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Over the last few weeks I have been traveling out of the United States to advance the plans related to the strengthening of our international advocacy. Below you can find a brief summary and some considerations.
In mid-June, I attended the meeting of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy (www.wmd.org) in Dakar, Senegal. The WDM is a network that includes activists belonging to organizations from all over the world committed to the promotion of democracy. Its function is to create a space where the opportunities, challenges and trends related to the development of democracy all over the world can be discussed and new ideas and projects can be developed. Democracy as a precondition for the full enjoyment of human rights is a founding principle of this movement that I share completely.
The threat posed to democracy by the rise of undemocratic states on the international stage (of course we discussed China, for example its impact on foreign policies of democratic countries), was widely discussed among other topics, as the understanding of the connection that exists between national developments of influential nations and international politics is every day more evident.
I am glad that I was able to participate to this discussion on behalf of ICT, and we are looking forward to strengthen our relationships to support Tibetans all over the world.
Meeting of the Steering Committee of the World Movement of Democracy in Dakar saw the participation
of the Minister of Justice of Senegal Mr. Sidiki Kaba.
After the visit to Senegal, I finally had the great pleasure to visit the Berlin office of ICT Germany. ICT Germany was created in 2002 and since then, it has established itself as a reliable, professional and strong voice to support the rights of Tibetans and to bring positive change to China. Tens of thousands of people in Germany support the work of ICT and, under the leadership of the Executive Director Kai Muller, Anne, Erich, Markus and Martin have been able to make a difference in the perception of the Tibetan issue in Germany, in particular by its political class, as I was able to personally experience in the meetings I had there.
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Last week, I had a week-long visit to Italy with the aim to keep Tibet on the agenda of Italian and EU institutions for the coming months. The occasion was given by the fact that Italy will chair the European Union for six months starting on July 1 and also by the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Italy. He was there for a series of teachings and a public talk, in Pomaia at the Lama Thsong Khapa Institute and in Livorno, from the 13 to the 15 of June.
Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet
and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten.)
In the days preceding the teachings, I was joined by Vincent Metten, EU policy Director of ICT, to participate in several meetings in Rome
, both with Government representatives and Members of Parliament.
Also, in those same days, the new Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, was in China for his first visit to Beijing since he assumed power. On these issues, I published an article in an Italian newspaper
), and I also held a hearing before the human rights committee
of the Chamber of Deputies.
This was an important occasion to renew and reinforce the call of ICT and of its supporters worldwide to EU and democratic countries to adopt a common and principled position on the issue of Tibet while dealing with China.
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As it happens to many governments, there is a moment in the year when the Chinese Government presents an overall picture of the human rights situation in the country, and we at ICT are naturally interested in reading it, especially about Tibet. This year it happened last week.
What is peculiar about China is that while (democratic) governments present their annual human rights reports trying to be accurate and objective, China’s authorities continue to embrace propaganda starting from its title -- “White Paper: Progress in China’s human rights in 2013” -- not even contemplating that “progress” might not happen concerning the respect of human rights. What is striking is that despite the dire situations in Tibet and Xinjiang, there is not even the slightest recognition by the Chinese of the vast human rights violations that continue to happen.
A blog is not the place to make a systematic analysis of the claims presented in the White Paper, but while I encourage you to read it yourself. I wish to draw your attention to a few sentences.
In the chapter about the “Rights of ethnic minorities” all the paragraphs begin with celebratory remarks. A few examples:
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This week, ICT was asked by the Chairman of the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International organizations Subcommittee, Congressman Chris Smith, to give a testimony on the issue of religious freedom and in particular on the work done by the US government on international religious freedom all over the world. I have personally known and worked with Congressman Smith from 2008 to 2013, while we were both sitting in the Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly when I was member of the Italian Parliament. So, I know his strong commitment of this issue and I want to thank him for his invitation.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1988 established a procedure under which the U.S. State Department identifies countries with the most egregious cases of violations of the respect for freedom of religion. They are categorized as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), and the legislation lists sanctions the U.S. government can apply to violators in response. This process is monitored by an independent panel created by the Act, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which makes recommendations to the State Department about which country should be listed.
This brief introduction is necessary to get to the point to why ICT was asked to provide a testimony: there are some in the U.S. who think that the identification of Countries of Particular Concern by the State Department as egregious violators of religious freedom is no longer necessary or is not useful.
We at ICT do not think so. Actually, we feel that the CPC designation is one of the few institutional mechanisms that can promote accountability with governments that violate human rights, not based mostly on political considerations (usually trumped by economic ones!), but on a reliable analysis of both official and non-official information coming from the countries concerning violation of religious freedom.
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The people of my generation were just teenagers when the Berlin wall fell and the demise of the social and political system built around the Soviet Union took place.
I knew very little about politics and the world at the time, but that little was enough to remember Communist propaganda that was sometimes mentioned on TV celebrating a happy and florid land (images of beautiful Red Square on Moscow were in display) where people where not interested in "western freedoms," but instead enjoyed "real equality". After all, I was born in Italy, a country that had the biggest Communist party of western Europe, so I had some easy access to that propaganda.
When in 1989, I saw the images of the people of Berlin celebrating the fall of the Soviet system, it was clear to me who was lying and who was telling the truth.
Today, China, although still formally ruled by the Communist Party, is far different from the Soviet Union. Decades ago it decided to wholeheartedly embrace capitalism; a decision that has led to significant economic growth over the last 15 years.
What is not too different from the communist systems is the propaganda about justice and equality; has capitalism, without freedom and the rule of law - brought equality, in particular in Tibet, as the Chinese government claims?
Last week, ICT challenged China’s assertion that Tibetans enjoy equal social and economic rights and we did it in the place where all countries of the world are, in theory, supposed to be accountable for the respect of basic human rights.
ICT Germany’s Executive Director Kai Muller took the floor at the United Nations in Geneva and gave a clear testimony before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that was reviewing China’s record.
You can read Kai’s testimony here. His case was particularly compelling regarding the forced relocation of Tibetan nomads, the denial of the right to education for Tibetan children and the control on religious freedom in Tibet.
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