Three men sit on thin mattresses under Tibetan flags in a small park across from the United Nations. Every day since February 22nd they have taken up their respective positions, sitting all day through either harsh cold, wind and rain, or, on this day, unseasonably warm sunshine. But despite the pleasant weather, they are bundled in jackets and sweaters, probably more sensitive to temperatures as they enter the 17th day of their water-only fast.
One of the three activists, Shingza Rinpoche, 31, is a prominent Tibetan monk who left his homeland to live in India, but recently came to New York in solidarity with his countrymen.
Resting in an orange down-filled jacket, he says the group has sent a petition to the United Nations with five demands, including a request for a fact-finding mission into the critical situation in their homeland, where even a young mother recently set herself on fire, the latest in a wave of self-immolations over the past year.
Dozens of Suicides
According to the Tibetan Youth Congress, at least two dozen people have set themselves on fire as part of the renewed campaign to secede from China and see the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
While many Tibetans have long accused China of suppressing their culture, religion and freedom, these men say Beijing can no longer ignore the seriousness of the situation nor the resolve to uphold their demands.
In addition to a U.N. fact-finding mission, the hunger strikers want China pressured into ending what they call undeclared martial law in Tibet. They also want international media access and the release of all political prisoners.
Dorjee Gyalpo, a 69-year old Tibetan-American who lives in the U.S. state of Minnesota, says in a weak voice that he is willing to sacrifice his life to achieve these goals and is urging the United Nations to intervene to help improve the human rights situation.
With weary and reddened eyes, Yeshi Tenzing, 39, a sweater seller who lives in India, says he is striking not only to create awareness about the situation in Tibet, but to solve the situation.
Penpa Tsering of the Tibetan Youth Congress echoes the sentiment, explaining that Tibetans-in-exile have a responsibility to be the voice of those inside the country who have no voice.
Like those in Tibet who have already taken their lives, he says they are willing to sacrifice themselves and hopes the world will soon wake up to their plight.
The United Nations says it has received the Tibetan’s letter and is looking into the matter.