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Tibetans Demand UN Action on Human Rights

Margaret Besheer

Three Tibetan independence activists are nearly one month into a hunger strike outside of the United Nations in New York. They promise to continue their water-only fast until a fact-finding mission is sent to their homeland to assess the human rights situation there.  On Monday night, New York police and medics forcibly transported the oldest striker, Dorjee Gyalpo, to a local hospital out of concern for his deteriorating condition.  He remains in hospital but has refused food and is only accepting intravenous fluids.

Hunger striker Dorjee Gyalpo says he is prepared to lay down his life to get international intervention for his homeland, where more than 20 people have set themselves on fire in the past year to demand independence from China and the return of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Recently, two busloads of supporters from Dorjee’s Tibetan-American community in Minnesota came to show their solidarity with him and the other two hunger strikers.

In addition to a U.N. fact-finding mission, the activists also want the release of political prisoners, foreign media access to Tibet, the end to China's policy of so-called patriotic re-education, and pressure on Beijing to lift what they say is undeclared martial law.

"Those five appeals are reasonable. They are not something impossible for the U.N. to take a look at. So my father and two hunger strikers they are waiting for the U.N.  - not just their word, they are waiting for an action. It’s been 53 years," said Deden Gongmae, Dorjee’s daughter from San Francisco.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky says that a senior human rights official met recently with the protesters and the number two diplomat at China’s U.N. Mission.

“He said he would convey the group’s concerns to the relevant Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, in line with established procedure in handling human rights matters,” Nesirky said.  

The spokesman added that the secretary-general supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, but he is very concerned about the health of the hunger strikers.

Tsewang Rigzin is president of the Tibetan Youth Congress. He said the group is grateful for the U.N. official’s visit, but the indefinite hunger strike would continue.

“Because in Tibet, unlike here, in Tibet, people do not have basic fundamental rights, they do not have the right to protest, they do not have the right to assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, what have you. So because of that, people are setting themselves on fire to make their case, to voice their opposition to the Chinese government,” Rigzin said.

Earlier this month, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet, Padma Choling, criticized the self-immolations. “This is against humankind consciousness and moral principles, so I think that the self-immolations, their supporters, and the people that commit those acts should be punished severely by the law,” Padma said.

Dorjee Gyalpo is physically weak, but his resolve is not.

"China wants to wipe out the whole Tibetan nation and the Tibetan people. But they will never succeed. It is like a tree. China has been cutting branches, but they can never destroy the roots, so the Tibetan people will never give up," said Dorjee Gyalpo.

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