Hope for Tibet remains but the road is still treacherous
By Sunny Bleckinger
In a humble white building, on a shady part of the Keizersgracht, sits the world head-quarters of the International Campaign for Tibet. Their executive director, Ms Tsering Jampa, returned last week, after attending UN meetings in Geneva, and she was full of new hope and energy. ‘I think we just won our first small victory in 10 years,’ she said. ‘And I can’t tell you how good that feels.’
The UN committee was meeting with delegates from China to discuss the welfare of children in their nation, and Jampa was there to ensure that Tibet’s missing Panchen Lama would be part of the discussions.
Ten years ago, the Dalai Lama recognised six-year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, making the child the second most important spiritual leader for Tibet. Days later, the Chinese government kidnapped the boy and his parents, and they’ve been detained ever since. The Chinese then named a new Panchen Lama, and are using him to project their own ideals on Tibet, which of course, the Tibetans reject.
‘We have two lakes for prophesising the next Dalai and Panchen Lama,’ explained Ven Lobsang Dorjee, a visiting monk from the Panchen Lama’s monastery. ‘Normally, the reflection of our next spiritual leader is seen in one of those lakes. The 11th Panchen Lama was seen in both.’
Along with other human rights groups, and over 100 monks, Dorjee and Jampa organised a peaceful demonstration in Geneva last week, as Chinese delegates were showing up to explain themselves. A 4x2m banner was held up with the young Panchen Lama’s face and the word ‘Missing’ printed on it. UN members and Chinese delegates had to walk past this as they entered the building.
Then, as the meetings began, the demonstrators outside gave speeches and began chanting ‘Free the Panchen Lama’. ‘You could hear everything,’ said Jampa, who was inside the meetings. ‘The Chinese were of course tense and some [UN] committee members even got up to look out the window, but no one requested that the meeting be stopped.’
The first day of talks focused on the many problems of Chinese children, but on the second day, Tibet and the Panchen Lama were brought up. Chinese delegates gave their usual answer that he is just an ordinary boy, doing well in school, and liv-ing a happy life. They said his parents did not want outsiders or Tibetans to visit him.
‘This was such a blatant lie,’ said Dorjee, whose calm eyes tried to hide the years of pain and frustration. ‘Why would a parent, whose son is such an important spiritual leader, not want him to meet with his people?’
The UN is wondering the same thing. For the past ten years, no one has been able to ascertain even the health conditions of the boy. Prof Jacob Doek, the Dutchman who headed the meetings, told the Chinese to consider the seriousness of the issue, and suggested that they choose an ‘independent body’ to visit the child. The delegates said they’d have to consult with higher sources back home about this, which amazed Jampa.
‘There were 40 high-profile Chinese in that room, fully prepared to answer all of the UN’s questions,’ she said. ‘But the one thing they couldn’t discuss was the Panchen Lama.’
And as the UN waits for answers, the Tibetan culture continues to be slowly stripped away.
‘The Chinese have decided that if they let our youth have fun, they will forget about freedom,’ explained Dorjee. ‘They have filled our streets with prostitutes, lowered the price of alcohol and put Chinese brothels next to monasteries. Chinese is the language now used in all our businesses, and every youth knows, if you want a well-paying job, you must learn Chinese.’
Dorjee pauses and looks up. ‘At least when you kill a man, he lies dead in the street, and people can see that. But they are slowly killing our entire culture, and no one can see it.’