London, UK — Over 350 parliamentary candidates standing in the UK General Election on 7 May have pledged support for human rights in Tibet. The pledges have come from candidates representing all the UK's major political parties highlighting the level of support for Tibetan freedom in the UK.
The Vote Tibet campaign was initiated by Tibet Society in early April, with the long-term aim of building parliamentary support for Tibet. Parliamentary candidates were asked to sign the pledge "I will use my position as an MP to support human rights for Tibetans in Tibet including the freedom to determine their own future." Tibet Society encouraged its members and supporters to contact candidates standing in their own constituency and ask them to make the pledge.
Candidates from all the main parties have pledged support in significant numbers. As of 5 May, 354 candidates had made the pledge. Of those, 148 were Green candidates, 69 Liberal Democrat, 54 Labour, 20 UKIP and 19 Conservative. There has also been support from regional parties.
Overall, almost 9% of candidates have signed the pledge (354 candidates of a total of 3,971), including 8.6% of incumbents (48 of 560).
Paul Golding, Campaigns Coordinator for Tibet Society said, "The pledges of support from candidates is just the beginning of our Vote Tibet campaign. The aim of the campaign is to build parliamentary support for Tibet. A large number of the pledges have come with additional messages suggesting that many of the candidates do take the issue seriously and will be willing to advocate Tibetan human rights in the next parliament.
"Tibet Society is the Secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, and as such, following the election, will be contacting all those successful candidates who have pledged support and encouraging them to join the APPGT and to take action on Tibet during the next parliament. We will also encourage all unsuccessful candidates to continue to follow the issue and get involved in our future campaigns."
Polls will open 7 May and the Labour party and Conservative party are neck-and-neck in the race to Downing Street. The current Prime Minister (PM) and Conservative party leader, David Cameron has often been silent on the issue of Tibet and of China's human rights abuses. In 2013 he said, "The Chinese Government are aware of our policy on Tibet. We recognise Tibet as part of China. We do not support Tibetan independence, and we respect China's sovereignty."
Speaking of the UK government, Golding said, "the UK certainly needs to reconsider its relationship with China. Currently, the UK government seems to be only interested in economic relations with China. Human rights have been pushed aside and only seem to get a fleeting mention, if at all. Our relationship needs to be constructively critical. A new PM may take such an approach. But whoever it is, they need to hear a loud and strong voice from MPs and the public to convince them it is the right thing to do."
If Cameron is re-elected on 8 May it seems unlikely that the UK's policy and relationship with China will change. Cameron has often been seen to pander to Beijing, prioritising trade over human rights. This is despite polls by Free Tibet which have shown that the majority of British people believe that the government should stand up for Tibet and they believe Tibetan human rights are more important than good trade relations with China.
A recent UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report on Human Rights and Democracy even contradicted the UK policy that, "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development," by saying "The UK's policy on Tibet remains unchanged. The UK recognises Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China and does not support Tibetan independence."
A Labour government however, could possibly lead to greater support of Tibet, the campaign shows 54 Labour MPs have made the pledge compared to only 9 from the Conservative party. Fabian Hamilton, a Labour candidate for the region of Leeds North East, and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet during the last parliamentary session, said:
"Foreign policy is an issue that has hardly registered during this election campaign. However, the number of candidates pledging support for Tibet, indicates there is a strong desire to see a government with ethics that will not only challenge China's human rights record but will stand up for the rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people."
Hamilton has visited both Tibet and Dharamshala in the past and in December 2014 during a UK parliament debate on Tibet he said, "There is no doubt that the Chinese government use a mix of systematic oppressive measures, propaganda and disinformation to stifle free expression and to present a positive image of their actions in Tibet to the outside world. Since peaceful demonstrations spread across Tibet in 2008, the Chinese authorities have adopted a harsher approach to suppressing dissent."