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Free Tibet – a global cause

Katie Boyle | Monday, January 17, 2005

In recent weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. In the aftermath of a rather bitter election, this union of Republicans, Democrats and Independents reaching out to those in desperate need of our help is truly inspiring.

In addition, these events remind us of an area of the world that is oftentimes neglected in our newspapers and magazines. Understandably, national affairs tend to preoccupy citizens and the media. Those countries that present neither significant economic benefit nor threat to the United States frequently fall by the wayside in terms of the attention they receive from the press, the citizenry and our government.

Tibet is one of these countries. I first learned about the plight of this nation when I was 13 and on a trip to New Mexico with my parents. The streets of Santa Fe were lined with artists, and as I was just beginning a phase where I was obsessed with the ’60s and ’70s, the free spirited atmosphere of the town, coupled with the gorgeous scenery, made it intensely appealing.

Each street contained nooks, crannies and back allies where you might find a small gem of an art gallery, handmade jewelry store or, in the case of one dusty side road, a tiny store that sold a multitude of Tibetan crafts.

Accompanying these pieces, were T-shirts, signs and bumper stickers that read “Free Tibet.”

Like many Americans, I had no idea from what Tibet needed freedom. I also, however, had Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” ringing in my ears, although I had yet to realize that some of the idealism he inspired had fizzled out around the time “Video Killed the Radio Star” hit the airwaves. I took a pamphlet, and, becoming fascinated by the character of this unique country, began to research the Tibetan situation.

Prior to the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was an independent nation, reputed for its spiritual and peaceful indigenous peoples. Despite a National Uprising in 1959, Tibetans remained under Chinese control, and the Dalai Lama, who functions as the country’s spiritual leader and head of state, was forced to flee to India. According to www.freetibet.org, approximately 87,000 Tibetans were murdered as a result of this uprising.

In the years since this tragedy, a total of 1.2 million Tibetans have died at the hands of the Chinese. Human rights abuses include not only these murders, but also a prominent use of torture, beatings, imprisonment, interference with religious practices, a militaristic control over the education of Tibetan children and numerous broken treaties that had guaranteed Tibet a relative autonomy. For the Tibetans, dissent is not meant to be an option.

But what has the United States done to prevent these horrors from occurring?

Well, America has given China “Most Favored Nation Status” despite the nation’s unwillingness to stem the tide of human rights abuses on her shores and in Tibet. Despite the United States’ lip service encouragement of negotiations with the Dalai Lama and of milder policies toward Tibetan civilians, this action amounts to a gross permission of not only the devastating oppression of the Tibetan people but that of the Chinese as well.

The Chinese government’s abuses reach from its destructive 1950 invasion to those dead or starving in prisons today. In 1995 they kidnapped the 6-year-old Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who remains missing today. Another religious leader, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, has been sentenced to death, despite the lack of evidence of his involvement in a 2002 bomb explosion. Four monks are being held in prison for distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As extreme as these cases may sound, they are only a few of many known examples of human rights violations by the Chinese. To learn more about this cause, visit freetibet.org.

As we have been shown in recent weeks, reaching out to those across the globe can have an incredible impact on their lives. Let these missions of mercy not stop at the devastation of the tsunami but extend to those other nations and peoples who also so desperately need our help.

Katie Boyle is a senior English, political science and Spanish major. She supports the Democratic Party. She can be reached at kboyle2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.