Asia-Pacific, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Rising China Poses Danger to Peace, Say Nobel Laureates

Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Oct 31 2009 (IPS) - An ascendant China that ignores human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, poses a danger to world peace, say Nobel laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Jody Williams.

‘’We do not want to see a China that pursues the path of hegemony as world leader,’’ Maguire told IPS. ‘’We have seen how similar policies by the United States have taken the world to war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.’’

Williams said China, as the worlds “new economic imperialist”, was able to continue with its policy of repression in Tibet and deny true autonomy to Tibetans. She described as ‘’horrifying’’ the refusal by U.S. President Barack Obama (this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner) to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama (winner of the prize in 1989).

‘’We will not allow that [China’s] ascendancy,’’ said Williams. Maguire, Williams and a third woman Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, are currently in the Indian capital after visiting the Dalai Lama at his exile headquarters in the Indian hill resort of Dharamsala to express support for his efforts to gain true autonomy for Tibet on behalf of eight Nobel laureates.

Maguire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions that helped end sectarian violence in her native Northern Ireland while Williams claimed the 1997 prize for her work to ban landmines. Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote human rights in Iran, particularly those of women, children and political prisoners.

Signatories to the letter of support they handed over to the Dalai Lama on Tuesday included Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Adolfo Perez Equivel, Betty Williams and Wangari Maathai.

Through the letter they called upon Beijing to implement laws that are enshrined in the Chinese constitution to grant Tibetans their legitimate rights and meaningful autonomy.

“For 50 years, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people have waged a peaceful struggle to preserve their ancient culture, religion, language and identity,’’ the statement said in recognition of the fact that it was half a century ago that the Dalai Lama fled his palace in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and crossed over the high Himalayas to exile in India.

The Dalai Lama’s presence in India has been a cause of friction between India and China and unhelpful in resolving a dispute over their long common border, which flared into open war in 1962.

In recent months Beijing has revived claims on India’s north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls ‘Little Tibet’, and objected to plans by the Dalai Lama to visit the territory in November. But the Indian government has responded by reaffirming that Arunachal Pradesh remains an integral part of India and that the Dalai Lama was free to go wherever he wished to in this country.

“As the issue of Tibet remains tragically unresolved and Tibetans continue to endure repressive conditions in Tibet, we wish to express our concern and support the Dalai Lama for his non-violent efforts to achieve autonomy for Tibetan people,” the statement said.

The Nobel laureates urged the Chinese government to “take immediate and constructive steps to resolve the status of Tibet and end oppressive policies that continue to marginalise and impoverish Tibetans in their own land’’. Chinese authorities call the Dalai Lama a ‘splittist’ bent on breaking Tibet away from China and have described him as a “wolf in monk’s robe and a devil with a human face”.

In a white paper published in March, a year after the government violently crushed a series of anti-China protests by Buddhist monks in Tibet, Beijing claimed that the cause of human rights in Tibet had made remarkable progress, and that the living conditions of the people were improved.

The white paper warned the Dalai Lama and his followers against making attempts at separatism as “history has convincingly proved that there is no way to restore the old order’’.

Maguire said the Dalai Lama and his flock in India cannot be ignored by the international community because they ‘’affirmed critical values that the world is in danger of losing’’ and are a ‘’a model’’ in that they ‘’despite the attack on their people and the displacement of their culture preach and practice compassion and respect for the dignity of every person’’.

‘’By making a peaceful transition from ancient traditions of leadership by a small group of hereditary rulers to government by democratically elected leaders, Tibetans have set an admirable example,’’ said Maguire, referring to the Tibetan ‘government-in-exile’ located in Dharamsala.

‘’If a community exiled from their homeland and scattered across the world can come together and grow into a democratic society that respects human rights, every community can do so,’’ Maguire said. ‘’The Tibetans also demonstrate how common core human values can and should transcend geography, ethnicity and culture.’’

The Tibetans have made an extraordinary choice to engage in a peaceful non-violent protest against the destruction of their culture and the takeover of their homeland. ‘’By doing so, they have followed the great Indian example of Mahatma Gandhi that served as an example for the peace and democracy movements in Northern Ireland and Iran,’’ Maguire said.

The Nobel laureates are exhorting governments in the region and the world to press Beijing to begin a constructive dialogue with representatives of the Tibetan people and consider the Dalai Lama’s proposal to convert Tibet into a zone of peace, free of nuclear weapons, where fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms are honoured and the natural environment restored and protected.

“There is no reason that the governments of China and leaders all over the world who support the Tibetans should not work together to listen and respond to the voice of the Tibetan people by engaging in sincere negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese people,’’ they said in a statement.

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