Seanad Éireann - Volume 121 - 18 January, 1989
Human Rights in Tibet: Motion.
Mrs. Robinson Mrs. Robinson
Mrs. Robinson: I move:
“That Seanad Éireann—
(1) Noting the 40th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and noting that Chinese police on 10th December, 1988 in Lhasa fired point-blank at a non-violent parade of Tibetans marking the said anniversary resulting in the death of several Tibetan monks and the injury of nearly thirty other people, including a Dutch tourist, and
(2) Noting the Irish Government's support for the fundamental rights and very existence of the Tibetan nation at the United Nations, with particular reference to Resolutions 1353 (XIV) of 21st October, 1959, 1723 (XVI) of 20th December, 1961 and 2079 (XX) of 18th December, 1965, and
(3) Noting that an estimated 1.20 million Tibetans have been killed since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949.
(4) Concerned that an estimated 2,200 monks, nuns and lay Tibetans were imprisoned without trial, interrogated and tortured following demonstrations in Lhasa in October, 1987 and March, 1988—
(a) strongly condemns the Chinese regime for its grave violation of human rights in Tibet and  calls on other international bodies to protest these actions,
(b) urges the Irish Government to support all international measures for establishing peace and the respect for human rights in Tibet,
(c) calls on the Irish Government to instigate a motion in support of the Tibetan people at the United Nations.”
I am pleased to have an apportunity to move this motion relating to Tibet and I am very grateful to the Senators who have joined in tabling the motion so that it is a very broadly supported motion drawing attention to a situation that has not received any substantial comment in the Irish media.
The recent history of the Tibetan people is one of the saddest examples of major violation of human rights and, indeed, of the right to self-determination itself. However, surprisingly, Tibet is not on the current political agenda, and despite earlier concern about the treatment of Tibetan people, Ireland has been silent in recent years and has not expressed any concern at international level. This is particularly strange because much of what has happened to Tibet should evoke deep chords in the Irish people. The suppression of a whole people, so that their independent religious, social and cultural ethos is denied and that they are subjected to the humiliation of being colonised and indeed substantially planted upon to such an extent that the Tibetan people have become a minority in their own country, should evoke an immediate response from us.
There is also a practical reason for tabling this motion and seeking debate at an early stage in 1989. In March of this year there are likely to be major demonstrations commemorating 30 years after the uprising in Tibet against Chinese occupation which had taken place ten years earlier in 1949. It is extremely important that there be no violence or  repression of any peaceful demonstrations which may take place. It will be noted that the motion refers to the incident on 10 December last, which was the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where there had been violence displayed against a small peaceful demonstration. It is quite likely that the only reason we know about that is because a Dutch tourist who was present on that occasion happened to be injured and then the world press learned about what occurred. There is no doubt that it is difficult to obtain accurate information about the current situation in Tibet, but such information as does come out gives us cause for concern. It is appropriate that in the Seanad we should look at the situation in some detail. I hope there will be broad support for this motion and that the Minister will state the official position in relation to the issues raised.
Tibet differs from Ireland in size in that the area inhabited by the Tibetan people covers some 500,000 square miles, that is an area as large as western Europe, and is surrounded by high mountain ranges. There is a political dimension even to a description of Tibet. Since 1965 Tibet, as far as the Chinese are concerned, has consisted merely of what is known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which is a much smaller area, leaving out substantial provinces which have been incorporated into other Chinese provinces and deprived of their sense of identity as part of Tibet. In this motion what we are concerned about is not in a narrow sense what is now known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region, TAR, but the area comprising the Tibetan people as a whole.
Although there has been little attention in Ireland to the situation in Tibet it has been the subject of recent parliamentary debate and scrutiny in western European countries. For example, there was a very clear account of the Chinese violation of human rights in Tibet in a report prepared for the Parliamentary Human Rights group at Westminster by W.P. Ledger that was published in paperback form in late 1987 under the heading The Chinese and  Human Rights in Tibet. It gives a very good overall account of the situation, including an historical account, and ends with a conclusion on page 35. I want to quote part of that conclusion because it focuses on one of the issues of concern in relation to this motion.
Although the UN is not going to attempt to enforce its declaration in the forseeable future and Western Governments steer clear of criticising the Chinese directly, 1987 saw a considerably build-up of pro-Tibetan opinion. All-Party Parliamentary groups are now prepared to raise the issue more forcefully and after the widespread publicity of the Chinese handling of the events of October 1987, Beijing may consider a relaxation, though at present it seems committed to Sinicisation and engulfment.
The single greatest threat to Tibet and her indigenous population is the continued influx of Chinese immigrants. The next few years will determine whether Tibet lapses further into a state of apartheid and the Tibetans go the same way as the North American Indians and the Australian aborigines, or whether they are left to themselves to restore their culture, religion and language, their agricultural practices, to respect [sic] human rights, and to exercise the rights of self-governments in a truly autonomous regions.
That is the stark choice that is beign faced as far as that report to the human rights committee of the Westminster Parliament was concerned.
