Tibet Delegation Report from Durban
Update of the Tibetan Delegation at the World Conference Against Racism

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2001 Durban, South Africa : The Tibet delegation has been extremely busy speaking on panels, giving interviews and making contacts. Generally we feel we are giving Tibet a high profile and showing how racism manifests in Tibet. Each day is busier and more interesting as the Chinese government backed groups become more active.

Wednesday began with an unexpected challenge from five Chinese organisations at the Youth Forum. Several Chinese began distributing a statement objecting to language in the Youth Declaration about Tibet. Their statement said that Tibet has always been a part of China and the Youth Declaration was not developed in a transparent and democratic fashion, thus the language about Tibet should be deleted. The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) delegate here, Tenzin Samphel, quickly put together a rejoinder, opposing the Chinese statement and distributed it to the Youth Caucus organisers.

The TYC statement thanked the participants of the Youth Summit for raising the issue of racism n Tibet under the topic, “Foreign occupation and colonialism,” which conference documents identify as one of the sources of racism. The TYC also noted the irony of government-backed Chinese organisations objecting to language based on “transparency” and “democracy.”

The only Chinese non-governmental organisations from China here at the NGO Forum of the World Conference Against Racism are sponsored by the government of the PRC, and are called GONGOs (government organised NGOs). These five organisations from China aggressively support their governments’ positions and try to operate in NGO circles to undermine efforts by NGOs.

China’s GONGOs, include the Chinese Study Society of Human Rights, the United Nations Association of China and the All China Women’s Federation. The genuine NGOs, who are 95% of organisations here, know who the GONGOs are and are very wary of them. NGOs are closely monitoring how active the GONGOs are and whether they are trying to delete language in the NGO declarations about their countries.

The Tibetan Youth Congress will be working closely with the Youth Caucus to ensure that language expressing concern at racism in Tibet remains in the Youth declaration.

Later on Wednesday, the major event for the Tibet delegation was the official release of ICT’s report, Jampa: the Story of Racism in Tibet. The event was extremely well attended and held in a room overlooking the Indian Ocean and Durban’s famous beaches. The keynote speaker was Ela Gandhi, a member of the South African parliament and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, who began his life as a non-violent activist here in Durban before moving to India.

John Ackerly, in releasing the report, emphasised how China’s laws and policies need to be stripped of language which reinforces negative stereotypes of Tibetans and breeds discrimination. Xiao Qiang, Executive Director of Human Rights in China, spoke about what it meant for him to be a Chinese activist, fighting against racism in his homeland and also for the people of Tibet. Jampa Monlam of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy, spoke very eloquently about how he was made to feel inferior as he grew up in Chinese-run schools, and later about his experiences in prison. Jampal Chosang, the new Representative of the Dalai Lama here in South Africa presented the Tibetan government in Exile’s positions on the Racism Conference.

Local media coverage of the release was quite good and the event was also attended by the Deputy mayor of Durban as well as members of the black, white and Indian communities (Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India

On Thursday, Rep. Chungdak Koren presided over one of the biggest Panel Sessions of the conference so far, which included the American activist and professor, Angela Davis. Ms. Koren also invited Winnie Mandela to come up to the panel to give some rousing closing remarks. The topic, self-determination, is a hot one here in Durban with many groups showing the relationships between the denial of their self-determination and racism.

The conference has also given Tibetans a platform to show leadership on promoting tolerance of Buddhism throughout Asia. Ngawang Choephel, of the Tibet Bureau inn Geneva, spoke eloquently on a panel of religious experts about Buddhism in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, the former Soviet Union, and of course, in Tibet. In highlighting the Taliban’s destruction of ancient Buddhist statues, Ngawang drew a huge applause.

There have been so many interesting events and confrontations it would take pages to describe them all. The South African Broadcasting Company (the NPR and CNN of America combined) is doing an extensive program on Tibet at the conference, interviewing Rep. Jampal Chosang, Lobsang Nyandak and Renato Palmi, founder of the Tibet Society of South Africa. and tried to get an interview with the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, who declined. The Chinese embassy did make a statement to the effect that “exile Tibetans have no right to speak on behalf of the Tibetan people.” This coming from a country who supported exiled African National Congress leaders, who had to speak from abroad on behalf of black south Africans for so many years, and to a NGO forum where thousands have come from exile precisely because of racism in their homelands. Tsering Jampa of ICT Europe also did a number of interviews as did Youdon Aukustang of TCHRD and other members of the Tibetan delegation.

