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"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."

TIBET 1959-2009: 50 years of oppression; 50 years of resistance

March 11, 2009

UK government must act on its commitment to find justice for Tibet
Time for Prime Minister Brown to stand up for human rights and the Tibetan people
Tibet Society
March 10, 2009

London (UK) -- Today sees the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan People’s Uprising against Chinese occupation. Fifty years on, Tibet remains under Chinese rule, with the Tibetan people living under a brutally repressive regime. The situation inside Tibet is tense – it is a country under lockdown. Following on from last year’s protests Tibetans are living under conditions akin to martial law, with snipers on the rooftops of the capital, Lhasa and a massive influx of troops throughout Tibet.

Notwithstanding this immense drive to suppress the Tibetan people by the Chinese authorities, the long held deep frustrations and fears of Tibetans that their basic freedoms, language, culture and traditions will be subsumed and lost to future generations remain. The few reports managing to reach the outside world show the spirit of Tibetan people is unbroken, with news of continuing demonstrations and defiance. These range from individuals carrying the Tibet flag or shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama” to hundreds of people taking to the streets calling for human rights, the release of political prisoners and the right to hold prayers at local festivals. All such displays are met with immediate harsh and brutal repression.

Despite three UN resolutions that express grave concerns for the Tibetan people and call for the “cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination”, world governments have effectively stood by and done nothing to help the Tibetan people find justice.

Now is the time to act, the Tibetan people have suffered enough. The British government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to seek a solution for the Tibetan people, both in David Miliband’s Ministerial Statement (October 2008) and in its “Framework for Engagement” with China, published in February this year.

Philippa Carrick, Chief Executive of the Tibet Society, urges Gordon Brown to stand by his government’s policies saying: “Despite these positive statements, we need to see action, not just platitudes and lip service. Gordon Brown and his government has repeatedly affirmed support for the Dalai Lama’s non violent campaign for justice for the Tibetan people and urged the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama without preconditions. It is time for the Prime Minister to speak out for the people of Tibet. Time is running out for the Tibetan people. If nothing is done, there is a real danger that the rich and unique Tibetan language, culture and traditions will become part of history. If this is the case, world governments will have failed the Tibetan people and, by omission, will have condoned a regime that continues to  flagrantly flout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The world will be a poorer place”.

Following Hu Jintao’s comments yesterday on the importance of stability within Tibet, she went on to comment: “If Hu Jintao realistically wants a stable Tibet, he must take positive steps to seek a just and fair solution for Tibetan people and not continue to impose the will of the Chinese government on a distinct ethnic race who want no more than their right to live according to their own traditions and democratically govern themselves”.

This afternoon a delegation from UK Tibet support groups will deliver a letter to Gordon Brown, calling on the Prime Minister to stand up for human rights and the Tibetan people and take some practical measures that will begin this process. The delegation will be accompanied by ex-political prisoner, Palden Gyatso, who witnessed the events in Lhasa in 1959 and served 33 years in prison and labour camps.

Following a wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial to Innocent Victims of Torture at Westminster Abbey at Midday, members of the Tibetan Community in Britain and Tibet supporters will also be at Westminster this afternoon to lobby their MPs, asking them to also urge the  government to stand by its commitments to the Tibetan people. An Early Day Motion has been tabled marking the 50th Anniversary of the Tibetan People’s Uprising, which supporters will ask their MPs to sign.


For background / further information contact:

Philippa Carrick, Chief Executive, Tibet Society:  020 7272 1414 / 07941 105 485 email:

Terry Bettger, Campaigns Officer, Tibet Society:  020 7272 1414 / 07910 056606 email:
Background Notes to editors

Coalition of UK Tibet groups:

Tibet Society;; 020 7272 1414

Free Tibet ;; 020 7324 4605

Students for a Free Tibet;;

Tibetan Youth UK;; 07725 501 995

Tibetan Community in Britain; ? 07929 830 975

Open Letter to the Prime Minister from Coalition of UK Tibet groups

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing to you as a coalition of UK-based Tibet support groups on the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising against Chinese rule and one year on since protests swept across Tibet, to draw your attention to the current critical situation inside Tibet and to make specific recommendations which the UK Government can adopt.

