Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

G20 needs to tell President Hu to extinguish the flames by bringing freedom to Tibet and China

October 19, 2011 
Phayul[Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:12]
by Dermod Travis,

“In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes,” or so said pop culture icon Andy Warhol.

But are world events, revolutions, natural disasters also destined to suffer Warhol's 15 minute fate?

Only a few months ago the world watched as Hosni Mubarak was forced aside, weeks later transfixed by the aftermath of the tsunami that struck Japan, then the execution of Osama bin Laden, followed by the spreading economic meltdown in Europe.

World events move fast. The news media even faster.

And while the media is often forced on to the next story before a crisis is fully resolved, the tragedies that were only yesterday's front page news live on – unwitnessed – as they do in Tibet to this day.

In 2008, the media spotlight shone for a brief moment on the tragedy of Tibet when thousands rose up against their oppressors and hundreds died in the aftermath.

But when the journalists moved on – as news dictates that they must – the oppression did not. And for the oppressed, options are few when that spotlight shifts.

Crying out against injustice, Buddhist monks at the Kirti Monastery in Tibet have chosen the ultimate sacrifice: self-immolation.

As an act of political protest self-immolation dates back centuries and, according to myths, was first committed by Sati, one of the wives of the Hindu god Shiva, who had taken a husband against her father's wishes and after her father had insulted him burned herself to death.

While gruesome to western sensibilities, self-immolation has spread across the globe.

In 1968, Czechoslovaks used it to protest the Soviet invasion of their country; in 1999 Kurds self-immolated to protest Turkish policies; Falun Gong practitioners in Tiananmen Square in 2009, and in 2010 a single act of self-immolation by Mohaned Bouazizi led to the Arab Spring.

Bouazizi, an unemployed Tunisian college graduate, trying to feed his family by selling vegetables had his cart seized by Tunisian police. He set himself ablaze triggering events that quickly spread across the Middle East.

Acts of self-immolation are the last power any of us has left – the power over our own life and death. They occur at times of crisis and helplessness.

Tragically, these protests are occurring in Tibet with alarming frequency. Nine Tibetans have self-immolated in the past weeks to protest the authoritarian Chinese regime occupying their land. Five have died from their injuries.

Unlike the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Tibetans can't occupy Lhasa's Barkhor Bazaar to voice their dreams or to challenge the powerful.

From the comfort of our Western homes, it's difficult (if not impossible) to condone these acts, but who among us has the right to decide which is a less painful end for these young Tibetans: years of torture in a Chinese jail as a consequence of peaceful protest or the hope someone will hear their final screams just as Tunisians and the world heard Mohamed Bouazizi.

This crisis is indeed Kafkaesque for many supporters of Tibet.

Silence or moral condemnation are not options. If the world does nothing the number of Tibetans self-immolating will likely increase. These acts will only end by laying the groundwork to bring the oppression that Tibetans and Chinese suffer daily to an end.

Western countries too often find that relations with China form a ritualistic dance when differences are raised bilaterally with that country's government: rebuke Chinese leaders for human rights atrocities and the West is summarily told not to interfere in China's domestic affairs.

Yet, in an entirely duplicitous manner befitting an authoritarian regime, the Chinese government has no shame in telling world leaders who they can and can not meet with, who the Nobel Committee can and can not award the Nobel Peace Prize to and who countries can and can not sell their natural resources to.

It's why this new crisis in Tibet demands a multilateral response.

On November 3rd and 4th, G20 leaders will be meeting in Cannes to discuss the world economy and it's time for world leaders to carry the echo of the cries of Tibetans directly to China's President Hu.

Mohamed Bouazizi did not die in vain. Don't let Tibet's monks die in vain.

And remember their names: Lobsang Phuntsok (21) deceased, Lobsang Kunchok (18), Lobsang Kelsang (18), Choephel (19) deceased, Norbu Damdul (19), Khaying (18) deceased, Tsewang Norbu (29) deceased, and Kelsang Wangchuk (17).

Dermod Travis is the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee (

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank