(Editor's note: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the flight of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, along with 100,000 Tibetans from their country. International demonstrations and the recent violent reprisals have put Tibet back in the news. Peace groups have begun to call for more attention to the struggle.)
THIRTY-NINE years ago China invaded Tibet, taking away the independence of one of the oldest cultures in the world. Since that time, over one million Tibetans have died (one-sixth of the population), two-thirds of the Tibetan territory has been added to Chinese provinces, and more than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed. The Chinese policy of moving Chinese settlers into Tibet has diluted the native population; in the Amdo area, Chinese outnumber Tibetans by three to one and in Lhasa itself there are 150,000 Chinese settlers and only 50,000 Tibetans. is one Chinese soldier for every ten Tibetans. Estimates of current political prisoners range from 3,000 to 4,000 and there are reports of some 100,000 Tibetans imprisoned in labour camps.
Despite such human rights violations, there has been little response from the world community. If Tibetan terrorists were blowing up airports or taking hostages there would be continual media coverage of the Tibetan cause. It's because the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans not only believe in nonviolence but also practice it that there has been so little media attention and world concern.
In September 1987 Tibet emerged briefly as an issue" when the Dalai Lama visited the U.S. for ten days and outlined a Five-Point Peace Plan. One of the Points was the establishment of the whole of Tibet as a peace zone. In reaction to the visit, Chinese authorities on 24 September 1987 herded some 15,000 Tibetans into a stadium to witness the trial and immediate execution of Kelsang Tashi. Sonam Gyaltsen and Migmar Tashi were also sentenced to death and eight others given prison terms. The "trial" was preceded by a lengthy official denunciation of the Dalai Lama's Washington D.C. visit. On 1 October, when Chinese soldiers were unable to control thousands of Tibetan demonstrators, the result was eight Tibetan deaths, 120 injured, and numerous arrests. The Dalai Lama expressed his shock and appealed "to all human rights groups.. to prevail upon the Chinese government to stop the execution of innocent Tibetans and to release those imprisoned." Monks in Tibet distributed pleas for international support to tourists. A curfew was imposed along with measures to stop the flow of news from Lhasa.
In June 1988 the Dalai Lama announced a new initiative, within the context of the Five Point Peace Plan, to resolve the Tibetan issue. He proposed a self-governing, democratic Tibet in association with the People's Republic of China. His initiative included major concessions to the Chinese, but he emphasised that "whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the Chinese may be, the Tibetan people must be the ultimate deciding authority." The Chinese quickly rejected the proposal, stating that "Tibet is an inseparable part of Chinese territory," and that "independence or semi-independence will go nowhere in Tibet."
Before the 1950 invasion, Tibet was a fully independent nation with a 2,000-year history of independence. The Buddhist religion has been and remains at the heart of the Tibetan culture. Since the invasion, a central purpose of the Chinese has been to undermine the strength of Buddhism in Tibetan life. The Chinese, whose purpose is not to destroy Buddhism but to render it powerless, have set a quota for new young monks who are politically "correct"
While Tibetans struggle to survive and have rights within Tibet, their in exile are working for international support. The Tibetan Government-in-exile, established in 1959, states, "... the real issue which must be addressed is the rights and aspirations of the six million Tibetans in Tibet, who we believe wish to be an independent and free people."
By Ed Lazar, Associate Director of the Humanitas International Human Rights Ctee, P.O. Box 818, Menlo Park, California 94026. 415~324-9077. From Fellowship, Sept. 1988.
DISARMAMENT CAMPAIGNS is published from its office at Anna Paulownaplein 3, Post Box 18747,2502 ES, The Hague, Netherlands. Tel. 07045 35 66. Editor: Shelley Anderson. Ed. Staff: Renate Dumbaugh, Birgit Gaffney.