Dharamshala: - That was the message Tibetan political leader, Dr Lobsang Sangay, had for international participants at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Special International Tibet Support Groups Meeting, held at Dharamshala's Tibetan Children's Village, on Friday, November 16 – the day after two more Tibetans set themselves alight, bringing the total number of self-immolations inside Tibet since March 2011 to 74.
Welcoming more than 200 representatives of Tibet Support Groups (TSGs) from 45 nations to the three day event, which will include workshops on political support, Tibetan democracy, lobbying and the environment, he said: “This meeting is historic and extremely significant.
“We're sending a clear message to Beijing that friends of Tibet are here to show their support and solidarity and also to plan events to make sure that the issue of Tibet will remain not just alive, but will be stronger and stronger until the day comes when Tibetans will regain their freedom.
“Also we send a message through this meeting to Tibetans inside Tibet. They are the ones who are suffering. They are the ones who on a daily basis endure imprisonment, torture, and denial of any basic human rights, but they are doing all they can and more by giving up their lives, with the hope and belief that the exiled Tibetans and their friends will stand up with them.
“Even if they get tortured, even if they die, their lives will not go in vain because their friends outside will stand up for them.
“Now democracy has swept the eastern European countries. Freedom is sweeping Arab countries. (Burmese opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, is released and walking around free.
“It's time for Tibet. So your message to the international community is not just that they have to speak out and show sympathy and to some extent, support, but that we need the international community now.”
Further alluding the spate of self-immolations, which has gathered pace in the run up to and during the Chinese Communist Party's recent 18th National Congress, during which Xi Jinping was selected as the next Chinese president, he said: “The majority of self immolations have taken place this year. In October alone there were 10, and in November, and we're just midway through, there have been 12.
“That speaks of the gravity of the situation and the urgency of the crisis in Tibet. I know self-immolation has been a difficult issue for all of us. As a human being, you don't want to see anyone die like that.
“To support Tibetans inside Tibet is our sacred duty,” he continued.
“But we should not focus simply on the action, we have to focus on the causes. Beijing's hard-line policies. Occupation of Tibet, political pressure, economic marginalisation, environmental destruction, cultural assimilation, denial of religious freedom. These are the causes.”
The visitors were also addressed by Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration's Department of Information and International Relations, Kalon Dicki Chhoyang, who spoke on issues including the sustainability and effectiveness of TSGs, the involvement of Tibetans in their work and Chinese outreach, stating: “We have obviously been quite effective since for the past half century, the issue of Tibet is still alive. Yet at the same time we must be very careful not to become complacent, and constantly try to renew our approach and adapt to changing environments.
“In countries such as South Africa and neighbouring countries to China we realise that certain things we may be able to do in North America and Europe may be more difficult, and I invite people who are from those places to adapt initiatives to their local environment.”
Asked what she hopes to achieve for her group during the conference, Julia Jironkina, director of the Moscow based Save Tibet Foundation, commented: “I hope to gain a clearer vision of what needs to be done. The situation is different from country to country, and Russia is a neighbouring country to China, and a big friend of China so it's very difficult for us to act.
“We can't do much protesting, but we would like to see what we can do.”
Gaby Lane, from Sakya Trinlay Ling, based in Australia's Blue Mountains, added: “I'm interested in what perspective I can take back about the crisis in Tibet, and a to develop a constructive way of looking at it, as my fear is that the self immolations are putting some people off.
“I think that for westerners the idea is very hard to conceptualise and understand.”