More recently, on 21 October 1988, a written declaration on the situation in Tibet was tabled in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is worth referring to the terms of that declaration which was signed by 13 members from different countries. It recites as follows:
The undersigned members of the Assembly,
1. Aware of the disturbances in Tibet and the Tibetan people's wish to  strengthen its national independence and rights to survival as well as to the development of its culture;
2. Concerned about the risk of the disappearance of national identity and culture;
3. Welcome the fact that the Government of the People's Republic of China is apparently willing to negotiate with Dalai Lama;
5. Appeal to the Government of the People's Republic of China to promote the peace process in Tibet, respecting the human rights of the Tibetan people, its culture and civilisation.
It may be noted that the terms of that written declaration are somewhat conciliatory in welcoming the fact that the Government of the Peoples' Republic of China are apparently willing to negotiate with the Dalai Lama. It should be clear that, in tabling this motion and expressing very real and deep concern about the human rights issues and the suppression of the individuality and culture of the Tibetan people, the concern really is to promote reconciliation with China and to hope that China will open up the borders of Tibet both to Tibetans who wish to return there and also to outside observers. The motion is not hostile in its thrust to the People's Republic of China. It is though deeply concerned about the situation there, and about what has occurred, and has been verified as having occurred, in recent years and in recent months.
It is obviously regrettable that the Oireachtas does not have an established joint committee on foreign affairs——
Mrs. Bulbulia Mrs. Bulbulia
Mrs. Bulbulia: Hear, hear.
Mrs. Robinson Mrs. Robinson
Mrs. Robinson: ——which could prepare its own report on the protection of human rights in countries such as Tibet, and thereby provide a genuinely independent voice in the world promoting the need for protection of civil liberties and the right to self-determination. It would be greatly to Ireland's credit internationally and to our standing if we had a  committee on foreign affairs which could prepare detailed reports and consider such reports.
I am aware, however, that the Ireland-Tibet Support Group have been in communication with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Brian Lenihan, earlier this month and have posed a number of specific questions relating to Ireland's earlier record when Frank Aiken was the delegate to the United Nations, where he clearly championed the cause of the Tibetan people. It may be useful to refer to one of those questions posed to the Minister because I hope the opportunity will be taken to answer those specific questions on the record of this House as well as in correspondence to the Ireland-Tibet Support Group. The questions all adopt the same format and seek confirmation that the Irish Government endorse and continue to support the statements made in 1965 and earler by Frank Aiken.
The first question is representative of the others and is as follows:
Does the Irish Government still accept that: “Tibet can rightly claim to be historically an independent country, and that the relatively short periods in the course of the last 2,000 years in which it was partially occupied cannot be held to constitute a denial of its right to independence”? (Reference: Delegate of Ireland, Frank Aiken, addressing the United Nations on 14th December 1965.)
The remainder of the letter seeks clarification of the present position of the Irish Government and in particular notes that the reference to Tibet is to the area governed by the Lhasa Government prior to 1949, including the provinces which have now been separated, and does not refer to the smaller Tibetan Autonomous Region created by the Chinese in 1965. It would be helpful if the Minister would clarify the current approach of the Irish Government and hopefully confirm that the clear expressions of policy at an earlier stage  are endorsed and, secondly, that any references to Tibet would be to the broader concept of the Tibetan people.
There have been earlier occasions when the issue of Tibet has been highlighted. For example, in October 1973 the Dalai Lama paid an official visit to Ireland and was received at Government Buildings by the Taoiseach and at Áras an Uachtarian by the then President. Subsequent to that, since Ireland opened diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979, there has been a remarkable silence on the plight of the Tibetan people. One of the concerns in relation to the Tibetan people is that they are totally different from the Chinese in race, language, religion, culture and in their desire to be independent and to have their own right to self-determination.
It may be asked why the Chinese invaded the country in 1949 and have remained in control of it. The answer has been well documented in the reports and studies that have been made. It is clear that China makes very considerable use of the natural, physical, mineral and other resources of Tibet which is very resource-rich as an area. China has situated her main strategic nuclear missile silos along the Tibetan Himalayas and apparently also uses Tibet for chemical weapons testing. As I have said, Tibet is a land rich in mineral and natural resources and vast amounts of both minerals and timber have been exported from Tibet by the Chinese every year. Much of this is obtained by using Tibetan forced labour.
Two major reports were published in 1988 on violations of human rights in Tibet by Asiawatch, an independent organisation which is particularly concerned about the protection of human rights in different Asian countries. A major report called “Human Rights in Tibet” was published in February 1988, following a mission to Tibet in 1987 to examine the position there, and that report was very critical. It was followed by another major report in July 1988, a supplement to the February report, because of the increasing concern in April  1988 about evidence of continuing violations of human rights and indeed repression of demonstrations in March 1988 and the further closing off of means of communication.
We have had reason to be concerned in recent months about events in Tibet. It is appropriate to take stock of the history of Tibet since the invasion by the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1949. Basically, the history is a very chilling and a very sad one of repression of a people. As I have already mentioned, there was a major uprising against the Chinese occupation in March 1959 and that was repressed with major loss of life, thousands of Tibetans being executed for their part in that uprising.
