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. [caption id="attachment_5454" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Steering Committee of the World Movement 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.[/caption] 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. [caption id="attachment_5461" align="alignright" width="300"]ICT Germany From left Kai, Martin, Matteo, Erich and Markus during their recent meeting at ICT Germany’s office in Berlin.[/caption]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. It is for ICT crucial to maintain and grow a strong presence in Germany, a key country in Europe where the Chinese government is constantly trying to spread blatant propaganda. So, congratulations for all you’re your achievements to ICT Germany and we look forward to a bright future! Matteo
Matteo PS: Also, congratulations also for the well deserved victory in the 2014 Soccer World Cup!
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.
[caption id="attachment_5405" align="alignright" width="300"]Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten. Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5406" align="alignright" width="300"]ICT stand The ICT stand inside the Modigliani Forum in Livorno during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings.[/caption]
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 (English translation), 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. Finally, in Pomaia and Livorno I had the opportunity and the privilege to spend few days with thousands of people who had gathered from all over the world to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to participate in his teachings. Elena Gaita and Joel Hirv from the ICT Brussels office joined me to distribute thousands of reports, flyers, t-shirts and other gadgets to participants. I was there for the entire duration of the teachings and I was privileged to be part of a joyous atmosphere. Finally, I also had a non-programmed chance to speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about our work at ICT and his kindness was once again remarkable. Grazie! Matteo
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:
“China has established the principle that all ethnic groups are equal and jointly participate in the management of state affairs on the constitutional, legal and systemic levels.” “The political rights of ethnic minorities are fully guaranteed.” “The socioeconomic rights of ethnic minorities are fully protected.” "The cultural legacies of Tibet are effectively protected, and the local religion and traditional customs and social mores are respected.”
For a country that aspires to be accepted as an important and reliable international power, China clearly needs to make a lot of progress and democratic governments should never accept unreliable and unconfirmed information from it. We at ICT have a solution: if China thinks that the reality of the human rights situation in Tibet is such, it can prove it by inviting UN experts and human rights NGOs to Tibet to see it for themselves. Matteo
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. It would be unwise for the United States to dismiss a tool that is putting pressure on governments to respect of one of the most important and natural rights enjoyed by human beings. Working with Tibetans for more than 25 years, ICT knows exactly how important is for those persecuted to know that their plight is recognized by foreign governments. Please read below the full text of the testimony. Matteo


Testimony of Matteo Mecacci, President,
International Campaign for Tibet

Hearing on “Protecting Religious Freedom: U.S Efforts to Hold Accountable Countries of Particular Concern”

Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights

May 22, 2014 I would like to thank Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and other members of the Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify. The International Campaign for Tibet has testified to and extensively documented the attacks on freedom of religion in Tibet. First, I would like to give you a snapshot of all the restrictions that have been placed on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism in China today and then I will go into ways the U.S. can hold Countries of Particular Concern accountable. The International Campaign for Tibet is a non-profit organization that has been advocating for a quarter century for the democratic freedoms and human rights of the Tibet people, in Washington, Europe and beyond. The government of the People’s Republic of China restricts the practice of Tibetan Buddhism both through policies and as well as extra-judicial practices. The institution of Tibetan Buddhism is seen by the Chinese government as a potential threat to the authority of the Communist Party. The state therefore imposes its control over the practice of this religion. This has led to the creation of a criminal class of religious practitioners, both among the clergy and lay people, as implemented under Chinese criminal laws. Ordinary Tibetans face detention or torture simply for holding a picture of the Dalai Lama or travelling for pilgrimage without official approval. According to the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), 58 percent of the Tibetans in its political prisoner database are monks and nuns. One notable prisoner of conscience is Tenzin Delek Rinpoche a highly respected Lama who was sentenced to death (converted to life in prison) and is now serving his 13th year in prison. He is on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Prisoner of Conscience list. This strict control of religious activities is manifested in several ways. The Chinese government controls monasteries with regulations such as the 2011 policy called the “Complete Long Term Management Mechanism for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries.” This system requires a “Management Committee” of up to 30 lay officials appointed by the government to be responsible for the rituals and other matters in the monastery. This policy constricts the education of new monks in the monasteries according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and instead forces them to learn only in a manner in which the government approves. In 2007, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) Department issued regulations on reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism. These required that all reincarnations get government approval, or otherwise be "illegal or invalid." These regulations would apply to the next Dalai Lama. The decree states, "Reincarnating living Buddhas should respect and protect the principles of the unification of the state, protecting the unity of minorities…." It also requires that temples, which “apply” for reincarnation of a living Buddha, must already be registered venues for Tibetan Buddhist activities. Reincarnation applications have to be submitted to four governmental bodies for approval. Chairman Smith, you are well aware of the tragedy this regulation of religion causes, through your association with the case of the Panchen Lama. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was disappeared by Chinese authorities in 1995 after being recognized as the 10th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama. His current whereabouts are unknown. The Chinese Communist Party instead appointed a boy of their choosing, who does not have the respect of the Tibetan people. For ICT this reincarnation law “indicates a more aggressive and consistent approach towards controlling the selection, installation and education of reincarnate lamas (including the Dalai Lama), as a means of strengthening the government’s position as the ‘official’ arbiter of Tibetan Buddhist culture.”[1] The Chinese government imposes these stringent measures in full knowledge that Buddhist institutions and education are the bedrock of the Tibetan culture and identity. Despite 60 years of Chinese propaganda, Tibetans’ devotion to the Dalai Lama and their belief system has not diminished. With this in mind, it is important that the United States, as a democratic country, employs all the tools in its diplomatic toolbox to promote the freedom of religious belief and practice, as provided by domestic and international law and by our value system. One of the ways the U.S. holds others accountable on violations of religious freedom is through the designation of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Uzra Zeya said at the Brookings Institute on May 14, 2014, that a top-tier manner in which the Department operationalizes religious engagement within U.S foreign policy is “The International Religious Freedom Report and Country of Particular Concern (CPC) Designations.” The CPC tool is valued by the State Department. It is supported by the majority of Congress, as well as by the international religious freedom advocacy community. Clearly, there is no political will to remove the CPC process. But objectively, is CPC a needed tool? I say yes. Promoting fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, is a long-standing and core aspect of U.S. foreign policy. The establishment and employment of mechanisms to review countries’ compliance comports with international law. The U.S. maintains through its domestic law various mechanisms to monitor and promote accountability of these human rights. The CPC is one of the mechanisms the U.S. has at its disposal. Its value is several-fold. For one, it forces the Department to undergo a process of determination for CPC designation. That serves to inculcate the importance of religious freedom within the bureaucracy. It also informs Congress, opinion leaders, and the public on the record of our trading partners on this important human rights metric. Most important of all, the CPC designation sends a critical and necessary signal to those whose inherent rights to religious belief and practice are being violated by their own governments to know that the world is watching out for them. This is the lesson I can convey from the Tibet experience. I am not able to inform the Subcommittee that the CPC designation has directly led to the freeing of one monk from detention, or allowed one nun to openly venerate the Dalai Lama. If that is the metric by which some analyst is urging you to evaluate the effectiveness of CPC, then I urge you to look at the bigger picture. Free, democratic countries do make a difference in the lives of those living in oppressed countries. We have plenty of evidence that Tibetans suffering under the heavy, brutal hand of Chinese oppression take great heart in knowing that the United States hears their cry. When the Dalai Lama meets the President, Tibetans celebrate. How do they learn this? Through the U.S.-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Keeping human rights at the center of United States’ relationship with China, or actually with any country, is important. The CPC designation is a medium for a democratic country to engage with a country that is aggressive both internally and externally. For a mutually beneficial relationship between countries the development of the rule of law is integral and cannot be dismissed as a secondary matter. The CPC is an important tool because it is grounded in the rule of law. It has clear benchmarks that indicate the measures a country has to take, to be taken off the list. The way to keep such designated countries accountable is to follow up on those benchmarks and criteria and tenaciously continue to do so until they have been met. China may be intransigent on human rights. So we must be all the more firm in creating clear expectations that they abide by the international standards they agreed to accept and which their citizens deserve. Withdrawal of CPC, rather, would send an extremely negative signal to the people of China and Tibet who are struggling every day for rights and dignity. Every Tibetan monk and lay person who today is facing persecution just for lighting a butter lamp or keeping a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama needs to know that the United States and the international community stand with them. The Countries of Particular Concern designation provides a beacon of hope as they peacefully resist oppression. Thank you.
Footnote [1] ICT report, ‘New measures on reincarnation reveal Party’s objectives of political control’ http://www.savetibet.org/new-measures-on-reincarnation-reveal-partys-objectives-of-political-control/, August 15, 2007