Tibet’s new political leader says he hopes the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will recognise that Tibet is occupied by China.
By Aletta Andre
The right of self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle in international law, as embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.
Self-determination means the right for all peoples to determine their own economic, social and cultural development and has been defined by the ICJ (in the Western Sahara case) as: “The need to pay regard to the freely expressed will of peoples.”
However, China opposes Tibet’s claim to self-determination, which it regards as a claim to independence or secession. But as there is a growing international campaign to promote Tibet’s claim, it is likely that the case could be brought before the ICJ in the near future.
“Many people are interested in Tibet, but are not aware of the details, of the tragic reality in Tibet.” Lobsang Sangay says he is planning to further ‘internationalise’ the Tibet issue, in his new role as Kalon Tripa – or Prime Minister - of the Central Tibetan Administration.
“The political repression, the cultural assimilation and environmental destruction,” he says. “I will speak frankly and forthrightly about it, inside and outside of India.”
Sangay’s rule is a notable step away from the leadership of the Dalai Lama, who ran the government in exile since leading the Tibetans into exile in 1959.
The change marks the beginning of democratic leadership for exiled Tibetans. Sangay says it also reflects the sustainability of the Tibetan movement beyond the lifetime of the current Dalai Lama.
“The Chinese government’s calculation so far has been that, with the passing away of the elder generation, the Tibetan movement will disappear. This is not going to happen,” says Sangay. “Our main objectives remain to restore freedom in Tibet, and return of his Holiness the Dalai Lama [to Lhasa, Tibet]. While I will try to do this in five years time, I will also lay a strong foundation to sustain the Tibetan movement for another 50 years, if need be. ”
Sangay says that Tibet is occupied by China, but in negotiations with that superpower he advocates for the so-called middle way.
It aims for true Tibetan autonomy within China, and was also the policy of the administration under the Dalai Lama’s leadership.
China says that Tibet is already autonomous, but Sangay disagrees. “Tibet autonomous region is not complete Tibet, nor is it autonomous,” he says. “Even to have a photograph of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will land you in prison. You might get tortured and sometimes you might even disappear.” As he talks, he glances occasionally at the Dalai Lama’s portrait on his wall.
It remains to be seen whether the middle way will lead to an autonomous Tibet or a complaint before the World Court in The Hague.