The cultural revolution between 1966 and 1976 had an enormous impact on Tibet. It resulted in the total destruction of nearly all of Tibet's 6,500 monasteries and the suppression of all manifestations of Tibetan language, religion and culture. There was also widespread famine at the time because of a policy of substituting the growing of wheat for barley, which was the better crop for Tibet and had been traditionally the crop there. A very substantial number of Tibetans were moved to labour camps and so on. There is no doubt that there has been some improvement of the position in the past ten years but nonetheless the reality for the Tibetan people in the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region is that they are outnumbered now by the Chinese and that a kind of apartheid operates in that they have poorer housing, less access to education and poorer or no health facilities in rural areas. The population is approximately 1.8 million Tibetans and 2.5 million Chinese in that region. It is very clear that some of the major concerns are about the very low standard of education, access to health care and so on of the Tibetan people and the striking contrast between them and the Chinese migrants there who are paid very substantially for moving to Tibet and who benefit very substantially from living there.
There have been a number of reports from Tibet in recent years by visitors  which give thought for increasing concern that even tourists are under very close surveillance. It is believed that if tourists have conversations, for example with monks in monasteries or even with Tibetans they encounter, this is closely monitored and may result in action being taken against the Tibetans who have in any way communicated or interacted with foreigners. So there is great fear and great suppression of ordinary interaction. The reality for Tibetans is that they do not have freedom to come or go, nor is there the access by the world media to Tibet. This may be one of the reasons there has not been more reporting on the kinds of suppression of demonstrations etc.
I referred to the recent very serious occurrence on the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that was on 10 December last. It appears that Chinese police in Lhasa shot at point blank range at a small, non-violent parade mainly of Buddhist priests and nuns marking the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It appears several monks were killed and among the 30 or so people who were wounded was, as I mentioned, a Dutch tourist. This led to the event becoming known in the world and, indeed, there were major articles in the Observer and other English newspapers and in American journals about the event because it became known in that way.
In March 1988 there were much more substantial demonstrations in Lhasa which apparently led to mass arrests and torture at that time which went virtually unobserved in the western world. I think there is reason to be very concerned about what may happen in Lhasa, and indeed elsewhere in Tibet, in March which, I emphasised, is the 30th anniversary of the uprising against Chinese rule. That uprising took place in March 1959; it is commemorated in Tibet, and a 30th anniversary will be particularly commemorated. It would be appropriate that the Government consider sending an observer to Lhasa on that occasion, simply to be present and to observe what may transpire in the course of what are  known to be the proposed peaceful demonstrations of the Tibetan people. If there is a genuine anticipation of problems, then we should be aware of this and seek to monitor and examine the position.
The motion has been phrased to note not only the incident on 10 December last which I have referred to, but the very clear statements the Irish Government made in support of the fundamental rights and the existence of the Tibetan nation at an earlier stage when Frank Aiken was the relevant Minister of the Irish Government. The motion calls in a practical way for steps to be taken for a condemnation by Ireland of grave violations of human rights, for an initiative to be taken by the Irish Government in looking for support for the establishment of peace and respect for human rights in Tibet. In that regard it would be intended that the Irish Government would seek reconciliation and the possibility of a genuine opening up of debate between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama and his representatives so there could be a better basis for the maintenance of peace and respect for human rights in Tibet. Finally, the motion calls on the Government to instigate a further motion in support of the Tibetan people at the UN, in other words, the kind of initiative we were prepared to take in the late fifties and mid-sixties on the subject when we either moved or supported such motions, so that the position of Ireland on this subject can be very clear.
It may seem to some that this is a very remote issue to the Irish people, that we have enough problems of our own, we have enough poverty in our own country and enough areas of concern. However, issues of human rights are the concern of all people, and in expressing our concern and identifying with repression elsewhere we bear witness to our own history and advance the quality of our own respect and concern for human rights.
I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue and the support of the Senators who have already put their names to the motion. I look forward to the Minister's  contribution to the debate and to the contribution of other Members of the House.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey) Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey): Senator Brendan Ryan. He can have 15 minutes' speaking time and each succeeding speaker will have 15 minutes also.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I will definitely not exceed my time; I may not take up the entire 15 minutes. I was glad to sign this motion and I am happy to second it, for two reasons. The first reason is that the motion is correct in itself. It raises an issue of political rights, cultural rights, religious rights, human rights of a people small in terms of numbers but a people with a considerable cultural, religious and artistic heritage. It also raises interesting questions about the general high level of talk about human rights that characterises much of what would pass for the foreign policy of the western world today. I will come back to that in a moment.
It is important to set clearly on the record, largely because from my understanding the Government of the People's Republic of China would dispute this, that Tibet has a long history as an independent nation. Indeed, it has a history in this century of independence and of continual attempts to interfere with that independence from a variety of sources, from Mongolia, from India, from Britain when it had a controlling interest in India and from China. There never has been, as far as I can see, any doubt about the fact that Tibetan people saw themselves as an independent people and not as an autonomous area within China or any other large political unit. They have always seen themselves as a separate people. In fact, they were not that much concerned about external events. I have had a passing interest in the history of Tibet and it has been stimulated by reasons which I shall outline later. That interest shows that the Tibetans are a people who developed a very specific form of life, a very religiously orientated form of life and in this century close to  one quarter of the population could be described as members of religious communities. They follow a highly individualistic lifestyle which in some cases has been described as a theocracy.
