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UNESCO urged to "Save Lhasa" from Chinese development PDF Print E-mail
[14 June 2013] Press release from International Tibet Network (of which Tibet Society is a member organisation)

Over 80,000 people call on UNESCOs World Heritage Committee to Save Lhasa, as Tibets capital is transformed by Chinas rapid urban development


Former political prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol appeals for urgent investigations into reports of mass construction in her home city


UNESCO  logo[Paris, 14 June 2013] On the eve of the 37th World Heritage Committee, Tibetans and Tibet supporters will deliver an over 80,000 strong change.org petition [1] and a report compiled by International Tibet Network [2], highlighting Chinas aggressive and rapid transformation of the ancient Tibetan city of Lhasa, and expressing concern that Lhasas traditional architectural heritage may be at risk, to UNESCOs Headquarters in Paris.

The petition urges the World Heritage Committee to seek an urgent monitoring mission to Lhasa (the last having taken place in 2005), and to demand assurances from China about the nature and impact on residents of the work being carried out in Lhasa.

I was born in Lhasa and I am deeply troubled by recent reports of destructive developments in my home city, said Tibetan former political prisoner, Ngawang Sangdrol [3]. A city of such historical and cultural significance as Lhasa must be protected, and I appeal to Kishore Rao of the World Heritage Centre, and to Members of the World Heritage Committee to make urgent investigations into what is happening in Lhasa before it is too late.

World Heritage logoChinas record of protecting Tibetan heritage is poor, with many of Lhasas old buildings already having been destroyed, including within the buffer zones of the UNESCO World Heritage Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Norbulingka and Jokhang Temple [4]. However, in recent weeks, a report by award-winning Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser [5], which described the beautification of the historic Barkhor area, the construction of a huge new shopping mall, and the relocation of residents, has brought worldwide concern from Tibetans, scholars [6] and the public. Woeser blogged, The goal of the renovation of the Barkhor quarter is to cleanse, disperse, transform and elevate...  the heart of the Old City, the circumambulation path around the Jokhang is to be thoroughly cleared... All of the residents originally living along the street are to be moved. [7]

UNESCOs World Heritage Committee will convene its 37th annual meeting from 16 - 27 June [8] during which it will examine the state of conservation of inscribed properties, and discuss whether any properties need to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger [9]. In 2004, the media quoted a UNESCO official as saying the Potala Palace may be considered for the list of World Heritage in Danger [10] and in 2005, a joint mission by the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS found Uncontrolled urban development and expansion of tourism-related facilities in and adjacent to the boundary of the property and Negative impact of the rehabilitation projects on the protection of the traditional urban tissue of the historic centre. [11]

However, a UNESCO draft resolution for the 37th World Heritage Committee demonstrates that these concerns have not being taken seriously, [12] despite Woesers findings being strengthened by a recent report by journalists from the channel France24 [13], and despite China apparently still having not submitted its Conservation Master Plans for Lhasa, which were apparently due for completion in December 2011.

The World Heritage Committee must urgently seek to visit Lhasa, as almost ten years have passed since its last mission, and the pace at which China is transforming Lhasa is truly shocking, stated Anne Wachowiak, Students for a Free Tibet France. It is crucial that the precise details of what is taking place in Lhasa are established immediately, and verifying these serious reports is clearly the responsibility of the Committee.

As the occupier of Tibet, China needs to be held to account for its reckless custodianship of Tibets priceless heritage, said Tenzin Jigme from International Tibet Network. We call on the World Heritage Committee to ensure China meets obligations to safeguard this irreplaceable UNESCO World Heritage site for future generations.

Contacts:
Tenzin Jigme, International Tibet Network (US: English, Tibetan) +1 703 424 0015
Martha Graugnard, Students for a Free Tibet (France: French) +33 (0) 676 32 19 59
Jyotsna George, Students for a Free Tibet (India/France: English, Hindi)
+33 (0) 658 97 42 36
Alison Reynolds, International Tibet Network (UK: English) + 44 7711 843 884

Notes:
1. Help stop the destruction of my home, Lhasa, Tibet: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/help-stop-the-destuction-of-my-home-lhasa-tibet
2. Concerns and questions about developments in Lhasa - http://issuu.com/internationaltibetnetwork/docs/unesco_lhasareport_2013. This report was compiled by International Tibet Network, a global coalition of over 180 Tibet groups (including Tibet Society) dedicated to campaigning to end human rights violations in Tibet and restoring rights to the Tibetan people see, http://www.tibetnetwork.org/
3. Ngawang Sangdrol, a former nun, was arrested in 1992 at the age of 13, and her initial sentence was extended several times to a total of 23 years due to her continued activism in prison. She was released in October 2002 after international attention on her case, after serving more than 11 years of her sentence.
4. See UNESCO World Heritage List: Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/707
5. Our Lhasa is on the verge of Destruction! Please save Lhasa by Tsering Woeser, translated for High Peaks Pure Earth http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/our-lhasa-is-on-the-verge-of-destruction-please-save-lhasa-by-woeser/. In May 2013 Tsering Woeser was a recipient of the US Governments Women of Courage award, see http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/woeser-presented-uss-woman-courage-award
6. See http://www.petitions24.com/tibetan_scholars_appeal_to_halt_the_ destruction_of_old_lhasa
7. See Woesers Blog, [4]
8. 37th World Heritage Committee Meeting, http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/37COM/
9. World Heritage in Danger, http://whc.unesco.org/en/158/
10. UNESCO warn China to look after Forbidden City and Potala Palace, AFP. See the World Tibet News archive: http://tibet.ca/en/newsroom/wtn/archive/old?y=2004&m=7&p=6_2
11. http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/394
12. See draft resolution at http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/1980
13. To view the France 24 report
go to http://www.france24.com/en/20130531-reporters-seven-days-in-tibet-china-lhassa-buddhist-monks-self-immolations-cultural-assimilation-cyril-payen

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