Geneva: The Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva hosted a virtual panel discussion on “Religious Freedom in Tibet: The Appointment of Buddhist Leaders and the Succession of the Dalai Lama” on 4 December 2020.
The talk was hosted by the US Permanent Representative to the UN and Other International Organizations in Geneva Ambassador Andrew Bremberg and had US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Robert A. Destro; US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback; Director of Outreach of the International Campaign for Tibet Tencho Gyatso and President of the Central Tibetan Administration Dr. Lobsang Sangay as speakers in the panel.
Ambassador Bremberg opening the talk referred to the recent communication by the Five UN Independent Human Rights Experts which criticized China’s interreference in the religious practices of the Tibetan Buddhists including their right to select their own religious leaders. Noting that the right to practice one’s own religion is a fundamental human rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on China’s interference, Ambassador Bremberg said, “it is important to remember and address the long suffering of the Tibetan Buddhist community and their legitimate aspirations to openly practice their culture and worship freely.” He further noted that, “The issue of reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist lamas is one of the most pressing concerns facing Tibet today, one which the CCP has also attempted to interfere with and cynically use for its own political purposes. While His Holiness the Dalai Lama defends the rights of Tibetan Buddhists, Beijing- an explicitly atheist regime has forcible asserted its claims to control Buddhist reincarnation in Tibet in contravention of Tibetan religious traditions” and called upon all the UN Member States to defend the right of freedom of religion of Tibetans.
The US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Mr. Robert A. Destro recognized the golden threads which knit the Tibetan culture together: the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism. Secretary Destro called ou China for engaging in “Information Warfare” with the Chinese communist party aiming “to control not only the information landscape but the very thoughts of all whose perspectives and approaches to life and community differ from those of the communist party.” He noted how China is trying to sinicize Tibetan Buddhism especially refering to the case of Panchen Lama who was abducted by the Chinese Communist Party when he was merely six-years-old. He categorically noted that Tibetan Buddhism does not belong to China, it belongs to Tibetans and only Tibetan Buddhists have the right to select their religious leaders. Secretary Destro assured that “the united states is committed to helping Tibetan safeguard their way of life not just in Tibet but also in India, Nepal, Bhutan and everywhere that it flourishes” and called upon like-minded friends and partners “to pass their own versions of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. Together we must force the issue by continuing to press the people’s republic to respect the unique language and culture of Tibetans.”
Calling China’s desire to appoint the next Dalai Lama an “absolute ludicrous”, the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback highlighted the destruction carried out by the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet denying Tibetans their basic right to practice religion. He noted that with China’s war on faith “the beautiful fabric that intertwines the Tibetan Buddhist faith with Tibetan language and culture is at risk.” Ambassador Brownback assured that “the US government stands with Tibetan Buddhists” and called on other countries to join the US in “supporting Tibetans religious freedom and this fundamental human right.”
Thanking the organizers, Director of Outreach of the International Campaign for Tibet Tencho Gyatso welcomed the “international diplomatic efforts to support a sustainable political solution” to the issue of Tibet. She noted that “the Dalai Lama symbolizes Tibetan religion culture and identity. The institution of the Dalai Lama and the current 14th reincarnation in particular has been the lifeline of the Tibetan people. There is a strong historical bond that goes back five centuries between the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet which will be broken if we allow Chinese communist authorities to dictate and impose their will on this sacred tradition concerning the search confirmation and installation of Tibetan religious leaders including that of a future Dalai Lama.” She called on the international community to support the call of the UN independent experts to establish independent mechanism on China and continue to issue joint calls on China’s human rights situation.
President of the Central Tibetan Administration, Dr. Lobsang Sangay President Sangay dedicated the talk to Tibet’s longest serving political prisoner who passed away recently and whose 49th day prayer service since his funeral coincided on the same day as the talk. President Dr. Sangay broadened the discussion by reiterating his earlier statement that “when it comes to China either we transform china or china will transform you. Hence the challenge before us is whatever china says or the communist party of china says the underlying deception and underlying threat to the universal values of democracy and human rights and religious freedom ought to be recognized and confronted.”. He noted that the poverty alleviation for China means herding the Tibetans and Uyghurs in force labour camps and concentration camps. President Dr. Sangay further highlighted that China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council undermines the body with the world’s worst human rights abuser becoming the judge of human rights violations.
Speaking on religious freedom in Tibet, President Dr. Sangay noted with irony that on the one hand Mao Tse-tung called religion a poison and on the other hand the Chinese Communist Party is issuing “reincarnation certificate” for Tibetan Buddhist lamas. Highlighting the larger implication, President Dr. Sangay said, “Today they claim authority over Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, tomorrow they will claim to have authority to appoint Bishops, Pope, Imams and Rabbis.”
In his concluding remarks, President Dr. Sangay called upon the world leaders and governments to join together and recommended the countries to use multilateral coordination while tackling China. “So unless we get our act together and fight for our values that’s democracy and human rights and religious freedom they will impose your pope on you your imam on you your rabbi on you and your lamas on you and your Hindu priests on you.”
Just as anticipated, the Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy became active after the talk and the Chinese Mission in Geneva issued a statement criticizing the US for hosting the event calling it a “gross interference.”
To watch the entire talk, please click here.