le papier, qui vient de l'arbre lokta, s'appelle aussi du papier népalais, parce que l'arbre pousse au Népal. "Lorsque l'arbre mesure de quatre à six pieds, on enlève l'écorce de l'arbre. On la fait cuire et on la lave. Cela prend beaucoup de temps. Ensuite, on la filtre à l'aide d'une passoire, et on la sèche.

"Plus tard, dans cinq à six ans, l'arbre se régénère. Ce papier figure dans notre histoire. Nos livres de prière les plus anciennes sont faits de ce type de papier. Une des plus grandes bibliothèques au Tibet, qui n'a pas encore été détruite par les Chinois, a une presse, et ils ont utilisé beaucoup de ce genre de papier. C'est durable parce que les insectes ne le mangent pas. "

Emma Inns, une marchande d'Ottawa, n'est pas Tibétaine, mais le Tibet lui tient à cœur. Elle est propriétaire d'une boutique qui vend des vêtements, des bijoux et des accessoires équitables fabriqués au Canada--un commerce inspiré de son désir d'éviter de vendre des produits chinois. Elle vend également des marchandises qui viennent directement du Tibet.

"J'ai vécu au Tibet en tant que guide touristique de 2003 à 2007. J'ai travaillé pour une compagnie australienne. Nous allions dans les communautés pour vérifier si les gens voulait du tourisme et pour trouver une façon d'amener des touristes pour en apprendre plus sur la culture, l'environnement naturel et leurs vies, sans avoir un impact négatif sur les communautés."

Elle est restée ave des familles nomades, en faisant du camping dans leurs tentes, et elle les a aidé avec leurs troupeaux de yaks. Peu à peu, elle a commencé ses propres programmes de microcrédit pour aider les femmes à sortir de la pauvreté. Elle a acheté une machine à coudre et a demandé aux femmes des communautés de nomades si elles voulaient apprendre à coudre.

"Six femmes se sont présentées en réponse à cette invitation, et nous avons fait un cours de couture. Nous avons fait un chemin de table, et tout était financé par un prêt. Le mois suivant j'ai amené un groupe de touristes, et je leur ai demandé, 'Qui voudrait acheter ceci?' Nous avons fait assez d'argent pour acheter le matériel pour faire deux autres chemins de table. Le projet a continué à grandir, et nous avons maintenant 120 travailleuses dans trois villages d'Amdo." Elle travaille aussi avec une grande coopérative à Lhasa qui est tibétaine à 100%, et elle achète de l'artisanat de diverses personnes dans la Région autonome du Tibet.

Ces projets ont amélioré la qualité de vie des artisans, mais ils ont dû apprendre à gérer l'afflux d'argent. "Quand je restais dans les prairies tibétaines, j'ai vu un yak qui transportait une énorme télé sur son dos, et j'ai pensé 'ah, non, j'ai fait une erreur'. Alors, nous sommes retournés dans les communautés, et j'ai fait de l'éducation sur des façons durables de dépenser cet argent et de l'éducation sur les animaux, le bétail, et les enjeux environnementaux. Alors, nous avons tout révisé, et maintenant ça va très bien."

Emma travaille avec une amie de l'Australie; ensemble elles utilisent des profits de la vente de marchandises tibétaines pour aider à financer des chirurgies essentielles pour des enfants Tibétains. "J'ai des photos d'enfants qui ont des malformations vertébrales importantes. Cela coûte 300$, c'est une chirurgie très simple, qui leur donne un nouveau départ dans la vie. Mon amie fait la même chose que moi en Australie. Cette année elle a ramassé suffisamment d'argent pour faire opérer trois enfants."

Pour Nyima D. Lhatritsang, le chef nouvellement élu de la communauté tibétaine à Montréal, le bazar est un moment de fierté pour la communauté. Tout en vendant des châles pashmina, des tuques en coton, et des articles décoratifs, tels que des masques et des signes de bon augure, il a réfléchi à l'importance de la foire.

"C'est un événement important, non seulement pour les marchands, mais aussi pour tout le peuple Tibétain au Canada. C'est une très bonne occasion pour partager notre expérience et notre culture avec des Canadiens--une occasion qui se produit une fois par année. Pour les vendeurs c'est aussi une occasion d'étaler leurs produits et de connaître plus de clients. Ils peuvent partager leurs expériences et connaître plus de gens."

La situation des droits de la personne est en train de se détériorer au Tibet, mais aux événements comme celui-ci, la lumière de l'espoir continue à briller pour les membres de la communauté Tibétaine et leurs alliés.