However, there can be no doubt about their independence, their separate identity and their belief in that separate identity. As the motion states, Irish Governments in the past have supported at the United Nations the fundamental rights and the existence of the Tibetan nation. It is important that that part of history should be put in context because it is that part of history that is disputed by those who, in my view, have imposed an imperialist occupation of Tibet.
Tibet is also of increasing interest to the West because of the fact that Tibetan Buddhism has become of increasing interest to many of those I regard as amongst the great spiritual thinkers of the second half of the 20th century. One of my great heroes, and great inspirations, is a man called Thomas Merton who, from the quite rigorous confines of a Cistercian monastery in the United States, managed to develop a broad and increasingly excited interest in the insights of Buddhism. Ironically, on the only travel of his entire life, which resulted in his death, he want a long way to meet the Dalai Lama to discuss what he regarded as the extraordinary overlaps between western contemplative prayer, western practices of meditation and western insights into meditation and prayer. He wrote extensively about those insights. It is difficult to stand back when one becomes aware, as I have had the good fortune to, to a limited extent of the depth of the religious development of the Tibetan people, of the sense of religious unity that draws them together. It is difficult after that to turn one's back and ignore what has happened to them over the past 40 years. That is why the motion deserves support.
The motion is about a small people with an individuality and identity long developed over centuries and with a sense of their own place in the world, a people who have been effectively, until recently, wiped off the memory of the world. Their  sufferings have been ignored or have been kept from us for the best part of 40 years, particularly for the best part of the last 30 years since the uprising was suppressed. However, the beginnings of a revival are apparent and it is important for that reason that the record is clearly stated.
I should like to quote from the report of Amnesty International for 1988, a body that is, to say the least, careful in what it says. Part of its great credibility in the world is that it never says something it does not believe can be sustained on the basis of the evidence. The 1988 report which does not incorporate the more recent, and more savage, repressions states:
Several hundred people were detained in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, after three public demonstrations and a riot in late September and early October . The demonstrations were led by Tibetan monks carrying flags and calling for Tibet's independence. The demonstrations were reportedly peaceful, but a riot broke out on 1 October after police arrested a group of demonstrators and beat them publicly. A crowd gathered around a police station where the demonstrators had been taken, threw stones and set the police station on fire. According to eye witnesses, the police then opened fire, killing a number of people, including children and some monks. Chinese officials later denied that the police had opened fire...
No official information was made public about the number of people detained during the protests or about the charges against them. Unofficial sources, however, suggested that between 300 and 600 Tibetans were arrested during October including participants in the 1 October riot and others held after demonstrating peacefully. Some were released after a few days, but many were still in custody at the end of the year, apparently held incommunicado. Some were reported to have been tortured in detention.
 The report gives an account of the imprisonment of a 74 year old Tibetan lama for advocating Tibetan independence. He is reported to have died in prison on 4 November 1987 having reportedly, been ill-treated in detention on several occasions. His death was denied by the Foreign Affairs Office of what the Chinese call the Tibetan Autonomous Region but Amnesty are satisfied that his body was handed over to relatives for burial.
That is a carefully studied description of what happened in one short period. I can just about remember the Tibetan uprising which resulted in the forced exile of the Dalai Lama. At that time Red China was top of the list of demonology, Stalin having been dead for five or six years. China invaded Tibet and because of that many people were against them. However, there has been a change and it is worth thinking about it. Some facts are worth considering. I understand that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed since 1949 and an estimated 2,200 monks, nuns and lay Tibetans were imprisoned without trial following the demonstrations in October 1987 and March 1988. People engaged in non-violent protests have been fired on but, throughout the western world there has been a surprising, to say the least, political silence in regard to this.
When the Dalai Lama visited the United Kingdom recently he was a somewhat embarrassing visitor. There were no enthusiastic eulogies about the rights of the Tibetan people to have their human rights protected; there were no eulogies about religious freedom in Tibet; there was not a welcome for a hero of human rights like Andrei Sakharov received in the last 12 months. Indeed, there was an embarrassed and uncomfortable tolerance of his presence in the United Kingdom. It is worth reflecting on that, and this is a good week to do so.
We have had the considerable, and worthwhile, huffing and puffing about human rights in Europe which culminated in the Vienna Agreement in the last few days. The human rights failings of  many of the countries of Eastern Europe were hung out, well analysed and well underlined. Those in the Soviet Union, in Czechoslovakia and in Poland have been talked about at great length. It needs to be said however that neither in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia nor in Poland in recent years has anybody suggested that the police have opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, has the religion and culture of a people been so assiduously punished, or has the autonomy of the people been so strongly denied. There are not the same reports of widespread detentions in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Poland, or in Hungary for that matter.
There are not any of the extreme manifestations of repression that are now identified in Tibet, and yet we have a continuously vocal organised lobby of demands from western countries for a further improvement in human rights all over eastern Europe. We would all welcome and subscribe to that but, as Senator Robinson said, one's position on human rights is universal or it is meaningless. Either human rights are always important, or one's attachment to them becomes no more than political opportunism. It appears that what has happened is that we have run into a difficulty about our espousal of human rights and that difficulty is that on the one hand we have found that the identified opponent of the past four years, in particular the Soviet Union, is becoming more and more difficult to criticise on this issue and so we have begun to push up the ante. At the same time the erstwhile ally of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, has now been more or less enticed if not to be on our side to be at least somewhat on our side and to be with us in being suspicious of the Soviet Union.
