Three Tibetan independence activists ended their 30-day hunger strike on Thursday, after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights promised to look into their concerns about rights and freedoms in their homeland.
There were tears and cheers as two senior United Nations officials came to the park across from the world body to meet with hunger strikers Shingza Rinpoche and Yeshi Tenzing, bringing them a letter from the U.N.’s top human rights official. The letter’s contents satisfied the activists’ demands enough that they were willing to “indefinitely suspend” their hunger strike.
A third hunger striker, Dorjee Gyalpo, who was in deteriorating health, was forcibly removed by New York City police on Monday and continued his fast in a local hospital until he was informed the hunger strike had ended.
Tsewang Rigzin, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which organized the month-long peaceful protest, told supporters that this is a small victory that they would build on.
“So, 30 days and we finally opened the doors of the United Nations today," said Rigzin. "What you all just saw is a victory for the Tibetan people. And victory, not just for the Tibetan people, but victory for a non-violent struggle of the Tibetan people.”
Rigzin said the U.N. has assigned special rapporteurs to look into the situation inside Tibet. He added that the United Nations states in the letter that they have contacted the Chinese government several times about delegations going into Tibet. Rigzin said that High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has an open invitation from Beijing to visit China and that the U.N. is working on finalizing a date for the trip.
The Tibetan activists sent a letter to the United Nations last month asking the world body to send a fact-finding mission to Tibet to assess the human rights situation there, where at least two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire this year to demand independence from China and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The hunger strikers' petition also demanded the release of political prisoners, foreign media access and the end of China’s so-called "patriotic reeducation" program. They also called for international pressure on Beijing to lift what they say is undeclared martial law in Tibetan areas.
The U.N. officials who brought the letter that ended the hunger strike offered the men orange juice to break their month-long fast. In return, the activists draped them with Tibetan ceremonial scarves and shed tears of joy and relief.
Richard Bennett, Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, would not discuss the contents of the letter. But he said he was relieved that the strike was over.
“Certainly, [I am relieved]. I think everyone has the right to peaceful protest. But we are also relieved that this particular protest has concluded," said Bennett.
The Tibetan Youth Congress said it would be taking the two hunger strikers to the hospital to undergo treatment as they break their fast.