Last spring, the deep frustration felt by Tibetan people against the ongoing Chinese occupation resulted in widespread demonstrations across Tibet. The response by the Chinese authorities was swift and brutal, including the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. Thousands of Tibetans were arbitrarily arrested; the whereabouts of at least 1,000 is still unknown.

An intensified patriotic re-education campaign, dawn raids on homes, restrictions on freedom of movement, the use of torture as a weapon against dissent, all have become routine. Tibet is now effectively under de facto martial law. Yet the protests which began in March 2008 continue.

Over recent weeks there have been several protests across Tibet. One monk set himself on fire in his desperation to expose the repression inside Tibet. On 1 March 2009, hundreds of monks from Sey Monastry, Ngaba County, Amdo (Ch: Sichuan Province) protested. 

In addition to levels of repression arguably unseen since the Cultural Revolution we are continuing to witness a military build up in many Tibetan towns, which began before the Olympic Games but has increased in the last few weeks ahead of the March anniversaries.

Our fear is that a repeat of last year’s bloodshed could happen again.

Prime Minister, you have been at the forefront of the UK Government’s policy to strengthen relations with China as part of your strategy to address the global economic downturn. A strengthened relationship should provide the opportunity to address not only issues of mutual interest but also more sensitive areas, including fundamental human rights in Tibet and support for the Tibetan people’s right to self determination.

In view of the terrifying picture unfolding in Tibet and the impunity with which human rights violations are taking place, we urge you Prime Minister; 

· To gain personal guarantees from the Chinese government that disproportionate including lethal force will not be used against unarmed civilians.

· To support UN demands by sponsoring a call for "a thorough and independent inquiry into the excessive use of force, including against peaceful demonstrators."

· To appoint a UK Special Representative for Tibet.

· And to strengthen the British Embassy in Beijing’s capacity to monitor human rights, by increasing current human rights staffing levels from one, and appointing a Tibet Desk Officer, with a specific mandate to monitor human rights in Tibet.

Yours sincerely

Palden Gyatso

Arrested in 1959 for peacefully protesting, Palden spent 33 years in various prisons and labour camps, during which he was subjected to unspeakable torture. A fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, Palden continued to live by his dharmic principles throughout his time in detention and maintains a remarkable compassionate attitude towards those that inflicted the beatings and torments that have left his body permanently damaged. Today Palden travels the world to speak of his experiences and the plight of his people and his homeland.

Palden Gyatso is in the UK at the invitation of Tibet Society to accompany the screening Fire Under the Snow, a new  film based on his autobiography. The London Premiere is at the Prince Charles Cinema on 8th March, followed by an outreach tour around the UK. In the year of the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, Fire Under the Snow, the life story of Palden Gyatso, bears poignant testimony both to the brutal oppression that Tibetans have suffered under Chinese occupation and the determined resistance they have shown in response.

Palden Gyatso is available for interview. Please contact Philippa Carrick or Katie Mallin on 020 7272 1414.

Fire Under the Snow screening dates

8 March: London, Prince Charles Cinema, 5.30pm

14 March: Cardiff, Chapter Cinema, 8.15pm 

15 March: Bristol, Watershed Cinema, 1.10pm

18 March: Norwich, Cinema City, 8.30pm

Public talk

21 March: London, Frontline Club, 6.30pm

Memorial to Innocent Victims, outside the Great West Door, Westminster Abbey 
Time: 12.00 midday

A wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of those who have lost their lives or suffered torture and imprisonment as a result of China’s occupation of Tibet since 1950. The service will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster and His Eminence Dorje Dhenpa Rinpoche and has been arranged by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet and Tibet Society.

Central Lobby, House of Commons, Westminster; Time: from 14.30
Mass Lobbies are being planned in capitals around the world to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Tibetan People’s Uprising including Brussels, London, New Delhi, Ottawa and Washington. A coalition of UK Tibet groups have organised a lobby day at Westminster to commemorate the Uprising and call on MPs to take action on their constituents’ urgent concerns about Tibet. A letter from the Coalition groups to the Prime Minister urging that he stand up and act for will be delivered by Palden Gyatso accompanied by a representative from each group to 10 Downing Street at 15.45pm.

Mass Lobby "Asks"

1. Call on the UK government to sponsor a thorough and independent enquiry into the excessive use of force, including against peaceful demonstrators, in Tibet during 2008.