Because these human rights abuses in Tibet are being carried out by people now not deemed to be entirely against us, but who are seen to be partially on our side in being against the great enemy, we are now reluctant to criticise and so we have the almost catatonic silence of all the western powers on the suppression of Tibet, the extraordinary position where  the western powers join with China in attempting to pretend that Pol Pot is somehow still the legitimate leader of the Government in Kampuchea and it is written into international documents where Domocratic Kampuchea for instance becomes the potential recipient of international aid even though Democratic Kampuchea does not exist. All of this, simply because the Peoples' Republic of China, which is not nearly as liberal or as open a society now as the Soviet Union is actually in the awkward position of being somewhat of a friend rather than the identified enemy.
That would be fine if this country were part of a major international alliance but we are ostensibly a neutral country, a country which takes its own position on international affairs. The slogan used to be that we were not ideologically neutral. That was acceptable because there is no such thing as ideological neutrality, but it appears that in recent times as we become more and more entangled in a co-ordinated foreign policy we are being morally neutered. How can a country with our history, with our experience of being colonised and suppressed, undergoing religious persecution and attempts to suppress our national identity by a large power close by, ignore what is being done to the people of Tibet? It is not explicable on any grounds other than that of international and political convenience. It is time we got off the fence.
It is right that we defend human rights in eastern Europe, in Central America, in South Africa and it is also right that we defend human and political rights and the right to life of the people of a small country who are being consistently oppressed by a large and expansionist neighbour. I call on the Government to accept the motion and to take action to draw to the attention of the Government of the Peoples' Republic of China the increasing concern of this country for the well-being of the people of Tibet, and our concern that these people should be allowed to live in peace and freedom in the sort of religious and political structures they choose for themselves.
Mrs. Bulbulia Mrs. Bulbulia
 Mrs. Bulbulia: I was pleased when contacted by Senator Mary Robinson to participate in this motion which is a significant motion. As the proposer and seconder have stated, it is about a very fundamental issue, that of human rights. I formally subscribe to the philosophy of the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of God. It behoves all of us to exhibit concern and where possible to take action in areas where our fellow humans have their rights threatened by others.
In common with a great number of Irish people I first really became aware of Tibet when Dervla Murphy from Lismore in County Waterford published what I think was her first major work and revealed Tibet to a wide readership. I have a vivid memory of treasuring that book as a young girl and of being excited by its exotic contents. Dervla Murphy was adept at conjuring up visions of saffron-robed Buddhist monks, peaceful quiet monasteries where the lamas prayed their beads and meditated and lived a life that was so very strange and different from the lives we lived. Dervla Murphy provided a certain window on Tibet for people in Ireland.
I am convinced that there is an awareness of Tibet and a groundswell of sympathy and support for those people, a certain understanding of its culture and traditions and a realisation of the value and importance of the culture and traditions of Tibet. Irish people will be pleased to know that Tibet is being debated tonight in this House, that the Minister and the Department are being reminded of its significance and that the Government are being asked to instigate a motion in support of the Tibetan people at the UN. For some reason there has been an extraordinary silence on this issue worldwide and from successive Irish Governments.
Senator Ryan when questioning this silence spoke of international political convenience that made it rather awkward for countries who are busily trading with the People's Republic of China to adopt a critical and upfront position on the denial of human rights in Tibet. I have  another view of that in addition to seeing that there are elements of political convenience at work. From time to time certain issues become fashionable and, as a consequence, other issues drop to the bottom of the agenda or indeed fall off the table. I think this is what has happened to Tibet. It just has not been a fashionable issue in the area of human rights. I hope that this debate this evening will push it up the agenda and that the Minister, when responding to this debate will give a firm indication that our representatives at the United Nations will instigate a motion in support of the Tibetan people and will be seen to move swiftly and to reflect the concerns of the Members of the Oireachtas who have spoken here this evening.
I am grateful to have the briefing material from the Tibet Support Group. I would like to mention the importance and the value of support groups in this country. As solidarity movements they have exhibited their strength and influence in relation to many countries over the last number of years. I can think of the support group for Chile, one for Nicaragua, one for EI Salvador, and I suppose the father of all such support groups — anyway the one that has been around the longest and which has just celebrated its twenty-fifth birthday, so to speak — is the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. Were it not for such groups — and in this case I speak of the Tibet Support Group — I do not know if there would be a useful level of debate about Nicaragua, El Salvador, Tibet and South Africa. As Members of the Oireachtas we are indebted to people who come together, in solidarity, to inform themselves about a particular country, to raise the profile and awareness of that country among the population in general. In particular I would pay tribute to them for alerting Members of the Oireachtas to the actual conditions pertaining on the ground in so many Third World countries. In this case I would like to express my gratitude publicly to the Tibet Support Group who have prompted debate on this important issue here this evening  and, of course, the debate will be continued next week.
Really what we are dealing with is backyard politics. It is about a major power moving in on another area because of greed, of self-interest, of aggrandisement, ambition and, as a consequence, shoving aside and trampling all over the rights of the indigenous population. We have seen backyard politics manifest themselves in Central America, in Southern Africa, and wherever major powers and/or superpowers choose to flex their muscles. Perhaps the example closest to home is Eastern Europe.
