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Global outcry as UNESCO fails to raise concerns about China’s destruction of Lhasa PDF Print E-mail
[27 June 2013] A 100,000 strong petition was delivered yesterday to UNESCO, calling on the World Heritage Committee to urgently address concerns of China’s rapid urban development of Lhasa [1]. The petition, delivered on the eve of the final day of the 37th World Heritage Committee Meeting, was part of a month-long campaign by the International Tibet Network [2] which has lobbied UNESCO to seek a mission to Lhasa and to take measures to safeguard the historic city. However, the Meeting closed today without any public statement or acknowledgement concerning the situation in Lhasa.

UNESCO logo“Lhasa’s old city is where countless Tibetans, including myself, have protested for freedom. It is the most important landmark of the nation we are fighting to preserve,” said Ngawang Sangdrol, a former Tibetan political prisoner from Lhasa [3]. “At a time when at least 120 Tibetans have self-immolated against Chinese rule, it is shocking that UNESCO appears to have turned a blind eye to Lhasa’s transformation.”

Philippa Carrick, CEO of Tibet Society, said, “China’s drive to modernise comes at the cost of destroying Lhasa’s traditional heart. Once demolished, the unique Barkhor area will be lost for ever. This will undoubtedly impact on UNESCO’s World Heritage ensemble in Lhasa. It is supremely disappointing that the World Heritage Committee have shown themselves deaf to the strong concerns put to them - they could have at least committed to sending a mission to Lhasa to see what is happening for themselves."

World Heritage Committee logoIn recent weeks, appeals from Tibetans inside Tibet – including a report by award-winning Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser – have alerted the world to the Chinese government’s sweeping 'modernisation' of the traditional Barkhor area of Lhasa. Woeser writes, “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.” [4]

In response to international criticism of Lhasa's transformation, including an undercover TV report by France24 [5], a Chinese state-owned media outlet, China Tibet Online, wrote that 11 Chinese ‘experts’ travelled to Lhasa and established that “negative foreign reports” were ill-founded. One expert concluded that the “ethnic flavour had been preserved” and that “the project was well-received among local residents” [6]. The ‘inspections’ took place ahead of a Chinese state-sponsored tour of Lhasa for selected foreign media, scheduled for 6 July. Foreign journalists are banned from openly visiting Lhasa and most Tibetan regions in the People’s Republic of China.

“It’s ludicrous for the Chinese government to try and claim that Tibetans are happy about the destruction of our heritage, especially since Tibetans in Lhasa live under constant fear and surveillance,” said Pema Yoko of Students for a Free Tibet. “One word of protest against China could mean imprisonment, torture, or even death."

Philippa Carrick, Tibet Society +44 207 272 1414
Tenzin Jigme: International Tibet Network  +1 703 424 0015

1. 100,000 strong petition by Ngawang Sangdrol - Help stop the destruction of my home, Lhasa, Tibet
2. International Tibet Network is a global coalition of more than 180 Tibet Groups, including Tibet Society and Students for a Free Tibet, dedicated to campaigning to end human rights violations in Tibet and restoring rights to the Tibetan people.
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, having served more than 11 years of her sentence. She now lives in the United States.
4. “Our Lhasa is on the verge of Destruction! Please save Lhasa” by Tsering Woeser, who was recently placed under house arrest. Her post was translated for High Peaks Pure Earth
5. France24 report “Seven Days in Tibet”
China Tibet Online:“Lhasa old town renovation praised by evaluation team”

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