Friday, December 9, 2011

Human Rights? Still a Distant Dream for Tibetans

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, an anniversary that celebrates one of the monumental achievements of the last century. To six million Tibetans who live in an endless nightmare of China's colonial oppression, the concept of human rights, however, remains a distant dream six decades after the birth of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yesterday in the SFT headquarters, we crowded around a laptop to watch a new video that contained raw footage of a Chinese police raid on Tibetan homes in a village near Lhasa in 2008. The video, released by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile this week, was the most terrifying thing I have seen in a long time:

This footage doesn't show beatings or burnings or explosions; the images are much more ordinary and, ironically, much more disturbing -- probably because it could happen to anyone in Tibet. It shows a team of Chinese SWAT and PLA troops, armed to the teeth, breaking into Tibetan homes at dawn, dragging people out of bed, barely giving them time to put on their jackets or shoes, whisking them away with no warrant, no explanation, no nothing.

The first person they arrest is a young man named Tsering Norsang, 32 years old, whose eyes dart from left to right in bewilderment as he is escorted -- for lack of a better word -- from his home. The troops make him kneel down in the snow while they hunt down their next victims, whose "crimes" may have consisted of participating in peaceful demonstrations or sending a text message about someone's detention.

The footage reminded me of World War II movies that reenact scenes of Nazi soldiers rounding up Jewish citizens in Europe. Sadly, for Tibetans, this is not a page from a history textbook, it is an ongoing horror that is driving them to breaking point. Against the background noise of dogs barking and heavy footsteps in the snow, you can almost hear the detainees' hearts pounding against their chests, as their fate hangs in balance in the frigid air of one of the world's most oppressed lands.

Where are they being taken? Will they get a fair trial? Have they disappeared already? Will they return? Where will they be tomorrow, on December 10th, Human Rights Day?

These are the questions the world must answer.

The world is finally speaking out. In an epic display of unprecedented global public support, over 700,000 people have signed pledges to save Tibetan lives.

The British Parliament held a debate on the Tibet crisis this week. Leading the debate, Simon Hughes MP, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats said, "I hope the government will strongly take up the issue of the self-immolations with the Chinese authorities, and make a robust statement of concern."

Following a lobbying initiative by SFT Japan and the Tibetan community of Tokyo, senior Japanese leaders, including two vice ministers and two members of parliament, pledged their support for the Tibetan cause and signed the Stand up for Tibet petition.

In the age of the Internet, when the entire globe is connected by instantaneous news headlines and realtime social networks, we cannot allow China's fire power and firewall to isolate Tibet into a black hole of oppression.

Contrary to what some may believe, Chinese leaders care about what the world thinks and says regarding Tibet and their human rights record. As bad as it is, the situation could be a lot worse if it weren't for global public pressure and attention.

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