The atrocities of the Chinese in Tibet have been spelled out for us here this evening. It is true to say that perhaps the latest onslaught would not have been made known to us in the West had not one of the victims been a Dutch tourist. As a consequence of that the happening was reported in the European press. Had the non-violent parade ended in such a way that those who had been maimed and killed were Tibetans only, given the level of clamp-down and the distance involved, it is highly likely that we would never have heard of it at all. It is quite shocking to think that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949 and that an estimated 2,200 monks, nuns and lay Tibetans have been imprisoned without trial, interrogated and tortured following demonstrations in Lhasa in October 1987 and March 1988.
In voicing our condemnation of the repression, the violence and the denial of human rights which has been perpetrated on the Tibetans by the Chinese, we should not, as Senator Robinson has said, appear to go on the attack against China and neglect to emphasise the fact that our reasons for raising this issue and for having this debate are ones of immense concern for the almost annihilation of a race which has so much richness, which has contributed and will contribute, if it is given a chance to do so, to the diversity and richness of the whole of humanity. This motion should have the effect of urging the Irish Government not only to support all international measures to  establish peace and respect for human rights in Tibet but to take a role of initiation in this area. I get rather weary of hearing the phrase come glibly from the lips of successive Government Ministers that we must act in concert with our fellow EC partners——
Mr. Robb Mr. Robb
Mr. Robb: Hear, hear.
Mrs. Bulbulia Mrs. Bulbulia
Mrs. Bulbulia: ——and that we must act in unison with our co-members of the United Nations. Why cannot we take an unequivocal moral initiative——
Mr. Robb Mr. Robb
Mr. Robb: Hear, hear.
Mrs. Bulbulia Mrs. Bulbulia
Mrs. Bulbulia: ——and a clear stance on issues of foreign policy? We are slipping up very badly. We have a wonderful position from which to exert that moral authority. We are independent. We have been colonised. We understand what that is about. We have a deep and abiding folk memory of that time. We have emerged from that chrysalis. We are, supposedly, non-aligned though I often wonder have we aligned ourselves so much with out own self-interest, with commerce and with our perceived allies that we have forgotten about that moral authority which we have and could use to such good effect in the many fora in which we are equal, important and significant members.
My contribution to this debate is to urge the Minister to re-examine our role in foreign policy particularly in relation to the issue of which we speak this evening, to have courage and conviction and a certain steadfast moral approach which would allow him to speak clearly in a very determined, sure way about the issue of the Tibetan people; to assist and push for change so that that people can live freely, with pride and dignity, reasserting their ancient historic value in this world. If they are assimilated by the Chinese, if they are forgotten by Western governments, if their culture and humanity is not part of us we will all be impoverished. That is why it is with great pleasure that I participate in this debate and I add my few words to this discussion.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
 Mr. Harte: Had a joint committee of the Oireachtas on foreign affairs been established this motion might never have been tabled. I think this motion might not even appear on the Order Paper but rather would be debated by that committee. A lot of information may have to be solicited from the support groups before we will be able to have a much fuller debate not only on the problems facing Tibet, but also on all the other areas we should be concerned about, such as civil rights and so on.
One Senator expressed the view to me that if the Russians were to do what the Chinese have done, there would be an outcry and a call for economic sanctions, but given our small amount of trade with the Chinese, that approach would not prove to be effective. We do, however, have an effective voice. As Senator Bulbulia has said, we are neutral and understand what it is like to be colonised. On the other hand, we also need to take a look at the position in China. It is appreciated that the Chinese lived under one system for a thousand years or more before having a different system imposed upon them, but this hardly excuses them for brutalising the people of Tibet, for plundering their natural resources or murdering them in their thousands.
We should expect more of the Chinese who have in fact experienced many difficulties themselves down through the centuries. In times gone by they believed themselves to be supreme and for many centuries held that particular belief. They suffered at the hands of western imperalism and it was the task of the government under Chiang Kai Shek to liberate the country, unify it, advance its economy to equal those in the West and to rebuild its military strength so as to ensure that the country would never again be despoiled. It is to their credit that they did all of those things and could face the world once again with pride and confidence. Now that they have reembarked on this style of oppression against the people of Tibet, we should lean very hard on them. I am not saying we do this by way of imposing economic sanctions as that would be unrealistic, but  by using our voice in the United Nations, by rallying support, we can highlight the issue which is what we are doing here in this House today. Perhaps, a debate could also take place on this issue in the other House. It is good that this motion is being debated in the sense that, no matter what party we are a member of and no matter what our religion may be, we can never because of our background and history feel free when others countries of the world are being raped and plundered and atrocities being committed against their peoples.
Following the Chiang Kai Shek period, the communists did in fact contribute to the adjustment Chinese society needed and worked to help build up their confidence and to help them in rebelling against what had happened in the past. In my view it is obvious that we should demand that those Chinese who took over from the colonisers, who took over large areas of their land should not start to inflict punishment on or usurp another nation.
