By Senator Janet Rice
Imagine your country being violently invaded. Tens of thousands of people killed as they defended your country.
Imagine your invaders telling you that your country was always part of theirs, that it belongs to them.
Imagine being arrested, thrown in jail, tortured, or just disappeared if you speak out and criticise the invaders,or worse, are trying to organise for your rights and your freedom.
Imagine your invaders tracking your every move, who you meet with, who you talk to, monitoring your phone calls, monitoring what media you watch, and arresting you if you are critical of them.
Imagine your religion and culture being suppressed, your religious buildings destroyed, your religious leaders killed or kidnapped.
Imagine women having their menstrual cycles tracked and abortions forced upon them if they are pregnant, if it suits the authorities’ policies of the time.
Imagine your schools being closed down and children being taken from your villages and sent off to boarding school from the age of 5, where they are taught in the invaders’ language and about the invaders culture and not permitted to express their culture or even get in touch with their families while they are away.
Imagine that you are forced to leave your country and taken away to work in factories far far away from your home.
Imagine your invaders taking DNA samples of everyone, so that if you transgress then they can easily identify family to punish them as well as you.
Imagine your invaders not letting outsiders in to see the reality of life on the ground .
Imagine your invaders not letting you leave your country to share with the world what your life is like.
Imagine your country being desecrated with huge dams to take away your water and the water of countries downstream, with polluting mines, and your forests destroyed.
Imagine your nomadic peoples being thrown off their lands and forced to settle in villages, to allow this destruction to occur.
Imagine people being so desperate for their freedom, their culture, their heritage that the only protest they feel will be effective is to set themselves on fire. So they do.
This is Tibet, 72 years after invasion by the Chinese Government, 64 years after the Tibetan uprising when thousands of Tibetans fled Tibet to seek refuge in India and around the world.
Things are grim.
There are six to seven million Tibetans in Tibet, around 100,000 Tibetans in exile in India, and 30,000 spread throughout the world including in Australia. The borders have now been firmly closed to anyone wanting to leave - where two decades ago thousands of Tibetans were managing to escape every year, since the crackdown in 2008 this has reduced to a trickle, with only a dozen or so making the dangerous trek across the mountains to India in the last year.
We can’t just give up on Tibet!
It was an enormous privilege as Co-Chair of the Australian all-party parliamentary group for Tibet to visit Dharamsala in northern India over the last week, to meet Tibetan people, leaders, parliamentarians, government-in-exile of the Central Tibetan Administration, human rights campaigners, artists, health practitioners; to experience Tibetan culture in all its forms which is being resolutely kept alive in exile.
As well as many, many meetings, highlights included visiting a school, an aged care home, a nunnery, and a Tibetan medicine health clinic and herbal pharmaceutical manufacturing site where we each had an appointment with a Tibetan doctor. The doctor I saw prescribed a range of things to help me cope with my busy parliamentary life, including a recommendation to not eat dinner too late in the evening, and some Tibetan herbal medicines to settle some gut and congestion issues. Then on our final night, we were regaled with a performance at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts showcasing Tibetan dance, amazing costumes and music.
The people we met were overwhelmingly positive and forward looking, and never giving up in their work keeping Tibetan culture alive.
I felt very touched by how so many people we met thanked me for my work speaking out about Tibet in our parliament.
But we as Australians, working multilaterally, have to do more. The UN special rapporteurs have just issued hard-hitting reports on the Chinese Government boarding schools and on forced labour. The very minimum which is required is for regular unimpeded visits from international human rights observers to Tibet.
The other main ask that the Tibetans in exile have is for the world to recognise Tibet as an occupied region and an unresolved conflict - not as part of China - and for pressure to be placed on China to come back to the negotiating table. The Chinese Government hasn’t engaged on the issue of Tibet since 2013.
Another critical ask is that the Chinese Government doesn’t interfere with the process for choosing the next Dalai Lama, and that this is done according to Tibetan Buddhist principles and practice. The Chinese Government has already said that they intend to control the process, and they have form in this regard: they kidnapped the 6-year-old Panchen Lama 21 years ago and he hasn’t been seen since.
In addition to human rights, a key issue we discussed was the environmental damage and water resource capture being done in Tibet, and the impact of climate change on the Tibetan Plateau.
This is the region known as the third pole, because locked up in the snow capped mountains and glaciers is the largest freshwater resource on the planet after the Antarctic, and all of Asia relies on its rivers.
How to achieve a free Tibet is the $64,000 question. How to bring China to the negotiating table? What are the strategies that the world should be pursuing? It’s inextricably entangled with issues of other human rights abuses by the Chinese Government, including of the Uigher population, Hong Kong and democracy and human rights campaigners inside China, and with Chinese expansionism.
The phrase that many spoke of during the week is that Australia and other countries need to have a “principled engagement” with China. To me that means our government speaking out, and working with other countries to speak out and to engage in firm dialogue with the Chinese Government, and use all levers at our disposal to apply pressure as needed, from Magnitsky sanctions to trade restrictions.
I’m pleased that our Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Assistant Minister Tim Watts have both mentioned Tibet in their speeches in recent weeks. I call upon them to do more of it.
As for me, I will keep speaking out about Tibet, and keep campaigning both locally and internationally. I’m attending the Global Greens Congress in South Korea in June, and look forward to strategising with Greens from across the world about what actions we can take together.
This was originally shared as a post on Senator's Facebook page here.
Senator Janet Rice has been a Senator in the Australian parliament for eight years and a passionate campaigner for justice, people, and the planet for more than thirty years. She was a founding member of the Greens in Victoria and has also served as a councillor and mayor of the City of Maribyrnong in Melbourne's inner west. Janet was the Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson 2020- 2022. Her work is grounded in advocating for Australia to promote peace, democracy, ecological sustainability, equity and justice, and human rights in our international relations. As a member of the Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, Janet has been a staunch advocate for Tibet in Parliament. She has used her position in Parliament to highlight the human rights violations suffered by Tibetans and supported the passage of Magnitsky-style legislation through the Australian Parliament, to enable the application of targeted sanctions against those who commit serious human rights violations.