The Chinese GONGOs have been quite systematic in speaking out in most of the forums where Tibet is being raised. Also, two Tibetans are part of the Chinese GONGOs, and they are also speaking up and defending Chinese government positions. When Sonam Dagpo of DIIR, spoke on a self-determination panel with Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Peace laureate from Guatemala, a Tibetan representing one of the Chinese GONGOs, stood up and made a statement saying that the former Panchen Lama said Tibet was part of China. A Chinese representative who also did not mention her name or affiliation stood up and said the issue of Tibet should not be raised in a panel on self-determination. Afterwards,she argued with the rapporteur about how Tibetans could be given such a platform and he explained that this is an NGO conference and that people can express their views on different country-specific situations, including Tibet. The Chinese GONGOs also confronted Ngawang Chophel at the religious intolerance panel but theifr statements were cut off by the moderator because they were not appropriate at that part of the program.

In addition, representatives of the Tibetan Women’s Association have been providing input on Tibet to the reproductive rights and gender caucus. And Tenzin Gonpo, an accompmlished Tibetan artist and member of the Tibetan delegation, has been giving many performances of Tibetan music at the NGO forum and at schools around Durban. These performances, as well as receptions for the Tibetan delegation have been organized by the Tibet Society of South Africa.

Government delegations began to arrive on Thursday and we will soon be turning out attention from the NGO conference to the official government conference. Tibetan Delegation, WCAR, Durban South Africa

China: Analysis From Washington -- A Breakthrough For Tibet
By Paul Goble Washington, 31 August 2001 (RFE/RL)

Despite objections from the Chinese government, representatives of Tibet for the first time have succeeded in gaining accreditation at a United Nations-sponsored meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). And they have used this opportunity to denounce Beijing for what they call its policy of "apartheid" against the Tibetan people.

The United Nations secretariat this week gave official accreditation to a coalition of Tibetan exile groups to attend a meeting of non-governmental organizations in Durban, South Africa, in advance of the government-level World Conference Against Racism that opens there today.

As they have done in the past, the People's Republic of China attempted to deny the group this form of official recognition, but this time China -- a permanent member of the UN Security Council -- was unable to prevent Tibetan representatives from taking part.

On 29 August, Jampal Chosang, the head of the Tibetan coalition taking part in the NGO sessions, said China has introduced "a new form of apartheid" in Tibet because "Tibetan culture, religion, and national identity are considered a threat" to Beijing's policies and control.

The Tibetans also distributed reports prepared by the Tibetan government-in-exile that accuse China of "widespread, systematic racial discrimination" as well as destroying Tibetan culture and torturing and killing political opponents.

The simple fact the Tibetans succeeded in gaining accreditation represents a major breakthrough. Being allowed a seat at such meetings often has been a first step for national movements, including the Baltic countries in Soviet times and East Timor now, that successfully challenged major powers.

That is because such accreditation creates a precedent that Tibetans will invoke and that the international bureaucracy may be unwilling or unable to reverse. And consequently the Tibetans now can reasonably expect that they will participate at other non-governmental meetings and also, over the longer term, at a higher level.

Groups like the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet understand that.

John Ackerly, the president of the group, was the first to call the media's attention to the fact that being seated in Durban represents a major step forward for the Tibetan cause.

Moreover, other governments and national movements around the world now are likely to understand how important accreditation is for the Tibetans and be more willing to include Tibetans in meetings that they organize. With each such invitation, the Tibetans will gain stature.

The Beijing government understands this too, but it may have concluded that what happened in South Africa is a minor inconvenience that it can soon reverse.

Such a conclusion is almost certainly wrong. At any rate, after Durban, any future Chinese move against Tibet and its people is likely to prove more costly than past actions have been.