We are all aware that the Chinese lost control over many parts of their own country and had to cede large parts of their land to neighbouring powers, including Russia, and the colonial authorities who took over along the outer fringes of the country. The Chinese are concerned about their relations with the Russians and hope for improved relations with the West, and with the United States in particular. To this end they have embarked on a programme of cultural exchanges and have adopted new trading arrangements. This has not happened in the past and it makes them more vulnerable to the pressure being brought upon them by countries such as Ireland through the United Nations. We should never, as a small nation, make any apology for highlighting the disastrous events that occurred following the invasion of Tibet by China. We should never under any circumstances feel ashamed for doing so. We should never be anything but firm in our condemnation of any regime who bring about the deaths of innocent people and lock people up for indefinite terms  without trial: many people still remain in prison for reasons unknown to them. There is evidence, available through the support groups, to suggest that atrocities are still taking place. These have been well documented and taped. We cannot sit idly by and allow this merciless repression to take place without raising our voices. As I said, we should unite with other nations and try to bring about effective results and to ensure that this crude dictatorship becomes much more lenient.
We have been told by the support groups that China denies that torture takes place. Is that not always the case? We are under no obligation to believe the Chinese when they say that torture does not take place. If we are not happy with the information the support groups have dug out and if we are sceptical about the validity of the documented reports and tapes, we have the right to have the issue fully explored and investigated and brought out into the open. When sufficient evidence is available the United Nations should take the appropriate action, because the Chinese are now very dependent on the West. All the natural resources of Tibet would not be enough to meet the needs of the Chinese but that does not stop them from raping the country of its resources.
We cannot, on the other hand, get into an argument about whether Tibet is part of China or vice versa. The fact is that Tibet is a part of China. We cannot change that situation for them by way of this motion but we can let the people of Tibet know that we have a special relationship with them because they are being oppressed, that we as a nation do not tolerate oppression by anybody, that despite our small population we will generate discussion on this subject and encourage other nations to look at what exactly is going on, that if China does not come to heel it will be condemned internationally and will lose a lot of the ground it made up over the years in trying to change many western countries to its way of thinking.
You cannot take a people's language away from them; you cannot take their  geography away from them; you cannot take their way of life away from them; you cannot put nuclear weapons along their borders and leave them exposed to the manufacture and testing of chemical weapons, etc.; you cannot leave them exposed to military borders; you cannot allow a nation's vast amount of timber to be exported without any benefit to that nation and you cannot allow the situation to develop where an invading nation starts calling for abortions when there is more than one child in a family. Things like that would not be tolerated anywhere in the West. Therefore, tonight's discussion places on us the responsibility to state publicly and as quickly as possible that we believe what the support group say. If anybody does not believe what they say, the support group are there to be questioned and there is substantial evidence to show that since 1949 a substantial number of people in Tibet have been subjected to terrible carnage; if that is the word to describe it. They have been subjected to famines, persecutions, malnutrition, TB, etc. and we cannot afford to ignore this and not rally to their cry when they come to us. I do not think the Minister or the Department of Foreign Affairs can work wonders but they should have regard to the fact that we have had some contact with the support group, that we are sincere about this matter and will not be happy just to get a statement back from the Department of Foreign Affairs. However, we will be happy to know that the matter is being brought up in the proper forum, that is to say the United Nations, where real weight can be put on the Chinese people so as to alleviate the great distress under which the Tibetan people are living at the moment.
Mr. Robb Mr. Robb
Mr. Robb: It is with some sadness that I rise to speak on this motion because I have always had great respect for the Chinese people and indeed for what the Chinese have done since they threw off the yoke of colonialism and endeavoured to try to re-establish among their own people their own way of life in a free manner. That we should be debating this  issue is a sad reflection not only of the Chinese but of the times we live in. Having said that, I should like to remind everyone here that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of the sitting of the first Dáil and the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, with all that that meant for equality, liberty and brotherhood.
Returning to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is related to the Charter of the United Nations, Article 76, section (c) of that Charter asserts the need to encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion and to encourage recognition of the interdependence of people all over the world. It is not enough to pursue or encourage countries to respect human rights; it is also necessary for us to recognise that our interdependence demands of us that we interfere fearlessly in so far as these human rights are not being respected in other terrorities. Therefore I feel that the Irish Government can do a lot in this respect, as indeed they can in many similar situations in the world, provided it continues to establish the moral authority of an independent, peacemaking positively neutral state. I must say that in recent times I have had cause to wonder whether we will be able to sustain that status for very much longer.
Therefore, the kernel of this motion lies in paragraph 4 (c) in which we call on the Irish Government to instigate a motion at the United Nations in support of the Tibetan people. People have said we have to be realistic as to what we can or cannot do but we can certainly do that and if we feel that the case of the Tibetan people is one that is valid and one that needs to be addressed, surely a people who are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Parliament that gave them their own self-respect should be able to mount such a motion and to call for such debate.
I have a peripheral interest in Tibet in that almost by chance in 1963 I went overland as far as Singapore. While I did  not enter Tibet I ended up in the northern part of Kashmir on a famous houseboat known as the Houseboat Sunbeam with full flush system. After I had been in it for 24 hours I found out that it was the houseboat in which the Dalai Lama had stayed after he emerged from Tibet. I dare say there are many Mayflower type houseboats but the point I am making is that anyone who has experienced life and living on the road in the Orient will realise that the Orient, and indeed Africa, has perhaps far more to give us in the context of the way the world is at presently moving then we have to give them. Therefore, it is not a question of not taking away from people what they are. It is perhaps necessary to look at it from another point of view. It is essential to preserve what such people have, what they are so that they can be part of the interdependent experience of the global community and we will be the better for that.