2. Sign the tabled Early Day Motion No. 978: "The 50th Anniversary on 10 March 2009 of the Tibetan National Uprising."

"This House notes the 50th Anniversary on 10 March 2009 of the Tibetan National Uprising; draws attention to the unique historical position of Great Britain and Tibet whereby Great Britain had direct diplomatic and trade links with Tibet and maintained a permanent diplomatic mission in Tibet between 1933-1947, further notes the written Ministerial Statement of 29 October 2008 which changed the British government’s long held position on the status of Tibet that was made without receiving any assurance from the Chinese government to make genuine progress on the issue of Tibet, and in view of the government’s strong concerns on human rights issues inside Tibet also expressed in the ministerial statement, including the situation of those remaining in detention, the increased constraints on religious activity and the limitations on free access to the Tibet Autonomous Region by diplomats and journalists, urgently calls on the government to act on these concerns and give effect to its stated commitment to seek a solution for Tibet, and further calls on the government to draft a list of practical actions that address these issues, with a clear framework to monitor progress, that the Chinese government can adopt in order to work to bring about genuine justice to the Tibetan people. “

3. Call on the government to appoint a UK Special Representative for Tibet.

4. Call on the government to establish a Tibet desk at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.

Opposite Chinese Embassy, 49-51 Portland Place, London, W1B 1JL
Time: 5.00-7.30pm.

The 50th anniversary will end with prayers conducted by His Eminence Dorje Dhenpa Rinpoche and a candlelit vigil opposite the Chinese Embassy.

UN Resolutions:

* 1959: Resolution 1353 (XIV)

* 1965: Resolution 2079 (XX)

* 1961: Resolution 1723 (XVI)

The General Assembly, Recalling its resolution 1353 (XIV) of 21 October 1959 on the question of Tibet,

Gravely concerned at the continuation of events in Tibet, including the violation of the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and the suppression of the distinctive cultural and religious life which they have traditionally enjoyed,

Noting with deep anxiety the severe hardships which these events have inflicted on the Tibetan people, as evidenced by the large-scale exodus of Tibetan refugees to the neighboring countries,

Considering that these events violate fundamental human rights and freedoms set out in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the principle of self-determination of peoples and nations, and have the deplorable effect of increasing international tension and embittering relations between peoples,

1) Reaffirms its conviction that respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is essential for the evolution of a peaceful world order based on the rule of law;

2) Solemnly renews its call for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination;

3) Expresses the hope that Member States will make all possible efforts, as appropriate, towards achieving the purposes of the present resolution

Excerpt from written UK Government Ministerial Statement on Tibet (29 October 2008)

The Chinese Government has said that it is serious about dialogue and that it hopes for a positive outcome.  It has set conditions for dialogue which we believe the Dalai Lama has met.  The Dalai Lama has made clear that he is not seeking separation or independence. He has said repeatedly that he is seeking a resolution to the situation of Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution, a point he made explicitly in an interview with the Financial Times on 24 May during his visit to the United Kingdom.  He said:  he was “not seeking separation, not seeking independence, but within the framework of the Chinese Constitution, meaningful realistic autonomy [for Tibetans]”.  He has maintained a clear opposition to violence.

The British Government has a strong interest in the dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives, although we are not a party to it. No government which is committed to promoting international respect for human rights can remain silent on the issue of Tibet, or disinterested in a solution to its problems.

Britain has been clear under this Government about our commitment to the people of Tibet.   We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation there.  My Rt. hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out our concerns to Premier Wen during discussions in the spring and again when they met in Beijing during the Olympic Games. I have made the same point to Foreign Minister Yang on a number of occasions since the unrest in March this year in Tibet.  We have consistently made clear that we want to see the human rights of the Tibetan people respected, including through respect for their distinct culture, language, traditions and religions. Our interest is not in restoring an order which existed 60 years ago and which the Dalai Lama himself has said he does not seek to restore. 

We are also concerned at more immediate issues arising directly from the unrest of this spring, including the situation of those who remain in detention following the unrest, the increased constraints on religious activity, and the limitations on free access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region by diplomats and journalists.  These issues reinforce long-held unease on the part of the Government about the underlying human rights situation in Tibet.

Philippa Carrick
Chief Executive Officer
The Tibet Society
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