There is a fear that China, in the process of its second great change in the last 50 years, will become westernised in its attitudes and that the Yin and the Yang which they talk about in China, the balance, will be lost. We need the oriental feeling and appreciation of life and living and we also need the occidental. One cannot live in today's world without the other and it is balance which we should be establishing; one does not get balance without reflection, without meditation, without retreat, without silence, without solitude, the things which are embraced in the monastic life. I have only a peripheral association with Tibet, but when we think of Tibet, we think of the value of the monastic. Not so long ago, religion was equated with religiosity, the imperalism of religions, the oppression of religions but at this time people are beginning to realise that it is in the metaphysical world that we may find our salvation in what has become a highly mechanised and highly mechanical age. Therefore, it is absolutely vital for all sorts of reasons, that the unique distinctiveness of these people is preserved and that we are seen, as a State claiming  a philosophy of positive neutrality and claiming to be a peace-making nation, to show our respect for this uniqueness by bringing this motion before the United Nations at this time.
The Chinese people, if they reflect on it, cannot be satisfied to be doing in Tibet what the USA did in Vietnam or what Russia did in Afghanistan. It does not matter whether we are dealing with the atrocities of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the atrocities of the racist regime in South Africa, or what has happened in Tibet. It all amounts to the same thing, the completely illogical repression of one set of people by another. I speak now as a doctor and as a person who, hopefully, in spite of all the privilege that I have been fortunate enough to acquire through life, can relate to a pro-life outlook in its widest sense but perhaps the worst aspect of this is that we have the Chinese imposing on the Tibetans, who have become a minority in their own land, forced sterilisation in order to ensure that they do not produce more than one child per family. Perhaps this is an insurance policy because now they have flooded Tibet with Chinese they might begin to wonder what would happen if the Tibetans were free to have families in the way in which they believe it is right to have them and what effect this might have on the Chinese when they return home or communicate with home. In any case it is for the Tibetans to decide whether this is appropriate for their need. By bursting into Tibet, the Chinese arrogantly subsumed the rights of Tibetan people. By colonising Tibet they are guilty of the style of imperialism and colonialism against which they claim to be opposed and against which they have shown themselves in the past to be honourably opposed. By swamping Tibet and squeezing the Tibetans into a minority in their own country, they seem to be in the process of doing what Europeans did — and let us not forget it — to aborigines, Maori's and American Indians, a very neat conversion of moving from initially minority colonial rule into majority colonist rule.
This must highlight, if nothing else  does, in this year when we celebrate the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the travesty of domocracy which goes with the concept of majority rule. Majoritarianism is dead and buried so far as an understanding of democracy is concerned. We have learned that lesson in Ireland. We know that the future in Ireland depends on us appreciating it, that it is as wrong for us to equate democracy in Ireland with the right of the Irish majority to rule over the Irish minority as it is for the Northern majority to rule over the Northern minority. Without consensus democracy means nothing. Having said that, I take the opportunity once again of reading a motion which has now been on the Order Paper for some seven years and awaits with considerable Northern patience its turn for debate, and that is Motion No. 32:
That Seanad Éireann, recognising the significance of the right to self-determination in giving freedom to the peoples of the world, observing with concern the social and political conflict which has been caused in many nation states by domination of minorities by majorities, urges the Government to recommend to the United Nations the amending of the first sentence of Article 1, Clause 1 of the United Nations Covenants on Human Rights by adding to the words ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’, the words ‘based on the achievement of consensus’ and to press urgently for a suitable definition of consensus and also for wider publication of the means of achieving it and methods of assessing it.
How much worse does it become when the majority is the invader and the minority are the indigenous people?
We have had a list of the atrocities committed against the Tibetan people and it is appropriate for us, as Irish people, who know the effects of oppression both on the oppressed and on the oppressor to remind ourselves of how the people in this country felt about the destruction of their monasteries, to  remind ourselves of how the people felt when they had no rights to determine what type of future they would have for their children. Let me appeal then in addition to the Government's bringing this motion forward to the United Nations for the establishment of a joint committee on foreign affairs as other Senators have suggested. We should go forward in this year, the anniversary of so many signposts from the past, to respect human rights, to respect them with courage and, fearlessly, to play our own independent role in the affairs of the world so that we can ensure that that independence which recognises our interdependence with all peoples is not just lip service to paper but can be seen to be something which comes from the heart and is relayed to the world with sincerity and with action.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Chair would like to point out that as far as moving motion No. 32 is concerned it is a matter for the Independent group of Senators. Technically it is not possible to have a motion on the paper for more than one year so it has to be resubmitted each time. I would remind the Senator that in this regard the ball is in his own court.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed that the House sit again?
Mr. S. Haughey Mr. S. Haughey
Mr. S. Haughey: It is proposed to sit at 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 January 1989.
Seanad Éireann 121 Human Rights in Tibet: Motion.